Languages: Arabic and Berber
Except for Europeans, ethnic communities in Algeria were distinguished
primarily by language. Before the arrival of Arabic-speaking invaders,
Berber was the language of the indigenous population. Arabic encroached
gradually, spreading through the areas most accessible to migrants
and conquerors. Berber remained the mother tongue in many rural
Arabic, the language of the majority and the official language
of the country, is a Semitic tongue related to Hebrew, Aramaic,
and Amharic. The dominant language throughout North Africa and
the Middle East, Arabic was introduced to the coastal regions
by the Arab conquerors of the seventh and eighth centuries A.D.
and the Arabs, 642-1830 , ch. 1). Arabic language and culture
had an even greater impact under the influence of the beduin Arabs,
who arrived in greater numbers from the eleventh century onward.
Written Arabic is psychologically and sociologically important
as the vehicle of Islam and Arab culture and as the link with
other Arab countries. Two forms are used: the classical Arabic
of the Quran and Algerian dialectical Arabic. Classical Arabic
is the essential base of written Arabic and formal speech throughout
the Arab world. It is the vehicle of a vast religious, scientific,
historical, and literary heritage. Arabic scholars or individuals
with a good classical education from any country can converse
with one another.
In classical Arabic as in other Semitic scripts, only the consonants
are written; vowel signs and other diacritical marks to aid in
pronunciation are employed occasionally in printed texts. The
script is cursive, lending itself to use as decoration.
There has been considerable borrowing of words between Berber
and Arabic. In some Arabic-speaking areas, the words for various
flora and fauna are still in Berber, and Berber place-names are
numerous throughout the country, some of them borrowed. Examples
of Berber place-names are Illizi, Skikda, Tamanrasset, Tipasa,
and Tizi Ouzou.
Berber is primarily a spoken language, although an ancient Berber
script called tifinagh survives among the Tuareg of the
Algerian Sahara, where the characters are used more for special
purposes than for communication. Several Berber dialect groups
are recognized in modern Algeria, but only Kabyle and Chaouia
are spoken by any considerable number. The Chaouia dialect, which
is distinguishable from but related to Kabyle, bears the mark
and influence of Arabic. Separate dialects, however, are spoken
by the Tuareg and by the Mzab.
Data as of December 1993