Tuareg languages

Tuareg languages

name=Tuareg language(s)
nativename=Tamasheq, Tamajaq, Tamahaq
states=Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Niger
speakers= about 7 million (Ethnologue)
fam2=Berber languages
lc1=tmh|ld1=Tamashaq (generic)|ll1=none
lc2=thv|ld2=Tahaggart Tamahaq
lc4=ttq|ld4=Tawallammat Tamajaq
lc5=thz|ld5=Tayart Tamajeq

Tuareg (or Tamasheq/Tamajaq/Tamahaq) is a Berber language or family of closely related languages spoken by the Tuareg, in many parts of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso (with a few speakers, the "Kinnin", even in Chad [http://www.berberemultimedia.com/etudes_docum/edb_14.pdf] .)


Other Berber languages and Tamashaq are quite mutually comprehensible, and are commonly regarded as a single language (as for instance by Karl Prasse); they are distinguished mainly by a few sound shifts (notably affecting the pronunciation of original "z" and "h"). They are unusually conservative in some respects; they retain two short vowels where northern Berber languages have one or none, and have a much lower proportion of Arabic loanwords than most Berber languages. They are traditionally written in the indigenous Tifinagh alphabet; however, the Arabic alphabet is commonly used in some areas (and has been since medieval times), while the Latin alphabet is official in Mali and Niger.


The basic word order in Tuareg is Verb Subject Object. Verbs can be grouped into 19 morphological classes; some of these classes can be defined semantically. Verbs carry information on the subject of the sentence in the form of pronominal marking. No simple adjectives exist in the Tuareg languages; adjectival concepts are expressed using a relative verb form traditionally called 'participle' . The Tuareg languages have very heavily influenced Northern Songhay languages such as Tasawaq, whose speakers are culturally Tuareg but speak Songhay varieties; this influence includes points of phonology and sometimes grammar as well as extensive loanwords.


Although dialects differ in their inventories, David Sudlow describes Tamasheq as containing two short vowels, and five long vowels (two of which can be made emphatic), as well as the semi-vowels /w/ and /y/ (Sudlow 25). The consonant inventory largely resembles Arabic: differentiated voicing; uvulars, phyangeals (traditionally referred to as emphatics) /t/, /l/, /s/, /d/, /z/ (transcribed as /T/, /D/, etc. here); requiring the pharynx muscles to contract and influencing the pronunciation of the following vowel (Sudlow 26-7). The glottal stop is not written as in Arabic, nor articulated anywhere but at the end of some phrases where it cuts short the final long /a/, and more commonly as the necessary consonant liaison for a vowel beginning a word, thus allowing retention of the syllable structure CV, CVC, and CVCC (occasionally) (Sudlow 27).Contrastive gemination is possible in Tamasheq, although // has a tendency to shift to /qq/, /ww/ to /gg/, and /DD/ to /TT/ (28). Assimilation occurs with consecutive voiced or voiceless consonants assimilating the voicing of the preceding (eDkareTkar); sounds with articulations difficult to perform separately also assimilate to become geminated consonant, i.e. [-gt]  [-kk] , [-t]  [qq] (29).


Tamasheq prefers VSO order; however it resembles Japanese in that the emphasized concept can be placed first, be it the subject or object, the latter giving an effect somewhat like the English passive. (Sudlow, 46). Sudlow uses the following examples, all expressing the concept “Men don’t cook porridge” (e denotes Sudlow’s schwa):

meddæn wær sekediwæn æsinkSVO
wær sekediwæn meddæn æsinkVSO
æsinkwær ti-sekediwæn meddæn‘Porridge, men don’t cook it.’
wædde meddæn a isakædawæn æsink‘It isn’t men who cook porridge.’
meddæn a wæren isekediw æsink‘Men are not those who cook porridge.’

Again like Japanese, the “pronoun/particle ‘a’ is used with a following relative clause to bring a noun in a phrase to the beginning for emphasis,” a structure which can be used to emphasize even objects of prepositions (Sudlow 48). Sudlow’s example (s denotes voiceless palato-alveolar fricative):

essensæ enæle‘I bought millet.’
enæle a essensæ‘It was millet that I bought.’


A root-and-pattern, or templatic language, three-consonant bases are the most common in Tamasheq. Niels and Regula Christiansen use the root k-t-b (to write) to demonstrate past completed aspect conjugation:

ektaba ‘I wrote’

tektabad ‘You (2s) wrote’

iktab ‘He wrote’

tektab ‘She wrote’

nektab ‘We wrote’

tektabam ‘You (2p/m) wrote’

tektabmat ‘You (2p/f) wrote’

ektaban ‘They (3p/m) wrote’

ektabnat ‘They (3/p/f) wrote’

(Christiansen). The verbal correspondence with Japanese continues with the use of aspect; Tamasheq uses four, as delineated by Sudlow:

1) Perfective/simple perfect: complete actions izgær ‘He went out’

ibdæd ‘He stood up’

ekke hebu ‘I went to market’

2) Stative/intensive perfect: “lasting states as the ongoing results of a completed action.”

izgær ‘He has gone out’

ibdæd ‘He stood up (and so he is standing up)’

ekkê hebu ‘I am going to market’

3) Imperfective/simple perfect: future or possible actions, “often used following a verb expressing emotion, decision or thought,” it can be marked with “’ad’” (shortened to “’a-‘” with prepositions).

ad elmedæ Tæmasæq ‘I will learn Tamasheq’

a-dd-as asekka ‘He will arrive (here) tomorrow’

4) Cursive/intensive imperfect: ongoing actions, often habitual ones.

lammædæ Tæmasæq ‘I am learning Tamasheq’

iwan tattænæt alemmoZ ‘Cows eat straw’

æru tasæalæ siha ‘I used to work over there’ Commands are expressed in the imperative mood, which tends to be a form of the imperfective aspect, unless the action is to be repeated or continued, in which case the cursive aspect is preferred (Sudlow 57).


With a lifestyle so dependent on their animals, the Tuareg have a massive lexicon with which to discuss them, particularly camels. Goats are discussed by their age, physical characteristics such as ears and horns, and markings—both color and placement; separate terms exist for the male and female goat who is only black, black with white markings on the legs, a white blaze, or white ears, and so on (Nicolaisen 83). An even more exhaustive set of descriptions is used for camels (a variety of colors is considered desirable in a herd for aesthetic value), and some of these terms bleed into social categories as well—the term for the two- or three-year-old camels paid as bridewealth among noble families (masc. pl. ilusan fem. pl. tilusin) is also used to refer to one’s brother- or sister-in-law (Nicolaisen 156). Tuareg poetry, be it martial or romantic, often refers to camels either symbolically or as examples of beauty. Kinship, thought of and discussed in anatomical terms, plays an integral in the close-knit Tuareg society; family relations are characterized by formal systems of avoidance (nsib, nsiba) and “joking,” particularly with regards to in-laws and cross-cousins, respectively (Nicolaisen 615).Family is divided into three anatomically-named groups: aruri, ‘back,’ refers to “relatives of the father’s family or rather a group of patrilineally related men;” tèsa, ‘stomach’ to the maternal equivalent and tèGehè, ‘side,’ or ‘liver’ in some dialects to those descended from “’sisters and from their parallel female cousins in the maternal line’” (Nicolaisen 617). Maternal uncles are often referred to as “fathers,” and are thus “feared” or “respected” in much the same way, and take similar interest in their nephews and nieces (the latter to a lesser extent). The verb uksad or uksaD denotes a ‘fear’ or ‘respect’ for “relatives of ascending generations” including elder siblings or cousins as well as parents, grandparents, etc (Nicolaisen 657).The Nicolaisens describe avoidance, both partial and strict, as “play [ing] a considerable role in…kinship behavior” (662). Feelings of ‘shame’ (takrakiT or takrakit) form the basis for most avoidance patterns among relatives by blood and marriage; partial avoidance begins around the age of puberty, strengthening with marriage; relations with father-figures are more restricted than with mother-figures (664). Physical distance, lack of eye contact, and the extent of the face covered by the veil are all included in avoidance patterns as well as verbal restraints.Generally partial avoidance, characterized by takarit, is linked to subjects and terms with sexual connotations, with even mating behavior of stock constituting an awkward topic (664). Terms to be avoided by even third parties in a conversation include the ahal, “nightly gatherings of young men and women who come together to play music etc, because these gatherings are associated with courtship and sexual intercourse,” and the imZad, a single-stringed violin played by young women at the ahal and strongly connected to various forms of courtship (664). Strict avoidance is practiced by in-laws, most rigorously between opposite sexes. Conversation can be held between father- and son-in-law if both are veiled and distant, but each finds this an embarrassing experience; in contrast, mothers- and daughters-in-law have fairly free association. (666). The Tuareg consider the rigid mother- and son-in-law avoidance (the strongest) to be rooted in the amount of influence a mother continues to enjoy with her married daughter, influence “which may run contrary” to his own (667).‘Joking’ (tehanDeZZit, possibly from the root “to laugh,” in southern dialects adèlen or irawayen) or teasing may occur between castes, but is most common among cross-cousins, who often grow up much like siblings (685). While girls tend to tease and insult each other verbally, boys often engage in tebbillant, ‘sham fights’ characterized by apparent hostility and yet constant laughter (686). Male and female cousins may roughhouse more gently with each other, or insult each other’s camels, skills, or intelligence (667-8). A cousin unwilling to participate in these games is rare and considered “morally ‘bad,’” while the games themselves provide entertainment for the entire camp (688).


Tuareg languages

**Tamahaq - Language of the Kel Ahaggar, and Kel Ajjer spoken in Algeria and in the north of Niger by approximately 57 000 people. Also known as Tahaggart.
**Tamasheq - Language of the Kel Adrar (also known as Adagh or Ifoghas), spoken in Mali by approximately 270 000 people.
**Tayart Tamajaq language - Language of the Kel Ayer (sometimes spelled Aïr), spoken in Niger by approximately 250 000 people.
**Tawallammat Tamajaq language - Language of the Iwellemmeden, spoken in Mali and Niger by approximately 670 000 people. The term Iwellemmeden (the name of the people) is sometimes used to denote the language.
**Tetserret or Shinsert or Tin Sirt (means the language of Sirt, now in modern Libya, this dialect is spoken mainly by the Ait-Awari group, this community live in the Akoubounou commune, Niger. This Tuareg dialect contains vocabulary similar to different Berber languages in North-Africa. Example: Afagan (man) like in Morocco Tamazight. Aiddid (goatskin container for water) like in Ghadames Berber dialect. Awdosh (ox) like in Mauritania Hassaniya language.


The vowel system includes 5 long vowels, a e i o u, and two short, ə and ă. Karl Prasse argues that e and o generally derive from i and u, while comparative evidence proves that ə derives from a merger of proto-Berber *ĭ and *ŭ.

In the consonant system, pharyngealized consonants are widespread, particularly among the dentals. Gemination affects the quality of certain consonants, turning fricatives into stops; in particular, geminated γ becomes qq.

Dialectal differences

Different dialects have slightly different consonant inventories. Some of these differences can be diachronically accounted for. For example, Proto-Berber "*h" is mostly lost in Ayer Tuareg, while it is maintained in almost every position in Mali Tuareg. The Iwellemmeden and Ahaggar Tuareg dialects are midway between these positions (Prasse 1969, Kossmann 1999). The Proto-Berber consonant "*z" comes out differently in different dialects, a development that is to some degree reflected in the dialect names. It is realized as "h" in Tamahaq (Tahaggart), as "š" in Tamasheq and as simple "z" in the Tamajaq dialects Tawallammat and Tayart. In the latter two, "*z" is realised as "ž" before palatal vowels, explaining the form "Tamajaq". In Tawallammat and especially Tayart, this kind of palatalization actually does not confine itself to "z". In these dialects, dentals in general are palatalized before "i" and "y" (palatal vowel and approximant, respectively). For example, "tidət" is pronounced "tidʲət" in Tayart. (Prasse e.a. 2003:xiv) Other differences can easily be traced back to borrowing. For example, the Arabic pharyngeals "ħ" and "ʕ" have been borrowed along with Arabic loanwords by dialects specialized in Islamic (Maraboutic) learning. Other dialects substitute "ħ" and "ʕ" respectively with "x" and "ɣ".



*Bougchiche, Lamara. (1997) "Langues et litteratures berberes des origines a nos jours. Bibliographie internationale et sytematique." Paris: Ibis Press.
*Chaker, Salem, ed. (1988) "Etudes touaregues. Bilan des recherches en sciences sociales." Travaux et Documents de i.R.E.M.A.M. no. 5. Aix-en-Provence: IREMAM / LAPMO.
*Leupen, A.H.A. (1978) "Bibliographie des populations touaregues: Sahara et Soudan centraux." Leiden: Afrika Studiecentrum.


* Jeffrey Heath. (2006). [http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jheath/tamdict.html Tamashek Dictionary] , Paris: Karthala.
* Motylinski, A. (1908). [http://gallica.bnf.fr/document?O=N082531 Grammaire, dialogues et dictionnaire touaregs] . Alger: P. Fontana.
*Charles de Foucauld (1951-1952) "Dictionnaire touareg-francais". 4 vol. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale de France.
*Prasse, Karl G., Alojaly, Ghoubeid, and Mohamed, Ghabdouane (2003) "Dictionnaire touareg-francais (Niger)". 2 vol. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen.


*Christiansen, Niels, and Regula. "Some verb morphology features of Tadaksahak ." SIL Electronic Working Papers. 2002. SIL International. 2 December 2007 .
* Hanoteau, A. (1896) " [http://gallica.bnf.fr/document?O=N104749 Essai de grammaire de la langue tamachek' : renfermant les principes du langage parlé par les Imouchar' ou Touareg] ". Alger: A. Jourdan.
*Galand, Lionel. (1974) 'Introduction grammaticale'. In: Petites Soeurs de Jesus, "Contes touaregs de l'Air" (Paris: SELAF), pp. 15-41.
* Heath, Jeffrey. 2005. "Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali)". (Mouton Grammar Series.) the Hague: Mouton de Gruyter.
*Prasse, Karl G. (1973) "Manuel de grammaire touaregue (tahaggart)". 4 vol. Copenhagen.
*Sudlow, David. (2001). " [http://www.mondeberbere.com/langue/tamasheq/ The Tamasheq of North-East Burkina Faso.] " Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.


* Ag Erless, Mohamed (1999) "Il ný a qu'un soleil sur terre". Contes, proverbes et devinettes des Touaregs Kel-Adagh." Aix-en-Provence: IREMAM.
* Aghali-Zakara, Mohamed & Jeannine Drouin (1979) "Traditions touarègues nigériennes." Paris: L'Harmattan.
* Albaka, Moussa & Dominique Casajus (1992) "Poésies et chant touaregs de l'Ayr. Tandis qu'ils dorment tous, je dis mon chant d'amour". Paris: L'Harmattan.
* Alojaly, Ghoubeïd (1975) "Ǎttarikh ən-Kəl-Dənnəg - Histoire des Kel-Denneg." Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.
* Casajus, Dominique (1985) "Peau d'Âne et autres contes touaregs". Paris: L'Harmattan.
* Chaker, Salem & Jélène Claudot & Marceau Gast, eds. (1984) "Textes touaregs en prose de Charles de Foucaould et. A. de Calassanto-Motylinski." Aix-en-Provence: Édisud.
* [http://etudesafricaines.revues.org/document19.html Chants touaregs. Recueillis et traduits par Charles de Foucauld. Paris, Albin Michel, 1997]
* Foucauld, Charles de (1925) "Poésies touarègues. Dialecte de l'Ahaggar." Paris: Leroux.
* [http://www.ehess.fr/centres/ceifr/assr/N112/019.htm "Lettres au marabout. Messages touaregs au Père de Foucauld". Paris, Belin, 1999]
* Louali-Raynal, Naïma & Nadine Decourt & Ramada Elghamis (1997) "Littérature orale touarègue. Contes et proverbes." Paris: L'Harmattan.
* Mohamed, Ghabdouane & Karl-G. Prasse (1989) "Poèmes touaréges de l'Ayr." 2 vol. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.
* Mohamed, Ghabdouane & Karl-G. Prasse (2003) "əlqissǎt ən-təməddurt-in - Le récit de ma vie." Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.
*Nicolaisen, Johannes, and Ida Nicolaisen. The Pastoral Tuareg: Ecology, Culture, and Society. Vol. 1,2. New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc, 1997. 2 vols.
* Nicolas, Francis (1944) "Folklore Twareg. Poésies et Chansons de l'Azawarh." BIFAN VI, 1-4, p. 1-463.

Linguistic topics

* Cohen, David (1993) 'Racines'. In: Drouin & Roth, eds. "À la croisée des études libyco-berbères. Mélanges offerts à Paulette Galand-Pernet et Lionel Galand" (Paris: Geuthner), 161-175.
* Kossmann, Maarten (1999) "Essai sur la phonologie du proto-berbère". Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
* Prasse, Karl G. (1969) "A propos de l'origine de "h" touareg (tahaggart)". Copenhagen.

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