Grammar of Tamazight (based on the dialect of Tacenwit)



Grammar of Tamazight (based on the dialect of Tacenwit)

Tacenwit (autonym: taqbaylit) is the Zenati Berber dialect of Jebel Tacenwit in Algeria, just west of Algiers near Tipasa and Cherchell. It is very closely similar to the Berber speech of the Beni Menacer nearby, and the name is thus sometimes extended to refer the Berber speech varieties of that whole area. According to the Ethnologue (2004) (whose figure is taken from the World Christian Database, 2000), it has 4,764 speakers.


Masculine nouns start with articles a-, i-, u- (in the singular) - like all Berber dialects - or more rarely with a consonant (often corresponding to a- in other languages.) Examples: aydi "dog"; fus "hand"; iri "neck"; urtu"garden". Their plural is usually in i-...-en (eg amettin "death" > imettinen), but a variety of other plural forms (eg i-...-an, i-...-wen, i-...awen, i-...-en, i-...-a-), sometimes accompanied by internal ablaut, are also found: eg ijider "eagle" > ijudar, itri "star" > itran, afer "wing" > ifrawen, icer "fingernail" > icaren.

Feminine nouns start with ta/te- (t pronounced h like in tacawit), and usually end with -t : tagmart "mare", tesa "liver". A few feminine nouns have lost the t-: malla "turtledove". A masculine noun can be made diminutive by adding the feminine affixes: afus "hand" > tafust "little hand".


The plurals of feminine nouns fall into much the same types as masculine ones, but adding t- at the beginning and using -in rather than -en: taktemtt "female" > taktemin, tarract "girl" > tarracin, tuqit "stone" > tuqay, tawlelit "spider" > tawlela.

Genitive constructions - English "X of Y" or "Y's X" - are formed as "X Y", in which the prefix of Y changes to u- (masc.) or n tte- (fem.). Thus, for instance: aman n tala "the water of the fountain", aglim u8ilas "the skin of the panther".

n "of" is also used with foreign words: tagmart n elqayd "the mare of the Caid".


Adjectives agree in number and gender with the noun, and are formed in the same way: eg amellal "white", azegrar "long", azaim "good". The particle d is used before adjectives in certain contexts (including as a copula).


As in Kabyle, only the first two numbers are Berber; for higher numbers, Arabic is used. They are ij’ (f. tict) "one", sen (f. senat) "two".

The noun being counted follows it in the genitive: senat n ttuwura "two doors".

"First" and "last" are respectively amezgaru and aneggaru (regular adjectives).

Other ordinals are formed with the prefix wis (f. his): wis sen "second (m.)",  etc.

The basic personal pronouns of Tacenwit are as follows. Gender is distinguished in all cases except the first person.
English Standalone form Possessive
Direct object
Indirect object
Object of preposition
Subject of preterite verb Subject of aorist verb Subject of imperative verb
I necc, neccinttin -inu -i -ay -ei -i8 a-...-e8 
you (m. sg.) cek -nek -c, -ic, -icek -ak -ek te-...-d a-...-d -
you (f. sg.) cem nem -cem, icem -am -em te-...-d a-.te..-d -
he netta nes -t, -it, -t -as -es ye- a-
she nettat nes -tt, -itt -as -es te- a-te 
we necnin nne8 -ne8, -8en -ane8, -a8n -ne8 ne- a-..
you (m. pl.) kennim nwen -kem, -ikem -awen -wen te-...-m a-
t...-m -tt
you (f. pl.) kennimtt -nwentt -kemtt, -ikemtt -awentt -wentt te-...-mtt a-te...-mtt -mtt
they (m.) Netnin nsen -ten, -iten,  -asen -sen -n a-...-ne 
they (f.) Netnint -ensent -tent, -itent,  -asent-sent -nt a-...-nt 


The basic demonstrative adjectives are -a "this" (also -ay, -ad; -ax for middle distance), -in "that", -enni "the aforementioned". The demonstrative pronouns include:
• "this": wa m. sg., hax f. sg., yida m. pl., hida f. pl.

• "this" (emphatic): wayek, hayek, idadik, hidadik

• "this" (in question): wenni, henni, idenni, hidenni

• "that": win, hin, yidin, hidin
The standalone possessive pronouns ("mine", "yours", etc.) are formed by suffixing the possessive pronouns to "this" (except that ha- is used instead of hax.) Similarly, the adjective "other" (invariable ennidhen) combines with "this" to make forms meaning "the other": unnidhen, hennidhen, idennidhen, tadennidhin.

The main interrogative pronouns are:

matta "what?",

mantt "which",

manay "who?",

mi lan "whose?",

miked "with whom?",

mideg "in what?",

mizeg "with what?",

mifeg "on what?",

mi8er "at/for whom?"


The relative pronoun is i "which".
Indefinite pronouns include ij’ (f. ictentt) "one, someone", cra "something". Negative forms are made using the Arabic loanword hatta (ÍÊì); hetta d ij "no one", hetta d elhabb "nothing".

The declarative mood is divided into two tenses: preterite (past) and aorist (non-past, formed by the addition of a-.) There is also an imperative mood. The irregular imperative ia "come" is used with the aorist to form imperatives of the first person: iaw an-neruhet "let's go". The pronoun affixes for these are given under Pronouns. The declarative mood is also accompanied by ablaut:

• Verbs whose imperative consists of two consonants or less (ec’ "eat", e8r "read", ezr "see", en8 "kill") add -a to the stem in the 3rd person singulars and 1st person plural, and -i in all other forms: n8i8 "I killed", ten8a "she killed".

• Verbs whose imperative begins with a- (eg adef "come in", ader "go down", azen "send") change it to u-: thus udefen "they came in", tudefed "you (sg.) came in. (Verbs such as af "find" belong to both this and the previous group.) awi "bring" and awd "arrive" are exceptions, changing a- to i-: yiwi "he brought".

• Verbs with -a- in the middle (eg laz "be hungry", nam "have the habit of", djal "judge") change it to -u-: lluze8 "I was hungry".

• Verbs with a final vowel usually behave like the two-consonant ones: arji "dream" > urji8 "I dreamt", yurja "he dreamt"; egmi "teach" > gmi8 "I taught", yegma "he taught".

But there are exceptions: erni "be born" > yerni "he was born".
The participle is formed by adding -n to the 3rd person m. sg., sometimes with ablaut of final vowels: yenziz "he sang" > yenzizen; a-yenziz "he will sing" > a-yenzizen, yuta "he hit" > yutin.
The verb is negated by adding ur... c around it like in tacawit: ur ttinziz c "don't sing", u tuwired c "you didn't walk". "Not yet" is ur rtuci 3ad or ur uci, where rtuci and uci are verbs conjugated in the appropriate person: u rtuci8 3ad u d yudhe8 c’ "I haven't arrived yet", u tertucid 3ad ... "you haven't yet..."

Derived verb forms include:
• a causative in s-: azeg "boil" > sizeg "make something boil".
• a "reciprocal" middle voice in m-: zer "see" > mzer "be seen"
• a passive voice in ttwa-: abba "carry" > ttwabba "be carried".
• Various habitual forms.
Continuous forms can be formed with aql- "see X" in the present tense, ttu8a "was" in the past tense: aqliy ttette8 "I am eating", ttu8ay ttette8"I was eating".


Prepositions precede their objects:

 i medden "to the people",

si Bazar "from Tipaza".

 Some of the main ones are:

 i "to" (dative),

 n "of",

di "in(to)",

si "from",

s "using" (instrumental),

f/fell- "on",

8er/8 "towards",

ak d/d, "with",

jar "among",

zzat "in front of",

awr "behind",

 i sawen/susawen "under",

addu "over".


Conjunctions precede the verb: ami yiwudh "when he arrived", qabel ma tta8en "see if it's raining".

Some important ones include: melmi "when?", ami, 8assa(l), ass8a, 8ir "when", ma, kagella,, ni8 "or".


 Sample text
Qaren midden: Unni a- yehaj’en di’uass, ad’ffe8en arraw nes d  iferdasen= They say: he that tells stories in the daytime, his children will turn bald.
Ttha’jen eks di’iidh= They only tell stories at night.

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