Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Berber: Linguistic "Substratum" of North African Arabic

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Berber: Linguistic "Substratum" of North African Arabic

Article excerpt

Berber: Linguistic "Substratum" of North African Arabic

By Professor Ernest N. McCarus

The term "Berber" is applied to the various languages or dialects spoken by the Berbers, who are found in North Africa from the Canary Islands in the Atlantic to the Western Desert of Egypt, and from the Mediterranean coast south across the Sahara to Mali and Togo.

Berbers are most numerous in Morocco, where they probably constitute half of the population. Moving east, they form decreasing proportions of the populations of the Arab states from Algeria, Tunisia and Libya to Egypt, where they are found primarily in the Siwa Oasis. They are an ancient people, their language being related to the language of ancient Libya, "Libico-Berber."

Most Berber men today are bilingual, speaking both their own Berber language as well as the official language of their country, usually Arabic or French or both, whereas in many instances Berber women know only Berber. Berber is a branch of the Afro-Asiatic (formerly "Hamito-Semitic") family of languages, which includes Semitic (Arabic, Hebrew, Akkadian, etc.), hieroglyphic Egyptian and Coptic, the Cushitic languages of the Nile valley, and the Chadic languages (Hausa).

Berber generally is not written today, although the Tuareg use a script called Tifinag. …

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