Tamazight Language

1.1 Geographical distribution

Tamazight (the Berber language) covers a vast geographical area in North Africa called Sahara-Sahel, mainly Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina-Faso, Egypt, and the Canary Islands. [10]

Because of historical events, Tamazight is maintained in shelter areas, especially rural and mountainous regions. Tamazight is not a standard or codified language; it exists only through its dialectical or regional realizations. [10]

Today, there are large groups of Tamazight-speaking people in Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Libya, as well as smaller groups in Tunisia, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso, and Egypt. In Morocco, the estimated number of speakers comprises around 50% of the population and is divided into three main groups: Tarifit-speaking people in the northern Rif coastal region,
Tamazight proper in the Medium Atlas and part of the High Atlas, and Shelha or Chleuh in the south and southeast (High Atlas, Anti-Atlas, and Souss). In Tunisia, a minority of Tamazight-speaking people are concentrated in the south and are divided into four groups: Douiri, Cheninnaoui, Djerbi, and Matmati. [14][15]

The Amazigh of Algeria are concentrated in five large regions of the country: Kabylia in the north, Aurès in the east, Chenoua, a mountainous region on the coast to the west of Algiers, M’zab in the south, and Tuareg territory in the Sahara. A large number of Amazigh populations also exist in the southwest area of the country (Tlemcen and Bechar) as well as in the south (Touggourt, Adrar, Timimoun), accounting for several tens of thousands of individuals. [10]

Zenaga is a western Tamazight surviving language with a few thousand speakers along the Atlantic Coast in southwestern Mauritania and Senegal.

The Amazigh of Egypt are concentrated in the Siwa Oasis. [8]

Please Hover The Countries !!!!

Figure1: Distribution of Speakers of the Tamazight Language

1.2 Classification

The Tamazight language (native name: tifnaght Tamazight [tæmæˈzɪɣt], [θæmæˈzɪɣθ]) is one the oldest languages in the world. It is the indigenous language of North Africa west of the Nile. The Tamazight group is assigned by linguists to the Afro-Asiatic language family and is also referred to as Hamito-Semitic (according to the American terminology initiated by J. Greenberg). [22][10]

Tamazight has only three vowels: a, i, and u. This parsimony, vowel-wise, is amply compensated by a generous number of consonants, with a total of 38. [10]

1.3 Structure

1.3.1 Sound System

The sound system of the Tamazight language has not been investigated adequately. The next two sections discuss the features of its vowels and consonants.

1.3.2 Vowels

Most Tamazight languages have three vowels. Vowels can be short or long, and vowel length makes a difference in word meaning. The phonetic realizations of these three vowels may be quite different. [17][10][30]

Front Central Back
Close i u
Open a
Table 1. Vowels of the Tamazight language

1.3.3 Consoants

Almost every Tamazight language has bilabial, dental, platal, velar, uvular, pharyngeal, and laryngeal consonants, and many have interdentals as well. [30][4]

The following features are present in many, but not all, Berber languages:

  • Contrast between plain and emphatic consonants, which are produced with the space between the vocal cords constricted during their pronunciation.
  • Implosive consonants, which are produced with the air sucked in rather than exhaled.
  • Ejective consonants produced with a simultaneous closure of the glottis, which results in a strong burst of air accompanying their release.
  • Geminate (doubled) consonants, which are produced by holding them in position longer than their single counterparts.
  • Like many Afro-Asiatic languages, native Berber words do not have the consonants /p/ and /v/. These sounds occur only in borrowed words. [30][10]

Chaker (1984:78) proposed a Tamazight phonological system based on the works of Basset (1952), Galand (1960), and Prasse (1972).

Figure2. Tamazight Phonological System Proposed by Chaker (1984) [10]

1.4 Grammar

Tamazight languages share some basic features in their grammatical systems. The following subsections discuss the features of their word order, nouns, and verbs.

1.4.1 Word Order

The word order is Verb-Subject-Object (VSO). "The boy drank water" is thus expressed as yeswa ahu aman "Drank the boy water" [10]

1.4.2 Nouns

Berber nouns have the following features:

1.4.3 State

Nouns have an absolute and a construct state. The latter is used when a definite noun is followed by another noun in a genitive relation to the first. The absolute state is the normal state of the noun. [10][19]

1.4.4 Number

Nouns have singular and plural forms. The plural form has a masculine and a feminine form. The plural form depends on the type of noun, as shown in the following Tamazight examples:

  • External plural, which is formed by changing the initial vowel of the noun and adding a suffix -n (e.g., afus [hand] and ifassn [hands], afssil [wall] and ifssiln [walls])
  • Internal plural, which involves a vowel change in the root (e.g., abaghus [monkey] and ibughas [monkeys])
  • Mixed plural, which utilizes both devices described above (e.g., iziker [rope] and izakaren [ropes]) [9][22]

1.4.5 Gender

There are two genders: masculine and feminine. The masculine gender is unmarked. [20]

1.4.6 Verbs

  • There are three classes of verbs in the Tamazight language: finite, nonfinite, and auxiliary The auxiliary and nonfinite verbs have restricted inflection, whereas finite verbs can be inflected.
  • Tamazight verbs agree with their subjects in person, gender, and number.
  • The person, gender, and number of the subject are represented by affixes attached to verb roots.
  • Verbs have several tense/aspect distinctions.
  • Verbs have three moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. [21]

1.5 Terminology

Latin spelling: Amazigh, Tamazight Berber forms: Amaziɣ (Berber) plur. : Imaziɣen, "Berbers" fem. : Tamaziɣt, "(a / a) Berber" and "(the) Berber" The Amazigh, which means "free humans" or "free men," are known to the world as Berbers. The term Berber was first applied centuries ago by foreign conquerors such as the Romans and the Arabs. Modern-day Berbers generally prefer their own designations: amazigh (male Berber) and tamazight.( female Berber). [27]

1.6 Dialects

Tamazight is a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The Tamazight language is spoken in North Africa by about 15 million to 20 million people. It is difficult to give accurate statistics of the Tamazight-speaking population because no census considering this question has been conducted in any North African country since decolonization.

Tamazight is spoken in different countries across North Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, and Burkina-Faso. The speakers are called Amazigh, although the different groups of speakers may have different names.

The differences between the languages can be considerable because of geographical distances. The following table shows the different Tamazight dialects spoken in North Africa. [INT 1]


Number of speakers



5 million



3.5 million



3.5 million



2 million



1.7 million



250 000



90 000



65 000

 Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger and Borkina-Faso


50 000



20 000



14 000



10 000


Table 2. Tamazight dialects spoken in North Africa

1.7 Writing System

Three alphabets have been used unequally in Tamazight: Tifinagh, Latin, and Arabic. The choice of writing system is often based on politics rather than on realistic reasons.

The Tamazight language has been known for a long time as an oral language. Until recently and with some exceptions, Amazigh authors had always written in foreign languages such as French and Arabic, but not in their own language. However, Tamazight possesses its own system of writing called Tifinagh, which is still in use today among the Tuareg. [5][42]

Please click on the image to be able to hear the Tifinagh alphabet.


Figure.3 Tifinagh Alphabet [INT 14]

The name Tifinagh is said to mean "Phoenician." The Tifinagh alphabet was used by the Amazigh people centuries ago, but it disappeared because of the instability of the region and the arrival of the Arabs, who tried to replace the language of the native speakers with their own language. [5][24]

Tuareg, especially women, were successful in conserving this alphabet. The use of Tifinagh has continued to the present. A standardized version is used nowadays in many countries such as Algeria and Morocco. The standard writing direction used today is from left to right.

1.8 Status

The region of North Africa has been the locus of colonization and interactions with other civilizations, from the founding of Numidia kingdom to the arrival of Spanish and French colonizers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the twentieth century, most of the North African countries gained their independence from the European countries, and a policy of Arabization was adopted by the new governments to create a false unity of the supposed "Arab" people of North Africa. [24]

For decades, the Amazigh have been calling for the recognition of their language. Tamazight (Tuareg) has been recognized as a national language in Niger and Mali since the two countries became independent in 1960. In other countries, the domination of Arab and other European languages and the policies of governments aiming to eradicate the Tamazight language have led to the expulsion of the Tamazight language from all official places, as well as from teaching, including the university level. [24]

The last few years have shown an easing in the position taken by the state regarding the "Tamazight question," both in Algeria and in Morocco. In 2002, the Algerian government recognized the Tamazight language as a national language. In 2011, Tamazight became a constitutionally official language of Morocco. In Libya, important steps have been taken to secure rights for Tamazight speakers after the revolution of 2011.

Despite these significant achievements, discriminatory policies and practices continue at the expense of an indigenous African language. The continued absence of an official status for the Tamazight language seriously influences its future and reduces its chances of being regarded as a language with an economical and educational value especially in Tunisia, Egypt, Mauretania and Libya. [31]

1.9 Amazigh Flag

Amazight Flag
Figure4. Tamazight flag [INT 13]

The three colors of the Amazigh flag (blue, green, and yellow) symbolize the origins of the Amazigh people. [INT 13]

  • Blue represents the Amazigh who live by the sea.
  • Green represents the Amazigh from the mountains.
  • Yellow represents the Amazigh from the desert.

Shawia Dialect

Shawia Tamazight, or Chaouïa (native name: Tachawit, θašawiθ> hašawiθ, θaqbayliθ> haqbayliθ; Arabic chaouia [Sawiya]) is the Zanati variety of the Tamazight language. Shawia Tamazight is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken by approximately two million people in the eastern part of Algeria called Aurés. As an extension of the Atlas Mountains, the Aurès Mountains are located to the east of the Saharan Atlas, stretching from eastern Algeria into northwestern Tunisia. Shawia is exclusively a spoken language in the Aurès rural areas of Batna, Setif, Khenchela, Souk Ahras, Tebessa, Biskra, Kasserine, and Oum El Bouaghi, where the majority of Shawia people live. [INT 22]

The Tamazight dialect of Shawia is the second most common Tamazight dialect in Algeria in terms of the number of speakers. However, because of the lack of published literature devoted to it, the Shawia dialect is probably one of the least known among the Tamazight dialects. Among the few known works on the Shawia dialect are Mercier’s Shawia of the Aurés (1896) and Basset’s texts (1961). Since Algeria became independent, linguistics research concerning the Shawia dialect can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Most of the published works are very old and unreliable; the only substantial and relatively recent work is the syntactic study led by Thomas Penchoen (1973), which relates the speech of Aït Frah (north of Biskra, Ain Zaatout). [40]

The Shawia dialect is very close to other northern Algerian Tamazight dialects as well as to Kabyle, with which shared understanding is almost always immediate. [10]

I limited my study of the Shawia dialect to the central massif of the Aurès region, the capital of Shawia, for two reasons. The first one is the geographical extension of Shawia Area, which is a vast territory. The second reason is that the Aurès terrain is considered the center of the Shawia country.

2.1 Meaning of Shawia

The word Shawia, or Shawi, Chaoui, and Chaouia, is used to describe the dialect and its speakers. The Shawia name is derived from the Berber word referring to the national god of the Numidians. [37]

2.2 Geographical Distribution

Any attempt to talk about Shawia leads to a discussion of the Aurès region, because most Shawia speakers are concentrated in this area.

Many scholars have tried to identify the geographical location of the Aurès. T. Riviere, who described the Aurès as a high mountain chain in Algeria located in the middle of east Biskra, the west Tunisian mountains, and the south Constantine plains (Riviere, 1938). And E. Masquery (1886), who accurately described the region as two blocs: the eastern and the western. According to him, the eastern bloc is called the Historical Aurès and is divided by the bloc of Beni Maloule and the valley of Malago. And the western bolc converses the region of Belazma.

Most modern references describe the Aurès area as an extension of the Atlas Mountains.

The Aurès region is mainly divided into three blocs:

  1. Bloc of "Oued Abdi"
  2. Bloc of "Oued Labyathe"
  3. Bloc of "Oued Nemamcha"

Figure5. Distribution of Shawia Speakers [INT 17]

2.3 Phonetics and Phonology

Traditionally, the fields of phonetics and phonology are frequently demoted to second place in Tamazight language literature. However, Galand (1935) and Chaker (1984) pointed out the importance of linguistic investigation in the phonology of each dialect. [INT 10]

...les études de phonologie portant sur les dialectes particuliers accusent unretard sensible. [...] Il est probable que l’une des causes de cet état de fait est justement l’existence de ce système phonologique berbère qui, par son caractère simplificateur et sécurisant, dispensait les chercheurs de se pencher plus sérieusement sur la phonologie de chaque dialecte. (Chaker 1984: 33)

References about Shawia phonetics and phonology are rare and unreliable. The following section discusses Shawia phonetics and phonology.

2.3.1 Consonant System of Shawia

The Shawia phonetics system describes the general characteristics of all the Tamazight dialects of northern Algeria and Morocco. I used Chaker’s (1984)work on the consonant system of Shawia to point out the fundamental characteristics of this system . Chaker’s model is a summary of the work done in this path by Basset (1952), with its famous and controversial system pan-Berber, Galand (1960), and Prasse (1972). It is part of a process of reconstruction. The following table presents Chaker’s Tamazight phonological system. [10][18][45]







































































Table3.Tamazight Phonological System Proposed by Chaker (1984) [10]

This table summarizes the common Tamazight consonant systems and demonstrates two central characteristics shared by all Tamazight consonant systems. These characteristics have specific typological terms: gemination and pharyngealization.

2.3.2 Classification of Shawia Consonants

The production of any consonant involves the vocal tract, with a certain degree of obstruction to airflow. Producing a consonant depends on the location of the constriction in the vocal tract and how narrow the vocal cords are. The following criteria are used to classify consonants: [17]

  • place of articulation
  • manner of articulation
  • voicing

A. Place of Articulation

The place of articulation criteria indicates the location of the constriction in the vocal tract.

1. Bilabial

In a bilabial consonant, the lower and upper lips come close together or touch each other.

Shawia has three bilabial consonants.





/θabɛɡɛθ/, the belt


/θamɣarθ/, the old woman


/swɛlf/, above

Table4.Bilabial Consonants

Figure 6. Place of Articulation for Bilabial Consonants [INT 21]

2. Labiodental

In a labiodental consonant, the lower lip approaches or touches the upper teeth.

The labiodental consonant in Shawia is /f/. [INT 21]





/lʕafɪθ/, fire

Table5. Labiodental Consonants

Figure 7. Place of Articulation for Labiodental Consonants [INT 21]

3. Dental

In a dental consonant, the tip or blade of the tongue approaches or touches the upper teeth.

The dental consonants in Shawia are /t/ and /d/. [INT 21]





/hamɛttɛnt/, death


/nattawid/, we bring

Table6. Dental Consonants

Figure 8. Place of Articulation for Dental Consonants. [INT 21]

4. Denti-alveolar

A denti-alveolar (or danto-alveolar) consonant is a consonant that is articulated with a flat tongue against the alveolar ridge and upper teeth. : [INT 21]

The following are the denti-alveolar consonants in Shawia





/nɛt sʷ/,I


/rɡiɣ/, I went




/ufθ/ wool

/ḍ /

/ ar/, foot

Table7. denti-alveolar Consonants

Figure 9. Place of Articulation for Denti-alveolar Consonants. [INT 21]

5. Plato-alveolar

To produce a plato-alveolar (or post-alveolar) consonant, the narrowing of the vocal cords is done behind the alveolar ridge. This constriction (the narrowing of the vocal cords) can be made with either the tip or the blade of the tongue.

The plato-alveolar consonants in Shawia are presented in the following table. [INT 21]





/θamɛttɛnθ/, death


/nattawid/, we bring


/ haxsɛʏθ/, pumpkin


/ ʔazaṭṭa/, weaving

/dz /

/dzalla /,he prays


/at/, snake

Table8. Plato-alveolar Consonants

Figure 10. Place of Articulation for Plato-alveolar Consonants [INT 21]

6. Velar

The tongue and the soft palate are involved in the production of velar consonants. The body of the tongue comes near or touches the soft palate or velum. [INT 21]

The following are the velar consonants in Shawia:




/š /

/ʔamɛtšŭ /, boy

/ğ /

/ʔibğidɛn/, peers

/tš /

/nɛ/, me


/ɣakkɛr/, stands up


/ɣaggŭr/ ,walks

/ k̥/

/ tŭt/ ,T’koute ( name of a city)

Table9. Velar Consonants

Figure 11. Place of Articulation for Velar Consonants. [INT 21]

7. Pharyngeal

Pharyngeal consonants are articulated with the root of the tongue against the pharynx. [INT 21]

The pharyngeal consonants in Shawia are the following:




/x /

/ʔaxsɛɣ /, I want

/q /

/luqa /, now

/ħ /

/ʔaħŭli/ /,carpet

/ ʕ/

/ʔaʕaddis/, belly


/ʔamɣar /, the old man

Table10. Pharyngeal Consonants

Figure 12. Place of Articulation for Pharyngeal Consonants. [INT 21]

8. Glottal

The glottis is the opening between the vocal cords. [INT 21]

The following are the glottal consonants in Shawia:





/θahwa/, she got out


/ʔahŭ/ , the child

Table11. Glottal Consonants

Figure 13. Place of Articulation for Glottal Consonants. [INT 21]

B. Manner of Articulation

The manner of articulation illustrates the degree of narrowing in the oral tract and the width of the constriction. The initiated source of the airflow is another factor in describing the manner of articulation, whether air is flowing through the nose, and whether the tongue is dropped down on one side. [17]

The manners of articulation include the following:

1. Plosive

Complete closure plus sudden release

2. Fricative

Narrowing resulting in audible friction

3. Nasal

Complete closure plus air escape through the nose

4. Lateral

Closure in the mouth center plus air escape at the tongue sides

5. Approximant

Slight narrowing but not enough to cause friction


/b/, / ṭ /, / ṣ /, /k/, / ʔ/, /g/, /t/ ,/d/, /dz/, /tš/.


/f/, /s/, /z/ /š/, /h/, /ɣ/, /x/, /q/, / ħ /,/ ʕ /.


/ğ/, /t š/


/m/ , /n/






Are noted by doubling the corresponding sound, dd tt gg kk qq but are not listed in the alphabet.

An analysis of the speech of Shawia native speakers shows that some consonants are doubled.

Examples of geminate consonants are as follows:




/ʏaggŭr/, he walks


/ʔazaṭṭa/, texture


/ʔitalli/, yesterday


/kannɛmθin/, you (personal pronoun for feminine plural)


/ʔammala/, so


/θaddɛrθ/, house


/ʔifassɛn/, hands


/natta/, he

Table13. Geminate Consonants

2.3.3. Voicing

The process of voicing refers to the auditory result of the vibration of vocal cords. Sounds that are made with vocal cord vibration are called voiced, whereas sounds made without vocal cord vibration are called voiceless. [17]

Voiced Consonants

Voiceless Consonants

/t š /
/ğ /
/ ʕ/
/ ɣ/
/ ʏ/
/ ḍ/

/ ʔ/
/ ṣ /


Table14. Voiced and Voiceless Consonants






























































Table 15: Shawia Consonants Chart

When I recorded several native speakers in the Aurès area during my research, I noticed different accents. My main observations concerning these differences in pronunciation are that /x/ is commonly used among the tribes of Owlad Salame and Ait Ali Ousabore, and /ḍ/ is pronounced /ţ/ by Owlad Soltan, Ait Fatma, Ait Oujertan, and part of the inhabitants of Ait Hmare Khadou (Ait Yahmad, Ait Ayoub, Ait Siyare, Ait Zrara, and Ait Aalwi).

  • -/ʔiutan/ < /ʔiuan/
  • -/ṭṭufθ/ < /ufθ/
  • -/ʔiarran/ < /ʔiarran/

The /ḳ/ sound is heavily used in the middle of the Aurès area. Ouwlad Frah and their neighbors in the southeast of the Auresian Vallies tend to use the /g/ sound more than the other tribes do. The use of /y/ instead of /g/ in the old Daira of Aris and especially in the region of Acharkine and in the Zalatou mountain chain and by Beni Bousslimane tribes .

  • -/ʔargɛz/ < /ʔarʏaz/

Lenition of the / t /and /θ/ occurs frequently, mainly in a number of morphemes of high frequency in one single breath (laryngeal) /h/. In some accents, the phenomenon is almost universal for the prefix t- for feminine names and all pronominal paradigms, where

  • -H <θ

  • Compared to other northern Tamazight dialects, the phenomenon of the palato-velar Tamazight /g/ and /k/ is also known in the Shawia dialect and in different regions.

    • -g> y (Ait Abdi) argaz> aryaz "man", eg> ey "to" mger> Myer "harvest" bzeg> bzy / bziy be "wet". [10]
    • -g> g> j (-Ahmar Kheddou / hu boy> jar "between" tagrest> tajrest "winter" mger> mjer "harvest from" ajenna ([10]
    • -k> š: kem> šem "you" (women) neknin> nešnin "we" (a) kal> šal "earth" [10]
    • -kk> cc: nekk> necc "me" kkat> ccat "beat" nekkenti> neccenti "we" (female). [10]
    • /ʕ/ is rarely used in the Aurès region. It can be replaced by /x/ and /γ/ consonants and can be omitted if the word is not of Tamazight origin.


      /ʔaʕaddis/< /ʔaʏaddis/, the belly

      /nni γas/ is produced with /γ/ in all Aurès regions, except among the speakers in the region of Tilato, where it is produced with /ʕ / </nnʕias/.

2.4 Vowels

Traditionally, the matter of Tamazight vocalism was quickly solved by scholars. This applies especially to Tamazight’s most studied varieties in Morocco: Tashalhit and Tarifit. As mentioned earlier, linguistic studies of the Shawia dialect are rare. The goal of this work is to introduce this Tamazight variety, which is still largely mysterious and unknown. [10][17]

il se trouve que [...] la nature des phonèmes se dégage assez vite de la poussière des nuances phonétiques. Pour aboutir à un système phonologique très simple bien attesté dans les langues du monde : un système à trois voyelles /i/, /u/, /a/, qui sont les mêmes dans toute la zone nordouest du domaine berbère. (Mercier, 1953: 35)

Mercier introduced the Shawia vowel system with a system of three vowels (/i/, /u/ and /a/), similar to northwestern varieties of Tamazight. [17]

According to Cohen (1988: 19), the vowel system of the Hamito-Semitic languages is divided into two: rich and poor. The rich system consists of six to seven vowels like the Tuareg system and the poor system consists of three vowels. [30]

Tant que les études portant sur les parlers berbères du Maghreb étaient les plus nombreuses et les mieux mises en valeur, on considérait assez peu la question du vocalisme berbère. En effet, la plupart des langues et variétés berbères parlées au Maghreb (comprenant le groupe zénète), ont un système vocalique pauvre, présentant, au niveau phonologique, trois voyelles facilement identifiables: /a/, /i/ et /u/, nous l'avons dit en introduction. A ces trois voyelles est ajouté le [_], qui a un rôle plus ou moins phonologique selon les variétés. En tachelhit, par exemple, une des langues qui nous intéresse tout particulièrement dans cette étude, le schwa ne se trouve qu’en syllabe fermée, et sa présence est prédictible dans la plupart des cas. Ainsi, son statut phonologique est très discutable. La situation semble identique pour le rifain (Kossmann 2000), le tamazight, le chaouïa, le beni iznassen (Louali 2000)... Dans certaines variétés, dont le kabyle, il semble en revanche y avoir quelques vestiges d’un /_/ phonologique (Prasse 1975 :126), au côté d’un schwa généralement prédictible. Dans ces parlers, il n’y a pas d’opposition de quantité vocalique : les voyelles n’ont pastoujours la même durée, mais cette dernière n’a pas de pertinence… (Galand 1960 :69). .

Most languages and Tamazight varieties spoken in North Africa (including the Zénète group) have a poor vowel system, which at the phonological level includes three easily identifiable vowels (/a/, /i/, and /u/). To these three vowels, we can add the schwa /ɛ/, which has a phonological role more or less according to the phonological varieties. In Tashalhit, for example, its presence is predictable in most cases. Thus, the phonological status is highly questionable. [30][4]

As mentioned earlier, the Shawia vowel system is considered a poor system. It is represented by three vowels (/i/, /u/, and /a/), which can be short or long. [40]










Table16: Shawia Vowels

Figure14. Shawia Vowel Chart

2.5 Vowel vs. Consonant

The distinction between a vowel and a consonant is often not clear in Shawia. Consonants such as /w/ and /y/ sometimes function as a vowel; some scholars consider these two consonants semi-vowels. However, there is a phonemic distinction between /u/ and /y/, even if this distinction may not be apparent in fast speech. [40]

  • /ɛwf / give
  • /ufa/ find

2.6 Structure of the Syllable

In words such as χsɛɣ and xsɛn, a consonant is followed by another consonant without an intervening vowel. In such cases, we say there is a predictable transition. In this case, the transition between consonants is predictable and is characterized by the shcwa /ɛ/. [28][30]

2.7 Stress

Word stress in Shawia is similar to other Tamazight varieties. The primary stress generally falls on the last vowel of the word, whether it is a full vowel (a, i, or u) or a /ɛ/ transitional shcwa. In most cases, it is predictable. It is said that the word stress in the Shawia dialect is a non-contrastive characteristic. [28]

  • /yufaˈ/ to find
  • /χɛmmɛ'm/ to think

Morphology and Syntax

This chapter describes some morphological elements of the Shawia dialect derived from the analysis of native speakers’ recordings. It is an important chapter for two reasons. First, Tamazight’s morphology is quite rich; therefore, this topic is worthy of interest. Second, this chapter sheds light on an important part of the largely unknown Shawia dialect.

3.1 Nouns

Similar to other languages, Shawia nouns are divided into categories. Nouns are classified according to gender (i.e., feminine and masculine) and number (i.e., singular and plural). [20]

3.2 Gender

The masculine noun in Shawia usually begins with /ʔa/ or /ʔi/ and sometimes with /ʔú/.

Examples :

Masculine Noun


ʔafúʃs /hand

ʔatár /foot

ʔilimi /mouth

ʔiri /neck

ʔúʟ /heart

ʔahúlli /sheep

Table17. Masculine Nouns

Feminine nouns in Shawia begin with /θ/ or /h/, depending on the region. For example, in the east and center of Aurès, the feminine noun starts with /h/, whereas in western Aurès, the feminine noun starts and often ends with /θ/.




θamaṭṭuθ / woman

hamaṭṭuθ / woman

θasiriθ / mill

hasiriθ /mill

θiṭ/ eye

hiṭ /eye

Table18. Feminine nouns in Shawia with /θ/ /h/

The main characteristic of the nouns in Shawia is that most feminine nouns are derived from masculine nouns by adding /θ/ at the beginning of the masculine noun, and sometimes at the end, by keeping the root of the masculine noun.




ʔahú / young boy /

θahúθ / young girl /



ʔazru/ small stone /

θazruθ/ big stone /



Table19. Masculine and Feminine Nouns

Some feminine words are not derived from masculine nouns, such as ğadur (horse) and lʔuða (mare).

3.3 Number

Both singular and plural forms are used in Shawia for masculine and feminine nouns. There are two types of plural nouns: singular nouns with plural meaning and plural nouns with singular meaning. The second type includes plural nouns derived from singular nouns.

3.3.1 Plural Nouns with Singular Meaning

  • -lʕafiθ/ fire
  • -ʔarɛn/flour
  • -ʔaɣi/milk
  • -ʔamɛn/ water

3.3.2 Singular Nouns with Plural Meaning

  • -θimzin/
  • -ʔirðɛn/ corn

3.3.3 Plural of Feminine Nouns

The plural form of feminine nouns can be created in four ways.

a. By adding the prefix θi- and the suffix -in



θamtšúkθ/ girl


θaqiʏʏarθ/ young girl

θiqiʏʏarin/young girls







Table20. Plural Nouns by adding the prefix θi- and the suffix -in

The table above shows that the singular feminine word starts with θa or θɛ and ends with θ. The plural feminine is formed by adding the prefix θi and the suffix in.

b. By adding the prefix θi- and replacing the final θ with ɛ







Table21. Plural Nouns by Adding the Prefix θi- and Replacing the final θ with ɛ

The plural form of these nouns is formed in a different way, namely by adding the prefix θi and replacing the final θ with ɛ.

c. By adding the prefix θɛ- and replacing the final θ with ʏ



θɛχsɛʏθ/ zucchini

θiχsɛʏ/ zucchinis

Table22. Plural Nouns By Adding The Prefix θɛ- and Replacing The Final θ with ʏ

d. By adding the prefix θi- and n at the end





Table22. Plural Nouns By Adding The Prefix Prefix θi- and n at The End

3.3.4 Plural of Masculine Nouns

The plural form of masculine nouns in Shawia is formed in three ways.

a. By replacing ʔa with ʔi at the beginning of the noun and by the suffixation of -ɛn



ʔrgɛz / man


ʔaθɛrrɛs / strong man

ʔiθɛrrɛsɛn/strong men



Table 23. By Replacing ʔa with ʔi at The Beginning of The noun and By The Suffixation of -ɛn

b. By replacing ʔa with ʔi at the beginning of the noun and by the suffixation of -ʏʏɛn



ʔaħuli / sheep


ʔaquṭi / glass




Table 25 Plural Nouns By Replacing ʔa with ʔi at The Beginning of The Noun and by The Suffixation of -ʏʏɛn

c. By adding the prefix ʔi- at the beginning of the noun and by the suffixation of -ɛn or -an



šɛl/ soil

ʔišelɛn /soils

fús/ hand

ʔifússɛn /hands

ṭar /foot

ʔiṭarrɛn /feet

Table 26. Plural Nouns By Adding The Prefix ʔi- At The Beginning of the Noun and by The Suffixation of -ɛn or -an

3.4 Pronouns

Shawia has a different series of pronouns, as presented in the following table:





































 netchni/ netchenti

 -aγ (anaγ )

 -a (anaγ)






















Table27. Shawia Pronouns 37

3.5 Verbs

According to Basset (1929, 1952), the morphology of a Tamazight verb is based on an opposition between three stems, which are referred to in the literature as themes. These themes are as follows:

  • The aorist: generally used to express the present
  • The intensive aorist: present perfect, present continuous, past continuous and the future (Ad+Aorist)
  • Preterite: past [3]



Ad + Aorist

Intensive aorist

qim (to sit)


ad/að ifeɣ


Muqel (to observe)


Ad/ að muqleɣ


Krez (to plough)


ad / að kerzeɣ


Table 28. Shawia Verb [10]

In Shawia, it is important to discuss the aspect of the verb before talking about tenses. Generally, the verb in Shawia occurs in two aspects: the perfective aspect and the durational aspect. For the perfective aspect, the action should be done or should have an end. For the durational aspect, the action is considered in its duration or repetition. [3][37]


yufeg (he flew) accomplished

yettafeg (il vole) not accomplished (he flies) - intensif aspect

Similar to other Tamazight languages, verbs in Shawia can be classified into three categories: finite, nonfinite, and auxiliary. The nonfinite and auxiliary verbs have restricted inflection, whereas the finite verb can be inflected.

The finite verb in Shawia is the form of the verb that has a subject implemented within the verb and that functions as the root of an independent clause and carries all information about gender, number, tense, aspect, mood, and voice. [3][10][37]


n 1st pers. masc. pl. tɛt tš see

Shawia verbs are inflected, and the stem is usually modified by prefixes, suffixes, movable affixes, circumfixes, and ablaut. A finite verb can be inflected for person or subject, either transitive or intransitive subject. The prefixes show voice, tense, aspect, and polarity.


ʔaðʏɛɢ he works

The prefix -ʔað marks the tense "present tense."

The prefix -ʏ marks the person "he."

G here stands for the stem.

Suffixes are fixed and identical for all tenses; only the theme changes. The shcwa ɛ may be inserted between the affix and the verb. Generally, verbs are marked for subject and may also inflect for person or for direct and indirect objects. [3][10][37]


"tɛdjanit" they left her




















Table29.Shawia Subject Affixes [37]

3.6 Syntax

In the Tamazight language, the verb is usually the predicative core and the word order is mainly Verb-Subject-Object. The Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) order is possible but cannot be the basic order because the subject may be morphologically absent. [3][12]


yeswa argaze aman

The majority of statements are built around a verbal predicate that consists of the verbal form associated with an index of person, in the following order: Verb + (first determinant name) + (second determinant name) + (third key name) [12]


y-fka umàar idrimen i umddak°el-is

3.7 Lexicon

The lexicon constitutes one of the important domains of dialectic variations among the Tamazight dialects. Besides the basic Tamazight lexicon, several loaned words from Arabic, French, Turkish, and Latin are found in the Shawia dialect. Shawia contains loaned words from different languages because of the contact with other languages and civilizations. Shawia native speakers use these words but pronounce them with a Shawia tone or accent. These loaned words have their equivalent in Shawia, but as result of long contact with other languages, their use in daily life communication is becoming common. [30]




Equivalent in Shawia


Arabic/ المجاعة

θlaziθ / starvation


French/ La misère

/ poverty


Arabic/ الملك

ʔɛgɛl/ the king


English/ the road

ʔabrið/the road

Table30. Loaned Words