Rif Berber

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Rif Berber
Autoglottonym: Tamazight, Tarifiyt
Pronunciation: [{{{Pronunciation}}}]
Ethnologue name: Tarifit
OLAC name: {{{OLACname}}}
Location point: 4dW 34d30N map
Family: Afro-Asiatic
Genus: Berber
Country: Morocco
Official in: {{{OfficialLg}}}
Speakers: {{{Speakers}}}
Writing system: {{{WritingSyst}}}
ISO 639-3: {{{ISO3}}}

Rif Berber is an Afro-Asiatic language that is spoken in Morocco.


The name consists of the modifier Rif and the head Berber. The Rif is the name of a mountainous range in Northern Morocco, in part of which Rif Berber is spoken. The most generally used autonym is Tamazight (or Tmazight), a term which is also used as an autonym in several other Berber languages. The term Tarifiyt (also spelled Tarifit) is often used to disambiguate terminology. In regional usage, however, Tarifiyt is often only used for the dialects spoken west of the Oued Kert as opposed to the dialects spoken east of this river. The language of the Beni Iznasen, which is included in Rif Berber on linguistic grounds, is regarded locally as a variety which does not belong to Rif Berber at all.


There is a large amount of dialectal variation in Rif Berber. The most western varieties - the so-called dialects of the Senhaja de Sraïr and Ghomara - are so different from the rest of Rif Berber that they should be regarded a different language (e.g. Kossmann 1999:31 excludes them from his "Zenatic" group, while Rif Berber proper is included). Even within Rif Berber proper, there exist important differences; this can easily be seen using the dialect atlas (Lafkioui 1997).


Rif Berber is spoken in the north-eastern part of Morocco. The easternmost dialects which are usually included in this group are spoken by the Beni Iznasen north of the city of Oujda, and near the Algerian border. Rif Berber proper extends to the west until the region immediately west of Elhoceima. It reaches to the south until the plains. In the high mountains around Ketama and Targuist the varieties of the Senhaja de Sraïr are spoken, which may belong to a different linguistic group inside Berber. In the beginning of the 20th century there was still a small Rif Berber speaking immigrant community in the Algerian town of Vieil Arzew. As the language was moribund around 1910 (Biarnay 1911), the probability of its survival is very low. Sources claiming that Rif Berber is also spoken in Algeria, such as the Ethnologue, are simply wrong. There exist a few Berber varieties spoken across the Algerian border, such as the dialect of the Beni Snous. Despite many similarities to Rif Berber, these varieties are not included in Rif Berber.


Based on census data of the number of inhabitants of the provinces where Rif Berber is spoken the number of speakers would add up to about one million. There are many Rif Berber speakers who migrated from their home region to other parts of Morocco and to Europe, esp. the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (esp. Duisburg and Frankfurt am Main).


Validity of classification

There is no doubt that Rif Berber belongs to the Berber language family.


  • Kossmann, Maarten. 1999. Essai sur la phonologie du proto-berbère. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.

Works on the language

  • 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.
  • Renisio, A. 1932. Etude sur les dialectes berbères des Beni Iznassen, du Rif et des Senhaja de Sraïr. Paris: Leroux.