Tashelhiyt language

Tashelhiyt language

nativename=تَشْلْحِيت "unicode|Tašlḥiyt"
region=Southern Morocco, Atlas, Sous plains and Anti-Atlas
speakers=Between 8 and 10 million (Stroomer)

Tashelhiyt (also "Tashelhit" or "Tachelhit" or "Tachelhiyt" or "Shilha", native name: unicode|"tašlḥiyt", French: "tachelhit", Arabic: تشلحيت) is the largest Berber language by number of speakers (between 8 and 10 million). Tashelhiyt is spoken in Southern Morocco an area ranging from the northern slopes of the High-Atlas to the southern slopes of the Anti-Atlas, bounded to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The eastern limit of the Tashelhiyt area is difficult to pinpoint because of a smooth transition into Southern Middle Atlas Berber or Tamazight. The Sous region is central to the Tashelhiyt area, therefore the language is often called Sous-Berber or "tasusiyt" ("tasousit"), even though it stretches to surrounding regions well outside of Sous. Tashelhiyt is known for its rich oral literature. Literature written in the Arabic script has been produced from the second half of sixteenth century on; Muhammad Awzal (ca. 1680-1749) was the most prolific poet of the Tashelhiyt literary tradition.

Geography and demography

The Sous, one of Morocco's most fertile regions, irrigated by the Wadi Sous and separated from the Sahara by the Anti-Atlas Mountains, is the central area of the Chleuhs (sometimes Shluh or Soussis, Tashelhiyt unicode|"išlḥan"), the speakers of Tashelhiyt. As early as the eleventh century, the area was noted for its cultivation and export of sugar. The sale of sugar to Portuguese, Dutch and English traders as well as a share in the Trans-Saharan gold trade brought prosperity to the region. A traditional Islamic schooling system, 'a rare example of a self-organised and productive education system in an almost entirely rural environment' (vd. Boogert 1997:9), has existed in the area for centuries.

Tashelhiyt is a major Berber language of Morocco with some three million speakers [Ethnologue: [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=Shi code shi] ] in that country as well as some in Algeria.

Writing system

Like other Berber languages, it has been written with several different systems over the years. Dominant script is Latin alphabet, with usage of Arabic script to a lesser degree. Most recently, Tifinagh started to be used as an optional script.


Tashelhiyt, like other Berber languages, has an extensive body of oral literature in a wide variety of genres. Fables and animal stories often revolve around the character of the jackal ("uššn"); other genres include legends, imam/taleb stories, riddles, and tongue-twisters.

Less well known is the existence of a distinct literary tradition which can be traced back at least to the early sixteenth century. For at least four centuries, Sous Berber has been written by local scholars in a Magribic variant of the Arabic script. The most prolific writer of this tradition was unicode|Muḥammad Awzal (ca. 1680-1749); the longest extant text in Tashelhiyt however is a commentary on unicode|"al-Ḥawḍ" entitled 'the pasture' ("al-Mandja") from the hand of al-Ḥasan b. Mubarak al-Tamudizti (d. 1899). Important collections of Tashelhiyt Berber manuscripts can be found in Aix-en-Provence (the "fonds Arsène Roux") and Leiden. Virtually all manuscripts are of religious nature, and their main purpose was to instruct the illiterate common people. Many of the texts are in versified form to facilitate memorisation and recitation.

The written language differs in some aspects from normal spoken Tashelhiyt. For example, it is common for the manuscript texts to contain a mix of dialectal variants not found in a single dialect. The language of the manuscripts also contains a higher number of Arabic words than the spoken form, a phenomenon that has been called "arabisme poétique"ref|Galand-Pernet. Other characteristics of the written language include use of a plural form instead of the singular; plural formation by use of the prefix "ida"; use of stopgaps like unicode|"daɣ" 'again', "hann" and "hatinn" 'lo!' to fill the metre of the verse; and the use of archaisms.



Tashelhiyt has three phonemic vowels: IPA|/i/ /a/ /u/. The schwa (IPA| [ə] ) which turns up in many words between two consonants (e.g. inbgi = IPA| [inəbgi] 'guest', tigmmi = IPA| [tigəmmi] 'house') has no phonemic status; some authors do not write it for that reason, while others (e.g. Aspinion) write it because it is heard nonetheless. Historically, schwa is thought to be the result of a pan-Berber reduction or merger of three other vowels. The phonetic realization of the vowels, especially IPA|/a/, is highly influenced by the character of the surrounding consonants; emphatic consonants invite a more open realization of the vowel, e.g. unicode|aẓru = IPA| [az̴ru] 'stone' vs. amud = IPA| [æmud] 'seed'.


Tashelhiyt has thirty-three phonemic consonants. Like other Berber languages and Arabic, it has both pharyngealized ("emphatic") and plain dental consonants. There is also a distinction between labialized and plain dorsal obstruents.

In Latin orthography, emphatics are marked by an underwritten dot. Also, IPA|/χ/ is written , IPA|/ʁ/ is written <IPA|ɣ>, and IPA|/j/ is written .

Verbs carry the person, number and gender information of their subject in the form of affixes. There are four inflectional forms of the verbFact|date=August 2008, traditionally called aorist, preterite, negative preterite and intensiveFact|date=August 2008. The basic opposition is between the aorist, a non-past form which lacks further tense information, and the preterite which often conveys past tense. The intensive (usually called "inaccomplit" in French) encodes habitual and/or durative/continuative aspect. It is often preceded by a particle "ar", for instance in "ar ttsisn waman" (lit. "ar" cook:3pm:INT water:EA) 'the water is cooking'ref|water. In texts, a sequence of aorist verb forms usually follows after the initial setting of tense by an imperfect or intensive verb form.

A relative form of the verb, usually called "participle", is used in relative clauses. It looks like the preterite form of the verb, with affixes added for person and number: "i-...-n" for 3rd person singular ("y-...-n" with vowel-initial verbs), and "-in" for 3rd person plural. For example, the relative forms of "ili" 'to be' (with preterite form "lli") are "illan" and "llanin" for singular and plural, respectively. A singular imperative consists of the bare form of the verb without any affixes ("fssa!" 'be silent, sg'); in the plural, the imperative distinguishes between masculine and feminine by means of the affixes "-at" and "-amu", respectively.

Stative verbs, verbs expressing qualities, are characterized by initial "i-" in the aorist, e.g. unicode|"imɣur" 'be big (aorist)', "imim" 'be sweet (aorist)', "ili" 'be, exist (aorist)'. The aorist form of stative verbs usually has a subjunctive or counter-factual reading, whereas the preterite form (characterized by gemination of the consonant, e.g. "lli/lla" 'be (pret.)') generally is used to express a (current) state of affairs, e.g. "llan islman ɣ isaffn" (be:PRET:3pm fish:pm in river) 'there are fishes in the river'. Tashelhiyt has only few simple adjectives; the most common adjectival construction is the relative form of a stative verb, as in unicode|"argaz imqquṛn" (man PTC:sg:m-be.big-PTC:sg:m) 'big man'.

Derived verb forms exist: a causative "s", medial "m" (or nasal), and passive "tt..." can be recognized, as in "muddu" 'travel' from "ddu" go' + medial, or "smugr" 'meet each other' from "gr" 'touch' + causative + medial. However, derivation is no longer productive, i.e. speakers no longer consciously produce causatives, medials, or passives by applying derivative morphology to verbs.


Most prepositions have a short and a long form. The long form is used with pronominal suffixes, and the short form is used in all other contexts, e.g. "nniga-s" 'on top of him/her', "nnig- tgmmi" 'on top of the house'. A common colocation is "s-dar" 'to' as in "s-dar tgmmi" 'to the house'. Most of the prepositions require the following noun to be in the état d'annexion; only "ar" 'until' and some prepositions of Arabic origins such as "bɛd" 'after' and "qbl" 'before' are exceptions to this rule. Examples: "ddu tafukt" 'under the sun (EA)', "unicode|ɣ wayyur n šuttanbir" 'in the month (EA) September', "ifškan n tgmmi" 'the things of the house (EA)', "s wuzzal" 'by means of the iron (EA)', but "ar assf n ljaza" 'until the Day (EL) of Judgment', "qbl iḍ" 'before the night (EL)'.


In Tashelhiyt, as in most Northern Berber languages, the number system is permeated with Arabic numbers. The original cardinal numbers (one to ten) are "yan", "sin", unicode|"kraḍ", unicode|"kkuẓ", "smmus", unicode|"sḍis", "sa", "ttam", unicode|"tẓẓa", "mraw", but they are increasingly rare. Van den Boogert (1997) argues some of these to be of Phoenician-Punic origin. As with nouns, feminine forms are derived from the masculine: "yat" (irregular), "snat" (irregular), unicode|"kraṭṭ", "kkuṣt", "smmust", etc. Nouns following cardinals from 1 to 10 are in the état d'annexion. Above ten, they are not pluralized and "n" 'of' precedes the noun: contrast unicode|"kkuẓ wu-ssan" (four EA-day.pl) 'four days' with unicode|"kraḍ d mraw n wuššn" (three and ten of EA-jackal) 'thirteen jackals'. In the tens, Arabic numerals are used, e.g. "ɛšrin" 'twenty', "tltin" 'thirty', etc. Tens are combined with Arabic units. Sometimes cardinals behave like nouns in that they are countable as well: unicode|"sin id-ɛšrin n tgʷmma" (two pl-twenty of EA-houses) 'forty houses'. Ordinal numbers are constructed by use of "wiss" (m) or "tiss" plus the cardinal number, e.g. unicode|"wiss kraḍ" 'the third (m)'.


Like all Berber languages, Tashelhiyt has absorbed quite some Arabic vocabulary, especially in the religious domain.

ample text

The story of the man who sold honey in the souk. 1 A man was filling some leather bags of honey in the souk. ² There came another man to him, who wanted to buy honey. He said: "At how much do you sell that honey?" ³ The seller said to him: "Just taste it, and if it pleases you, make a bid." 4 The man took a bag, poured out some, tasted the honey and gave it back to its owner; he said: "Please hold it, so that I can try another one". 5 The seller held it in his hand, the buyer took another bag, poured out some, tasted the honey and gave it back to its owner, 6 who held it in his other hand. Then the man took another bag of honey and ran away. The seller could not do anything because of the bags he held. 7 He called for help until they liberated him.

["Word for word translation:"] Story of one man who selling honey in souk. 1 One man he.fill some leather.bags of honey in souk. 2 He.came there to.him one man, want to him buy honey. He.say to.him: "How.much is.it you.sell honey that?" 3 He.say to.him: "Taste it, if to.you it.please then about.her speak. 4 He.take man there one leather.bag, he.pour-out it, he.taste honey, he.give it to owner its, he.say to.him: "Hold, until (ar kiɣ) I.test another. 5 He.hold it in hand his, he.take again seller that another, he.pour-out it, he.taste honey, he.give it again to owner its. 6 He.hold it in hand his other, he.take seller one bag of honey, he.run, he.not-able owner.of honey what to he.do because leather.bags that he.held. 7 Then he.call to people that him they.liberate.

Notes and references


# A term introduced by Paulette Galand-Pernet as cited in vd. Boogert 1997:52.
# Source: "Lxdmt n tmɣarin" (The work of women), text 36 in Stroomer 2001:140vv.
# Source of this short text: Stroomer 1995.


*cite book | author=Aspinion, Robert | title=Apprenons le berbère: initiation aux dialectes chleuhs | location=Rabat | publisher=Moncho | year=1953
*cite book | author=Boogert, Nico van den | title=Berber Literary Tradition of the Sous — with an edition and translation of 'The Ocean of Tears' by Muḥammad Awzal (d. 1749) | publisher= (De Goeje Fund, Vol. XXVII) Leiden: NINO | year=1997 ISBN 90-6258-971-5
*Boogert, Nico van den & Harry Stroomer (2004) 'Tashelhiyt Berber of South Morocco &mdash; a morphological survey'. Unpublished.
*cite book | author=Stroomer, Harry | title=Textes berbères des Aït Souab (Anti-Atlas) recueillis par le capitaine Jean Podeur, édités et annotés | publisher=Aix-en-Provence: Edisud | year=1995
*cite book | author=Stroomer, Harry | title=An anthology of Tashelhiyt Berber folktales (South Morocco) | publisher= (Berber Studies, vol. 2). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe | year=2001
*cite book | author=Stroomer, Harry | title=Tashelhiyt Berber Folktales from Tazerwalt (South Morocco). A Linguistic Reanalysis of Hans Stumme's Tazerwalt Texts with an English Translation | publisher= (Berber Studies, vol. 4). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe | year=2002

External links

* [http://www.agraw.com/modules/Music/Music.php Tashelhiyt Music]
* [http://www.agraw.com/modules/Music/Sous-Music.php Sous Music]
* [http://www.agraw.com/modules/Music/Atlas-Music.php Atlas Music]
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=shi Ethnologue Report for Tashelhit]
*John Coleman, [http://www.phon.ox.ac.uk/~jcoleman/TPS.html 'Epenthetic vowels in Tashlhiyt Berber'] (includes sound samples)
* [http://tashelhyit.fortunecity.com Berber folktales including many Tashelhit folktales]

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