Dictionary contributes to spreading the Berber language

November 2003 -

A Tamazight-French dictionary has been published in Algeria. Tamazight is the name of the different Berber languages and dialects spoken in North Africa.

The dictionary, published by Jazz Editions in Algiers, is extraordinary because it deals with the entire Tamazight and not, as in previous studies, with one of the regional versions. The dictionary contains approximately 65,000 words. It took compilers ten years to put together the dictionary. In the preface they emphasise that studying Tamazight is no longer the province of a few linguists. The entire burgeoning Berber population has an interest in such a work. The compilers of this dictionary want to contribute to the democratisation and propagation of the Berber language and Berber culture. A goal that fits in with the history of the battle that speakers of this language have fought over the past several decades.

The Algerian constitution of 1963, written after the war of independence, only recognised Arabic as the official language. In April 1980 students organised a lecture about classical Tamazight poetry. The lecture was interrupted by the police, who forbade it to continue. Ever since, this incident has been referred to as the Berber spring. The battle for recognition of the Berber language was also a battle for the recognition of the Berber population. In the spring of 2001 the battle became quite violent, after a student was killed by a policeman. A number of demonstrations were beaten back and activists were arrested or killed. The Berber population united in village committees and drew up its demands. In April of 2002 Tamazight was recognised as the national language.