Tarifit Berber-English Dictionary: Documenting an Endangered Language

Author: McClelland, Clive W.
The Berbers are the original inhabitants of North Africa, in residence long before the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals or the Arabs. Their languages, from the Afroasiatic language family, are spoken throughout the region, from the Siwa Oasis in Egypt to the Atlantic coast, and as far south as southern Niger and Mali.

This book is a representation of the most commonly utilized words and phrases in one of these Berber dialects, in northeastern Morocco. Despite the fact that more than 1 million inhabitants speak the language today, social and economic changes are causing many young people to leave their mother tongue and concentrate on languages of upward mobility, such as Modern Standard Arabic, French and Spanish. Consequently, in an effort to help preserve this unwritten, little-studied and undocumented language, this work was produced.


“Compiling this dictionary of Tarifit Berber (spoken in Morocco) … requires a high level of expertise and experience, and McClelland is the perfect one to have carried out the task, having spent a number of years studying the language. In addition to his lexical investigations as presented here, he analyzed the phonology of the language and developed a roman-based orthography to go along with the traditional writing system, and he subsequently wrote his doctoral dissertation on the structure of the language (McClelland 1996, published in revised form as McClelland 2000). Clearly, this is a compilation based upon solid fieldwork … with around a million speakers, Tarifit Berber is not an endangered language – there will undoubtedly be speakers of this language for years to come – but it is not a language whose lexical structures are well documented either. Thus this dictionary has the potential to serve two major purposes. First, it provides a bit of a window on the Tarifit worldview as represented in its patterns of lexical organization and thus furthers our understanding of the variety of human culture. Equally important, there is the possibility that it will make an important contribution also to the speakers themselves. At the present time there is an increased interest in literacy among Berber communities, and a desire to learn English as well; this dictionary thus may serve more ends than those of linguists alone. In his presentation McClelland includes not only a body of entries of over 5000 words, but also an introduction to the phonology, and a sketch of the grammar (including extensive comments on discourse structure), both of which serve to make the presentation of the dictionary more readily accessible. Each dictionary entry itself includes a phonetic representation; a phonological representation; a representation in the traditional writing system (which is enjoying a resurgence in the community and is a source of great cultural pride); information about multiple senses with English glosses (frequently illustrated with examples from natural language); and an array of synonyms and antonyms.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Donald Burquest, University of Texas - Arlington

“Dr. McClelland achieves in his dictionary of Tarifit Berber precisely the objectives he sets forth. His lexicon, while not exhaustive, represents a finely articulated and well illustrated basis of work from which students can learn and upon which further work can proceed. Dr. McClelland's descriptions of the phonology, morphology, and syntax of the language are concise and well illustrated, and while necessarily skeletal, articulately revealing of the characteristics of the language. Of particular significance in the work is Dr. McClelland’s observations on the relationships among word order, discourse features, and prosody. Dr. McClelland’s long and thorough study of Tarifit Berber and his clear command of the research in the field make this a volume that adds substantially to our understanding of the characteristics of the language and hopefully to the preservation and continued vitality of the language.” – Professor Paul D. Muller, Liberty University

Table of Contents

Foreword, Preface, Acknowledgements
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Abbreviations and Symbols
Discourse pragmatics and clause structure
Interrelations of syntax, pragmatics and story structure
A final word
Tarifit Berber-English Dictionary