The Berber languages are the mother tongues of some 12 million persons in enclaves throughout many nations of N Africa. The oldest known Berber inscriptions are from the 4th cent. B.C., but Berber-speaking peoples have lived in N Africa since c.3000 B.C., and Berber names appear in ancient Egyptian inscriptions from the Old Kingdom. The Berber tongues have survived Phoenician, Roman, and Arab conquests. Today they are spoken in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger. Many Berbers are bilingual, speaking also Arabic. The modern Berber variants include Tamazight, Tachelhit (Tashalit), Kabyle, Shawiya (Tashawit), Tamasheq (Taureg), Rif (Tarifit), Siwi, Zenaga, and others. Grammatically, gender and number are indicated by prefixes and suffixes. The vocabulary has been enriched by borrowings from Latin, Arabic, French, and Spanish. The Arabic alphabet is employed, except in the case of the Tamazight and Tamasheq dialects, which continue to use an ancient Berber alphabet known as Tifinagh.
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