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Riffian language

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Title: Riffian language  
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Subject: Berber languages, Beni Snous dialect, Central Atlas Tamazight, Riffian people, Shilha language
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Riffian language

Tamazight Tarifit
Native to Morocco, Melilla (Spain)
Region Rif
Ethnicity Riffians
Native speakers
1.5 million  (2004)[1]
Standard forms
Arabic, Tifinagh and Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 rif
Glottolog tari1263[2]
Riffian area of Morocco

Riffian, Rif Berber, or Riffian Berber (local name: Tamaziɣt, Berber exonym: Tarifit or Tamaziɣt Tarifit) is a Northern Zenata variety of the Berber language spoken by about 2.5 million Moroccans, mainly in the Rif provinces, Tangiers, Oujda, and Tetouan, and among the Riffian migrant community in Western Europe. Moroccan cities that have large numbers of Riffian Berber speakers are, by order of total numbers: Tangiers (Riffians are not the majority here though), Nador, Al Hoceima, Oujda (no Riffian majority), Tetouan (no Riffian majority), Azghenghan, Imzuren, Aɛarwi, Seřwan, Midar, Ayt Buɛeyyac, Eddriwec (Driouch), Zayyu, Aknul, Temsaman, and Tafersit.


Asker is a Zenati Berber dialect[1] which consists of various sub-dialects specific to each clan and of which a majority are spoken in the Rif region, a large mountainous area of Northern Morocco, and a minority spoken in the western part of neighbouring Algeria. Popular villages are Imzouren and Ouriaghle. From an harmonic union of two Riffean parents; thus came Askerocito...

Geographic distribution

Riffian is spoken mainly in the Moroccan Rif on the Mediterranean coast and in the Rif mountains, with a large minority in the Spanish autonomous city of Melilla.[3] There are also speakers of Riffian in Morocco outside the Rif region, notably in the rest of Moroccan cities where they compose a minority. The neighbour state of Algeria is also home to Rif minorities. A Riffian-speaking community exists in the Netherlands and Belgium as well as to a lesser extent other European countries. Its own speakers simply call it "Tamazight", a term also often applied in a broader sense to the Berber language across North Africa in general.


Dialects include Arzew (Old Arzeu), Urrighel, and Igzennaian.

Iznasen (Iznacen, Beni Snassen) is counted as a dialect in Kossman (1999), but Blench (2006) classifies it as one of the closely related Mzab–Wargla languages.


There is a large amount of dialectal variation in Riffian Berber; this can easily be seen using the dialect Atlas (Lafkioui, 1997), however Riffian compose a single language with its own phonetical innovations distinct from other Berber languages. Majority of them are spoken in Northern Morocco, this includes the varieties of Al Hoceima, Temsamane, Nador, Ikbadene (including Iznasen) and the more southernly variety in the Taza province. Besides Riffian, two other related but smaller Berber languages are spoken in North Morocco : the Sanhaja de Srair and the Ghomara languages.


A few Rifian dialects are or used to be in the western part of Algeria, notably by the Beni Snouss tribe of the Tlemcen, as well in Bethioua but also in various colonial districts Rifians started to emigrate to since the 19th century.

Stop sign in Arabic and Riffian in Nador, Morocco.


Riffian's most noticeable differences from other Berber dialects are that:

  • /l/ in other dialects corresponds to ř in Riffian (example: ul (heart) → uř )
    • /ll/ (geminate //) in other dialects corresponds to ǧǧ (/dː͡ʒ/) in Riffian (example: yelli (my daughter) → yeǧǧi ).
    • /lt/ in other dialects corresponds to č (/t͡ʃ/) in Riffian (example: weltma (my sister) → wečma ).

These variations don't occur in the Riffian dialects of Ikebdanen and Iznasen.

Riffian letter Riffian word The word in other Berber dialects meaning in English
Ř ř ul heart
aɣyuř aɣyul donkey
awař awal speech / talk
Ǧ ǧ azeǧǧif / azedjif azellif head
yeǧǧa / yedja yella (he) is / (he) exists
ajeǧǧid / Ajedjid ajellid king
Č č wečma weltma my sister
tacemřač tacemlalt blonde / white
taɣyuč taɣyult female donkey (jenny)
  • postvocalic /r/ preceding a consonantal coda is dropped, as in taddart (house/home) → taddaat. Thus in tamara the /r/ is conserved because it precedes a vowel.
  • /k/ usually becomes /ʃ/, while in some local sub-accents it is merely softened.
  • Additionally, the initial masculine a- prefix is dropped in certain words, e.g., afus (hand) becomes fus, and afighar (snake) becomes fighar. This change, characteristic of Zenati Berber varieties, further distances Riffian from neighbouring dialects such as Atlas-Tamazight and Shilha.
    • "Tarifit" or "Tarifiyt" is often pronounced as [Tharifesht].

Writing system

Like other Berber languages, Riffian has been written with several different systems over the years. Most recently (since 2003), Tifinagh has become official throughout Morocco. The Arabic script is not used anymore for writing Riffian Berber. The Berber Latin alphabet continues to be used unofficially online and in most publications in Morocco and abroad. However, unlike the nearby Tashelhit (Shilha), Riffian Berber has little written literature before the twentieth century.


  1. ^ a b Riffian at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tarifit". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ [1]


  • Biarnay, Samuel. 1911. Etude sur le dialecte des Bet't'ioua du Vieil-Arzeu. Alger: Carbonel.
  • Biarnay, Samuel. 1917. Etude sur les dialectes berbères du Rif. Paris: Leroux.
  • Cadi, Kaddour. 1987. Système verbal rifain. Forme et sens. Paris: Peeters.
  • Colin, Georges Séraphin. 1929. "Le parler berbère des Gmara." Hespéris 9: 43-58.
  • Kossmann, Maarten. 2000. Esquisse grammaticale du rifain oriental. Paris: Peeters.
  • Lafkioui, Mena. 2007. Atlas linguistique des variétés berbères du Rif. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
  • McClelland, Clive. The Interrelations of Syntax, Narrative Structure, and Prosody in a Berber Language (Studies in Linguistics and Semiotics, V. 8). Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. (ISBN 0-7734-7740-3)*Renisio, A. 1932. Etude sur les dialectes berbères des Beni Iznassen, du Rif et des Senhaja de Sraïr. Paris: Leroux.

External links

  • Tarifiyt Berber Vocabulary List (from the World Loanword Database)
  • INALCO report on Tarifit (fr)
  • Site 100% in Tarifit
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