Judeo-Berber language

Judeo-Berber or Judeo-Amazigh (Berber languages: ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ ⵏ ⵡⵓⴷⴰⵢⵏ tamazight n wudayen, Hebrew: ברברית יהודית berberit yehudit) is any of several hybrid Berber varieties traditionally spoken as a second language in Berber Jewish communities of central and southern Morocco, and perhaps earlier in Algeria. Judeo-Berber is (or was) a contact language; the first language of speakers was Judeo-Arabic.[1] (There were also Jews who spoke Berber as their first language, but not a distinct Jewish variety.)[1] Speakers emigrated to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. While mutually comprehensible with the Tamazight spoken by most inhabitants of the area (Galand-Pernet et al. 1970:14), these varieties are distinguished by the use of Hebrew loanwords and the pronunciation of š as s (as in many Jewish Moroccan Arabic dialects).

Native speakers
L2 speakers: 2,000 cited 1992)[2]
Hebrew alphabet
(generally not written)
Language codes
ISO 639-3jbe
Glottolog(insufficiently attested or not a distinct language)
Map of Judeo Berber speaking communities in the first half of the 20th century

Speaker population

According to a 1936 survey, approximately 145,700 of Morocco's 161,000 Jews spoke a variety of Berber, 25,000 of whom were reportedly monolingual in the language.[3]

Geographic distribution

Communities where Jews in Morocco spoke Judeo-Berber included : Tinerhir, Ouijjane, Asaka, Imini, Draa valley, Demnate and Ait Bou Oulli in the Tamazight-speaking Middle Atlas and High Atlas and Oufrane, Tiznit and Illigh in the Tasheliyt-speaking Souss valley (Galand-Pernet et al. 1970:2). Jews were living among tribal Berbers, often in the same villages and practiced old tribal Berber protection relationships.

Almost all speakers of Judeo-Berber left Morocco in the years following its independence, and their children have mainly grown up speaking other languages. In 1992, about 2,000 speakers remained, mainly in Israel; all are at least bilingual in Judeo-Arabic.


Judeo-Berber is characterized by the following phonetic phenomena: [1]

  • Centralized pronunciation of /i u/ as [ɨ ʉ]
  • Neutralization of the distinction between /s ʃ/, especially among monolingual speakers
  • Delabialization of labialized velars (/kʷ gʷ xʷ ɣʷ/), e.g. nəkkʷni/nukkni > nəkkni 'us, we'
  • Insertion of epenthetic [ə] to break up consonant clusters
  • Frequent diphthong insertion, as in Judeo-Arabic
  • Some varieties have q > kʲ and dˤ > tˤ, as in the local Arabic dialects
  • In the eastern Sous Valley region, /l/ > [n] in both Judeo-Berber and Arabic


Apart from its daily use, Judeo-Berber was used for orally explaining religious texts, and only occasionally written, using Hebrew characters; a manuscript Pesah Haggadah written in Judeo-Berber has been reprinted (Galand-Pernet et al. 1970.) A few prayers, like the Benedictions over the Torah, were recited in Berber.[4]


Taken from Galand-Pernet et al. 1970:121 (itself from a manuscript from Tinghir):

יִכְדַמְן אַיְיִנַגָא יפּרעו גְמַצָר. יִשוֹפִגַג רבי נּג דְיְנָג שוֹפוֹש נִדְרע שוֹפוֹש יִכיווֹאַנ
ixəddamn ay n-ga i pərʿu g° maṣər. i-ss-ufġ aġ əṛbbi ənnəġ dinnaġ s ufus ən ddrʿ, s ufus ikuwan.
Rough word-for-word translation: servants what we-were for Pharaoh in Egypt. he-cause-leave us God our there with arm of might, with arm strong.
Servants of Pharaoh is what we were in Egypt. Our God brought us out thence with a mighty arm, with a strong arm.

See also


  1. Chetrit (2016) "Jewish Berber", in Kahn & Rubin (eds.) Handbook of Jewish Languages, Brill
  2. Judeo-Berber at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. Abramson, Glenda (2018-10-24). Sites of Jewish Memory: Jews in and From Islamic Lands. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-75160-1.
  4. "Jews and Berbers" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-12-19. (72.8 KB)


  • P. Galand-Pernet & Haim Zafrani. Une version berbère de la Haggadah de Pesaḥ: Texte de Tinrhir du Todrha (Maroc). Compres rendus du G.L.E.C.S. Supplement I. 1970. (in French)
  • Joseph Chetrit. "Jewish Berber," Handbook of Jewish Languages, ed. Lily Kahn & Aaron D. Rubin. Leiden: Brill. 2016. Pages 118-129.
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