Tuareg languages

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(Redirected from Tamasheq)
Tuareg language(s)
Spoken in: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Niger
Region: Sahara
Total speakers: 1.2 million (Ethnologue)

 Berber languages
  Tuareg language(s)

Subgroup codes
Missing image
Areas where significant numbers of Tuaregs live.

Tuareg or Tamasheq/Tamajaq/Tamahaq is a Berber language or family of closely related languages spoken by the Tuareg, in parts of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso (with a few speakers, the Kinnin, even in Chad[1] (http://www.berberemultimedia.com/etudes_docum/edb_14.pdf).) They 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 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.


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 in Tamasheq and as simple z in the Tamajaq dialects Tawallammat and Tayart. In the latter two, *z is realised as before palatal vowels, explaining the form Tamajaq.

In Tawallammat and especially Tayart, this kind of palatalization actually does not confine itself to z. In this 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.


  • Tuareg languages
    • Northern
      • Tamahaq - Language of the Kel Ahaggar, spoken in Algeria and in the north of Niger by approximately 57 000 people. Also known as Tahaggart.
    • Southern
      • 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.



  • 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.


  • Motylinski, A. (1908). Grammaire, dialogues et dictionnaire touaregs (http://gallica.bnf.fr/document?O=N082531). Alger: P. Fontana.
  • Foucauld, Charles de (1951-1952) Dictionnaire touareg-francais. 4 vol. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale de France.
  • Prasse, Karl G. & Alojaly, Ghoubeid & Mohamed, Ghabdouane (2003) Dictionnaire touareg-francais (Niger). 2 vol. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen.



  • Ag Erless, Mohamed (1999) "Il ný a qu'un soleil sur terre". Contes, proverbes et devinettes des Touaregs Kel-Adagh. Aix-en-Provence: IREMAM.
  • Ahgali-Zakara, Mohamed & Jeannine Drouin (1979) Traditions touarègues nigériennes. Paris: L'Harmattan.
  • Alojaly, Ghoubeïd (1975) Ǎttarikh ən-Kəl-Dənnəg - Histoire des Kel-Denneg. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.
  • 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.
  • Foucauld, Charles de (1925) Poésies touarègues. Dialecte de l'Ahaggar. Paris: Leroux.
  • 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.
  • 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.

fr:Tamasheq de:Tamascheq


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