The Berber languages (native name: ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ Tamazight [tæmæˈzɪɣt], [θæmæˈzɪɣθ]) are the indigenous languages of North Africa west of the Nile. The Berber group is assigned by linguists to the Afroasiatic language family. A relatively sparse population speaking a group of closely related and similar languages and dialects extends across the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara, and the northern part of the Sahel in Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Tunisia, Libya, and the Siwa Oasis area of Egypt. There is a movement among speakers of the closely related Northern Berber languages to unite them into a single standard language.
The name Tamazight, which traditionally referred specifically to standard Tamazight of (Middle Atlas Tamazight and Grand High Atlas Tamazight) Morocco, and is also used by the native speakers of Riff (Tarifit), is being increasingly used for this Standard Berber, or even for Berber as a whole. Its usage is less consistent in some areas like the Kabylia where locals call their language Taqbaylit rather than Tamazight. Due to the rising Berber cultural and political activism and its recent prominence in the North African media, the popularity of the term Tamazight made it known and recognizable by virtually every citizen in North Africa, including non-Berber speakers.
Among the notable varieties of Berber are Middle Atlas Imazighen (Morocco), Riff (Morocco), High Atlas Imazighen (Morocco), Kabylian (Taqbaylit), and the Tuareg dialect chain. The Berber languages have had a written tradition, on and off, for over 2,000 years, although the tradition has been frequently disrupted by various invasions. It was first written in the Tifinagh alphabet, still used by the Tuareg; the oldest dated inscription is from about 200 BC. Later, between about 1000 AD and 1500 AD, it was written in the Arabic alphabet; since the 20th century, it has often been written in the Latin alphabet, especially among the Kabylians.
A modernized form of the Tifinagh alphabet was made official in Morocco in 2003, and a similar one is sparsely used in Algeria. The Berber Latin alphabet is preferred by Moroccan Berber writers and is still predominant in Algeria (although unofficially). Mali and Niger recognized the Berber Latin alphabet and customized it to the Tuareg phonological system. However, traditional Tifinagh is still used in those countries. Both Tifinagh and Latin scripts are being increasingly used in Morocco and parts of Algeria, while the Arabic script has been abandoned by Berber writers.
The term Berber has been used in Europe since at least the 17th century, and is still used today. It was borrowed from the Arabic designation for these populations, البربر, al-Barbar, see Berber (name).
The term Tamazight traditionally referred specifically to the Central Morocco Tamazight dialect, but it has recently[clarification needed] gained ground over Berber, particularly to refer to Northern Berber languages, just as "Amazigh" is used to refer to a native Berber speaker. Etymologically, it means "language of the free" or "of the noblemen".
Traditionally, the term "tamazight" (in various forms: "thamazighth", "tamasheq", "tamajeq", "tamahaq") was used by many Berber groups to refer to the language they spoke, including the Middle Atlas, the Rif, Sened in Tunisia, and the Tuareg. However, other terms were used by other groups; for instance, many parts of western Algeria called their language "taznatit" or Zenati, while the Kabyles called theirs "thaqvaylith", the inhabitants of Siwa "tasiwit", and the Zenaga. In Tunisia, the local Berber languages are usually referred to as "Shelha". ?? "Tuddhungiya". The Zenata of the Rif also used to their language "Zenatia" specifically to distinguish it from the "Tamazight" spoken by the rest of the Rif.
One group, the Linguasphere Observatory, has attempted to introduce the neologism "Tamazic languages" to refer to the Berber languages.
Origin Main article: Proto-Berber
Berber is a member of the Afroasiatic language family. Its grouping within that family is uncertain.
Since modern Berber languages are relatively homogeneous, the date of the Proto-Berber language from which the modern group is derived was probably comparatively recent, comparable to the age of the Germanic or Romance families. By contrast, the split of the group from the other Afro-Asiatic sub-phyla is much earlier, and is sometimes associated with the Mesolithic Capsian culture.
 OrthographyMain article: Berber orthography
There are a number of different scripts with which Berber languages may be written. The choice of writing system is often based on politics rather than practical considerations.