By Ulbani Aït Frawsen and L’Hocine Ukerdi
Al-Raida, Vol.20 (2003)
Introduction: The term “Amazigh” denotes the major linguistic minority of North Africa. However, “Berber” still remains the more widely used ethno-linguistic word for them. In antiquity, the Romans and Byzantines used this term to refer to those who did not speak the region’s “lingua franca”, Greek. During and after the arrival of Islam in the seventh century, the Arabs followed this GrecoRoman practice and referred to the indigenous peoples they encountered as “barbar.” The French and English speakers adopted the vulgarised term, “Berber”, and coined the word “Barbary,” with respect to the region of North Africa and its people.
The “Berber” people prefer the term “Amazigh”, which they use to describe both themselves and their indigenous languages. “Amazigh” signifies a “free” or “noble” person; the plural is “Imazighen”. To define, in the most generic way, the language that they speak, Imazighen use the term “Tamazight.” This term is also used specifically for the language commonly used by the Imazighen of Kabylia and Shawia in Algeria, the dialects used in the Middle Atlas (Rwafa) and Shlowh in Morocco, Zwara and the Nofusa Mountains in Libya and in parts of Egypt and Tunisia. Regional Tamazight speakers use their own localized terms to define their own local linguistic variations, such as Tariffit in northern Morocco, Tashilhit in Morocco’s Sous Valley, Tanfusit in Libya’s Nofusa mountains, Tashawit in Algeria’s Awras mountains and the like. The original Amazigh alphabetic transcription system is referred to as “Tifinagh.” Variant transcription systems in use today include the Latin and Arabic adaptations of Tifinagh representation.