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Kabyle 

Kabyle
Ansuf yiswen – Welcome

Kabyle (Taqbaylit) belongs to the Northern Berber group of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The name of the language is reportedly derived from the Arabic word for “tribesman”. The Kabyle-speaking areas of Algeria include the provinces of Tizi OuzouBéjaïa and Bouïra. mapAbout half of the population of the neighboring SétifBordj Bou Arréridj and Boumerdès provinces are also Kabyle speakers. About half of the 3-million population of Algiers, the capital of Algeria, are also Kabyle-speaking. In addition, Kabyle is spoken in diaspora communities in Europe, mostly by about a million people in France. Ethnologue estimates the total number of speakers of Kabyle worldwide at 5.6 million, while INALCO estimates it at 7 million.

Status

According to Ethnologue, there are 5 million speakers of Kabyle in Algeria, although Modern Standard Arabic is specified in its constitution as the official language of Algeria, Kabyle has been taught in schools in Kabyle-speaking areas. However, it remains primarily the language of the home and the marketplace. Many Kabyle speakers also speak Arabic and French.

Dialects

There are several geographically distributed and mutually intelligible dialects of Kabyle.

Structure

Sound system

The sound system of Kabyle shares many features with other Berber languages.

Vowels

Kabyle has four vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that can differentiate word meaning.

Close
i
xx
u
Mid
e*
xxx
Open
a
xx

*/e/ is primarily used as an epenthetic (inserted) vowel. Consonants Kabyle has an extremely rich consonant system. Some of the system’s distinguishing features are listed below:

  • A variety of velaruvularpharyngeal and glottal consonants produced in the back of the oral cavity
  • A contrast between plain and glottalized consonants. The latter are produced with a partial closure of the glottis during the articulation of the consonant. Glottalized consonants are marked with a raised [ˤ] in the table below.
  • A distinction between plain and labialized consonants. The latter are produced with a simultaneous rounding of the lips while the sound is being articulated. Labialized consonants are marked with a raised [ʷ] in the table below.
  • Like many Afro-Asiatic languages, native Kabyle words do not have the consonants /p/ and /v/. These sounds occur only in borrowed words.
  • Most consonants can be geminated (doubled). Geminated consonants are produced with a longer closure than their single counterparts.
Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Stops voiceless plain
t
k
q
glottalized
labialized
voiced
plain
b
d
g
labialized
Fricatives voiceless
plain
f
θ
s
ʃ
ç
h
glottalized
ʃˤ
çˤ
labialized
χʷ
voiced
plain
β
xxx
ð
z
ʒ
ʝ
ʕ
glottalized
ðˤ
ʒˤ
labialized
ʝʷ
ʁʷ
Affricates voiceless
ts
voiced
dz
xx
m
n
xx x
plain
l
xx x
glottalized
ɫ
Trills plainx xx
r
xxxx x
glottalized
Approximants xxx
w
xx x
j
xx x
  • /bʷ, kʷ, qʷ, gʷ, χʷ, ʁʷ/ are labialized consonants produced with a simultaneous rounding of the lips while the sounds are being articulated.
  • /tˤ, dˤ, sˤ, zˤ, lˤ, rˤ/ are glottalized consonants produced with a partial closure of the glottis during the articulation of the consonants.
  • /θ/ = th in thin
  • /ð/ = th in those
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /ʒ/ = s in measure
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /χ, ħ, ʁ, ʕ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ɫ/ = l in peel
  • /j/ = y in yet

 

Grammar

The grammar of Kabyle shares most of its basic features with other Berber languages.

Nouns, adjectives, pronouns

Kabyle nouns are marked for the following categories:

  • There are two genders: masculine and feminine. Most masculine nouns start with a vowel, while most feminine nouns start end with a /t/, e.g., aqcic ‘a boy’ and taqcict ‘a girl’; amcic ‘male cat’ and tamcict ‘female cat’.
  • There are two numbers: singular and plural. Plural can be marked in several ways: (1) by changing the initial vowel of the stem and adding the suffix –en, e.g., argaz ‘a man’ and irgazen ‘men’; (2) internal vowel change, e.g., afrux ‘bird’ and ifrax ‘birds’; (3) a combination of devices, e.g., aḍar ‘foot’ and iḍaṛṛen ‘feet’.
  • There are two cases referred to as free and annexed states, e.g., Aqcic yettru ‘The boy [free] is crying’ and Yettru weqcic ‘Is crying the boy [annexed]’; aqcict ‘girl’ [free] and yiwet teqcict ‘one girl’.
  • Adjectives behave like nouns, i.e., they are marked for gender, number and state, e.g., amellal ‘white [masculine singular]’, tamellalt [feminine singular]; tamellalt [masculine plural], timellalin [feminine plural].
  • All personal pronouns are marked for gender and number, except in the 1st person singular, e.g., kečč, keččini ‘you [2nd person masculine singular]’, kemm, kemmini ‘you [2nd person feminine singular].
  • Possessive pronouns are attached to nouns, e.g., tameṭṭut-iw ‘wife my’.

 

Verbs

Kabyle verbs agree with their subjects in person, gender and number.

  • Person, gender and number of the subject are represented by affixes attached to verb roots.
  • Verbs have several tense/aspect distinctions, e.g., simple aorist (future), intensive aorist (habitual and durative actions), preterite (completed actions).
  • There are three moods: indicativeimperative, and subjunctive.
  • There are two imperative forms: simple and intensive.

 

Vocabulary

Kabyle vocabulary is basically Berber with numerous borrowings from ArabicFrench and neighboring languages. Loanwords are often berberized so that Arabic word kitab ‘book’ becomes taktabt, and the French word machine becomes tamacint in Kabyle.

Below are a few basic words and phrases in Kabyle.

Hello azul fellam, azul fellak (response)
Good bye ğğiγ-am lehna, ğğiγ-ak lehna (response)
Thank you tanmirt atas
Yes ih
Man argaz
Woman tamettut
Father ababat, baba
Mother tayemmat

 

Below are Kabyle numerals 1-10.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
yiwen (masc), yiwet(fem)
sin (masc), snat(fém)
tlata
ṛebεa
xemsa
setta
sebεa
tmanya
tesεa
εecṛa

Writing

Although Kabyle was a written language before the 7th century, it was rarely written until the 20th century.

  • Ancient inscriptions in the Tifinagh alphabet have been discovered by archeologists in northeastern Algeria, in the area which is now populated by Kabyle people.
  • The first French-Kabyle dictionary using the Latin script was published in the 18th century. The script was based on French orthography and did not represent all the meaningful Kabyle sound contrasts.
  • One of the first Kabyle books was published in the 19th century. It used a French-based orthography.
  • After Algerian independence in 1962, a new version of the Tifinagh alphabet became the official script.
  • Mouloud Mammeri, a Kabyle Berber writer, anthropologist and linguist, developed a 34-letter modified version of the earlier French-based orthography for Kabyle. It contains diacritics and two letters from an extended Latin alphabet. The revised script was adopted by all Berber linguists. It uses 9 additional letters and digraphs (Čč, ḍ, Ɛɛ, Ǧǧ, Ɣɣ, ḥ, ṣ, ṭ, ẓ.). This orthography is widely used today.

 

The modified Latin alphabet for Kabyle is given below:

A a
B b
C c
Č č
D d
Ḍ ḍ
E e
F f
G g
H h
Ḥ ḥ
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
Q q
R r
S s
Ṣ ṣ
Tt tt
U u
W w
X x
Y y
Z z
Zz zz
Ẓ ẓ

 

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kabyle.

Imdanen, akken ma llan ttlalen d ilelliyen msawan di lhwerma d yizerfan- ghur sen tamsakwit d lâquel u yessefk ad-tili tegmatt gar asen.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

 

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Kabyle? There is no data on the difficulty of Kabyle for speakers of English.

 

Basic Resources

Kabyle Language (Wikipedia)

Kabyle (Ethnologue)

OLAC Resources in and about the Kabyle Language

 

 

6 Responses to Kabyle

  1. Sonmi 451

    Thank you so much for this article!

     
  2. Meriem

    In this article you are confusing between a language and a dialect. Kabyle is one of the Berber language dialects which are spoken in Algeria, together with others like: Shaoui, M’zab (Mozabite), Tamashak (dialect spoken in the South of the country by the Touaregs), Chenoua (very close to Kabyle). These are the major dialects, and there are other small dialects.

    When you say: “Kabyle has been designated by an amendment to the constitution in 2002 as the national language of the country” It is Tamazight or Amazigh language (Berber language) which was recognised as a national language not Kabyle which is one of its dialects.

    “There are several mutually intelligible dialects of Kabyle based on the country’s geography”, again dialects of Tamazight or Amazigh language because Kabyle is one dialect.

     
  3. Abdessalam

    Hello, I want just to say that the letter v does exist in the kabyle language, the letter b is prononced v .

     
    • Irene Thompson

      What you meant is that the sound [v] exists in Kabyle and that it is represented by the letter b.

       
    • Irene Thompson

      Actually it is not a labiodental /v/ but a bilabial /β/ as given in consonant chart on our Kabyle page.

       

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