BerberBerber or the Berber languages (Berber: Tamaziɣt or Tamazight) are a family of similar or closely related languages and dialects indigenous to North Africa. Berber is spoken by large populations of Morocco and Algeria, and by smaller populations in Libya, Tunisia, eastern Mali, western and northern Niger, northern Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and the Egyptian Siwa Oasis.
Large Berber-speaking migrant communities have lived in Western Europe since the 1950s. In 2001, Berber became a national language of Algeria in the constitution, and in 2011, Berber became an official language of Morocco, in the new Moroccan constitution.
Berber constitutes a branch of the Afroasiatic language family and has been attested since ancient times. The number of ethnic Berbers (whether they speak Berber or not) is much higher than the current number of actual Berber speakers in North Africa. The bulk of the populations of the Maghreb countries are considered to have Berber ancestors. In Algeria, for example, a majority of the population consists of Arabicised Berbers.
There is a movement among speakers of the closely related "Northern Berber" varieties to unite them into a single standard language. The name Tamazight, originally the native self-name of the Berber varieties of the Atlas and the Rif regions, is being increasingly used for this Standard Berber, and even for Berber as a whole.
There are six major Berber varieties spoken by nine-tenths of the Berber-speaking population. They are, in the order of demographic weight: Tashelhit (Tacelḥit), Kabylian (Taqbaylit), Central Atlas (Tamazight), Rifian (Tamazight/ Tarifit), Shawiya (Tacawit), Tuareg (Tamahaq/ Tamaceq) and Shenwa (Haqbaylit).
The Berber languages have had a written tradition, on and off, for over 2,200 years, although the tradition has been frequently disrupted by various invasions. It was first written in the Tifinagh alphabet, still used by the Tuareg; the oldest dated inscription is from about 200 BC.
Later, between about 1000 AD and 1500 AD, it was written in the Arabic script; since the 20th century, it has often been written in the Berber Latin alphabet, especially among the Kabylians and Rifians and within the cultural and linguistic communities of Morocco and Algeria. The Berber Latin alphabet is also used by most European and Berber linguists during the 19th and 20th centuries.
A modernized form of the Tifinagh alphabet was made official in Morocco in 2003, and a similar one is sparsely used in Algeria together with the Berber Latin alphabet. Mali and Niger recognized the "Tuareg Berber Latin alphabet" and customized it to the Tuareg phonological system. However, traditional Tifinagh is still used in those countries. Both Tifinagh and Berber-Latin scripts are being increasingly used in Morocco and parts of Algeria, while the Arabic script has been abandoned by Berber writers.