The Berbers lived in north Africa long before the arrival of the Arabs, and their culture probably dates back more than 4,000 years. Berber states known as Mauritania and Numidia existed in classical times.
Today, there are substantial Berber populations in Morocco and Algeria, plus smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In Morocco, about 40% acknowledge a Berber identity, though many more have Berber ancestry.
There is a tendency in Morocco to regard the Berbers as backward, partly because their culture is strongest in the less-developed rural areas. Many of the children in these regions drop out of school because they are taught in what, to them, is a foreign language – Arabic. The language barrier often remains a problem throughout adult life, especially when dealing with officialdom.
Berber is not officially recognised in Morocco, though French (the old colonial language) is. There was some pressure in 1996, when the constitution was being revised, to have Berber recognised. For more about this see the Berber manifesto.
In January 2010 Morocco established its first Amazigh TV channel, broadcasting in the Tachelhit, Tarifit and Tamazight dialects.
Linguistically, Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatic group, and has many dialects. The three main dialects used in Morocco are Tachelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. Collectively, they are known as “shilha” in Arabic.
Tachelhit (sometimes known as “soussi” or “cleuh”) is spoken in south-west Morocco, in an area between Ifni in the south, Agadir in the north and Marrakech and the Draa/Sous valleys in the east.
Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, between Taza, Khemisset, Azilal and Errachidia.
Tarifit (or Rifia) is spoken in the Rif area of northern Morocco.
Berber is basically a spoken language, though there have been (and still are) attempts to gain acceptance for a written form. A Berber alphabet, probably derived from the ancient Punic script, has existed for around 2,500 years.