Expressing comparison in Tachelhit

This is a (rather free) translation of an article by Abdallah el Mountassir, entitled Comparer, différencier: l’expression de la comparison en berbère (tachelhit) du sud-ouest marocain, in: Faits de langues, n°5, Mars 1995. La comparaison. pp. 99-107.

This is well worth the read, as it covers an essential part of everyday communication. If you can read French, I recommend reading the original. I’ve merely translated this as part of my effort to disseminate as much learning material to as many people as possible.

Sidi el Mountassir, thank you and bless you for making the world rich in works on Tachelhit which are modern, academic, and accessible.


While the Berber language does not have specific terms to state comparison, the absence of such terms does not mean that the notion of comparison is inexistent. The idea of “to compare” finds its equivalent in the Tachelhit verb “to differentiate, to find distinction between”, sna7ya. When you want to compare, for example, two objects, you say sna7ya-tn, “contrast them”. You have then to determine in what ways they are different: weight, size, color, volume, price, etc. When two objects are different, you say na7ya-tn, “different-them”, which can also be translated as “different but comparable”. If the objects are different, that means that they are not identical (or equal): ur-tn saswa (neg-they.similar), “they are not similar”.

So we have two verbs which enter into an opposition: na7ya “be different” and saswa “be similar”. It is from these verbs that Berber constructs comparative relationships. People, objects, properties can be either identical (saswa) or different (na7ya). In other words, we have here a binary system which rests on two essential comparative relations: likeness and difference. The relation of difference corresponds to two other relationships: inferiority and superiority.


Comparative relationships of difference

As we have just seen, Berber does not have specific formal markers to express these two comparative relations of likeness and difference. The language resorts to lexemes. Entities and events are not treated in the same manner:

A) Comparison of entities: If we are contrasting two or more entities, we have recourse to two verbs: ati “surpass (in number, quantity, size)” and af “be better”. These two verbs ati and af introduce respectively a comparison of quantity and of quality. Take a look at these two statements:

1) tuti lxdmt noBrahim ti n-Hmad

she.exceeds work of-Brahim that of-Hmad

Brahim has more work than Hmad


2) tuf lxdmt n-Brahim ti n-Hmad

she.better work of-Brahim that of-Hmad

The work of Brahim is better/more interesting than the work of Hmad

The entity “work” is thus evaluated here from a quantitative point of view with the verb ati, and from a qualitative point of view with the verb af. It is important to note that these two verbs are not used are not used except in a comparative structure. Their use in a context always necessitates the presence of compared and comparer. The semantics of these two comparative verbs always implies the idea of “surpassing, superiority to”. They express a relation of superiority. To account for the meaning of the statements 1 and 2, we can paraphrase them thus:

1) “the quanitity of Brahim’s work is surpassed by the quantity of Hmad’s work.”

2) “the quality of Brahim’s work is surpassed by the quality of Hmad’s work”

While Berber possesses these two verbs of superiority, it lacks any terms which mean “to be inferior”. One can never say in this language “less than” or “less good”. Berber doesn’t have a direct way to express inferiority. Instead, we must use the comparative of negative superiority. So we say:

1) ur tuti lxdmt n-Hmad ti n-Brahim

neg. she.surpasses work of-Hmad that of-Brahim

≃Hmad has less work than Brahim


2) ur tuf lxdmt n-Hmad ti n-Brahim

neg. she.better work of-Hmad that of- Brahim

the work of ≃Hmad is less interesting than the work of Brahim.


B) Comparison of events: We distinguish two types of verbs in Berber: verbs of action and verbs of state. This distinction is important to note here for, as we are about to see, the Berber comparative system uses different methods depending on the type of verb in question.

By verbs of state, we often mean verbs which denote physical or moral qualities: colors, dimensions, weight, age, spiritual activity, etc. These verbs are characterized, in formal structure, by an initial vowel i-: imim, to be soft, izDuy, to be heavy, ighzif, to be big, imlul, to be white, isdid, to be thin, izur, to be fat, ifsus, to be light, etc.

Before examining the characteristics of this category of verbs, we should first give some clarifications concerning the verbal system in Berber. This system is aspectual, rather than temporal, with two fundamental units corresponding to the opposition of completion/incompletion. The incomplete usually expresses the process in course of action, or a habitual process. The complete describes the process as achieved and definite. From the verb shsh “to eat”, we can have the two following statements:

3)ar ishtta Brahim islman

incomp. he.eats Brahim fish

Brahim is in the process of eating fish


4) ishsha Brahim islman

he.eats comp. Brahim fish

Brahim ate fish


While this construction is valid for the type of verbs indicating a process like azzl “run”, su “drink”, ara “write”, amz “grasp”, etc., it is not the case of these verbs of state/quality such as: imim “be soft”, ifsus “be light”, rgh “hot”, etc.

5) ar irqqa l7lib

incomp. hot milk

the milk is currently hot


6) irgha l7lib

comp. hot milk

the milk is hot


The conceptual relation which links statements 3 and 4 is different from that which links 5 and 6.

In the first case, the incomplete in phrase 3 describes the process in course of action and the complete in phrase 4 is presented as achieved and finished. Note that between the two processes, there is a complete divide. In the second case, the incomplete/complete opposition brings into play different conceptual operations.

So, the completeness of the verb in phrase 6 indicates the result of the process expressed in phrase 5. In other terms, the process of heating in 5, ar irqqa, resulting logically in a state of heat irgha (6). This state comes thus necessarily after the accomplishment of a process. There is thus a continuity between the two processes.

Now we distinguish two types of verbs corresponding to two semantic classes: a class of verbs marking a process like azzl “run”, ftu “leave”, etc., and a class of verbs of state-quality such as rgh “be hot”, ifulki “be good”, etc. These observations permit us to identify a property which is specific to verbs of quality/state: their gradual/scalable character. In effect, the semantic core of these verbs always evokes the notion of transformation or becoming. If in phrase 5 the process is in the course of realization, it is also in course of transformation: the milk becomes more and more hot, and in phrase 6 there is the maximum degree attained by the temperature of the milk.

It is important to be precise here — in phrase 5, the degree of temperature is oriented toward the highest level. We can flip that around and look at the case where the temperature is oriented toward the lowest level, i.e. that which results in cold, akrram:

7) ar ikkrm l7lib

incomp. cold milk

the milk becomes cold


8) ikrm l7lib

comp.cold milk

the milk is cold


We thus have two opposing orientations: a course ascending in example 5 and a course descending in example 7. These two meanings can be schematised thus:


This variation of degree is inherent in these verbs forming opposing couples like rgh “hot” / krm “cold”, ighzif “big” / imziy “small”, ifsus “light” / izDuy “heavy” etc. We see these as ‘adjustable’ verbs. These same adjustable verbs, as well as event verbs, admit quantificators (adverbs of degree):

9) ighzzif bahra Brahim

comp. it.big very Brahim

Brahim is very big


10) ar bahra ittxdam Brahim

incomp. much Brahim

Brahim works a lot/too much


The use of the quantifying adverb bahra in these two sentences denotes two opposing semantic properties. In the last sentence, we quantify the work activity of Brahim. For the Berber speaker, this sentence furnishes semantic information which we can paraphrase as: “the quantity of Brahim’s work is big”. It relates to a piece of quantitative information which is in play. As to statement 9, it’s the evaluative dimension which is expressed: the size of Brahim is judged as ‘large’.

These two sentences correspond perfectly to the difference in quantity/quality. From these remarks, we can formulate the following distinction: an evaluation of quality with adjustable verbs, and an evaluation of quantities with non-adjustable verbs. In Berber, the size tighzi is an evaluative property: we postulate an evaluative judgement without giving exact precision. On the other hand, the work lxdmt is apprehended here as a quantifiable property.


Comparative relation and spatial dimension

After having briefly examined the characteristics of adjustable verbs and the opposition of these with non-adjustable verbs, let’s now examine how the difference between these two types of verbs manifests itself at the systemic level of comparison in Berber. In effect, the preceding observations allows us to identify two different comparative structures: the quantitative comparison and the evaluative comparison.

A) Quantitative comparison: In a relationship of difference, the quantitative comparison is associated with a grammatical element uggar “more, large quantity”.

11) ar ittxdam Brahim uggar n-Hmad

incomp. Brahim more of Hmad

Brahim works more than Hmad

This sentence transmits the following semantic content:

-Brahim and Hmad work

-The quantity of Brahim’s work is greater than the quantity of Hmad’s work

-The quantity of Hmad’s work is inferior to the quantity of Brahim’s work.

The last sentence is equivalent to the English: “Hmad works less than Brahim”. But in Berber we can never have this type of sentence. For the speaker of this language, this sense of inferiority rests always in subtext. In other terms, Berber doesn’t have a term which opposes uggar and which could be the equivalent of “less”. It is precisely for this reason that the expression of inferiority is implicit in this language while the superiority is always explicit.

B) Evaluative comparison: With this type of comparison, the language puts other concepts into play, as in the following example:

12) ighzzif Brahim f-Hmad

comp. he.big Brahim over-Hmad

Brahim is bigger than Hmad

What is important to take from this sentence is that the grammatical element f- signifies “above, on”. It’s a locative proposition which we can find in a non-comparative sentence:

13) iskkus Brahim f-lkursi

comp. he.sit Brahim on-chair

Brahim is sat on the chair

The localisator f- appears in its full form flla-, when it is followed by a pronoun. We thus have:

12) ighzzif flla-s Brahim

comp. he.big over-him Brahim

Brahim is bigger than him.

f- and flla- are derived from the term aflla which in Tachelhit means “the top, the superior part”. Any differential relationship with adjustable verbs is conceived from a spatial point of view, in particular according to the dimension high/low. In sentence 12, the size of Brahim is described according to his orientation “toward the top” when compared to Hmad. We can paraphrase the same sentence as such: “the size of Brahim is above the size of Hmad, and the size of Hmad is situated below that of Brahim.” This can be schematized as:


Note that this spatial notion of “high” does not always imply a situation of superiority. We can have a statement which denotes inferiority with this same spatial dimension as in the below example:

14) irxs llimun f-ttfa7

comp. oranges over-apples

oranges are cheaper than apples

This sentence tells us that “the low price of oranges is situated above the price of apples”. The semantic content can be schematized as:


What we see in these visualizations is that when confronting two different situations, inferiority and superiority, the language performs the same semantic operation which is the spatial orientation of “top, the superior part of”. All these properties which are conceived in Berber as adjustable: price, distance, age, weight, volume, etc., are conceptualized by the same schema. Knowing also that this language also has the locative preposition ddu “under, beneath” as opposed to f- “on, above”. We might here ask the question: why does Berber not make use of the inverse orientation (descending) of “low, bottom part” to express the case of inferiority? In studying the languages of the world, we see the answer clearly: there is not always a perfect fit between linguistic properties and a given reality.


Comparative relation of similarity

The linguistic expression of similarity rests essentially on two terms: saswa “be similar” and zund “like, as”. These two comparative terms correspond to two types of similarity: complete similarity vs. partial similarity. Let’s compare the two following sentences:

15) saswa Brahim d-Hmad h-tighzi

similar Brahim with-Hmad in-size

Brahim and Hmad have the same size

16) ighzzif Brahim zund Hmad

he.big Brahim like Hmad

Brahim is as big as Hmad

Each sentence presents a different semantic meaning. In sentence 15 there is a complete likeness: the size of Brahim is identical to that of Hmad. On the other hand, in sentence 16, zund “like”, tells us that Brahim and Hmad are big. They are the same height, but without their stature being compared. This sentence can be paraphrased as follows: “Just as Brahim is big, Hmad is equally big.” This partial likeness is expressed by zund “like” which always expresses a subjective judgement specific to the speaker.



The examples given in Berber permit us to note something important: this language only has two comparative relations saswa and na7ya, or sameness and difference, to express the three comparative relationships of superiority, inferiority, and equality. Additionally, in studying the comparative system of Berber, a phenomenon catches our attention: if we observe the current generation of Tachelhit speakers we notice they have a tendency to replace these Berber structures of comparison with those of dialectal Arabic, which, like Berber, is purely oral. However, dialectal Arabic has itself borrowed this type of construction from written Arabic where the methods of comparison are more rich and complex. This explains, without a doubt, that the dearth of specific terms of comparison can be attributed to the oral nature of these languages, and that such terms and structures are developed with writing.


Berber language resources

This isn’t a complete list of all the resources out there, but these are the ones which I consider worth my time. The list is biased toward Tachelhit because that’s what I’m interested in, not because it has more resources than the other dialects.

Tachelhit (southern dialect, has greatest number of speakers)

  1. There’s the course I’ve been creating which isn’t perfect but it’s a good place to start

2. Initiation Tachelhit by Abdallah el Mountassir (Français(Courtesy of

The audio for the Mountassir textbook is available here (work in progress)

3. Dictionary of Tachelhit verbs compiled by el Mountassir

4. The Wikipedia page on Tachelhit is actually awesome, a must-read.

5. Peace corps Tachelhit textbook (courtesy Friends of Morocco) Check back later, I have the audio for this too

6. Old Peace Corps Tachelhit textbook

7. Tachelhit – English dictionary (Peace Corps)

8. EasyLanguageLearning on Youtube This guy’s channel is fantastic; he mostly does Darija, but the Tachelhit videos he makes are very helpful.

9. Tachelhit PC technical booklet (This seems to be the dialect of the Central High Atlas, less useful if you’re trying to learn the dialect of the Souss)

10. Tachelhit health booklet (I’m not sure what dialect this is)

11. Wikimazigh Tachelhit course (Français)

12.  I suspect this is a more generic dialect, and the spelling is non-standard, but the site is a good effort.

13. There are millions of Tachelhit films on Youtube

14. Film of Jesus’s life in Tachelhit (watch this side-by-side with the English version, also on YT, so you can have English subtitles with Tachelhit audio)

15. Supplemental dictionary for finding vocab words (signup required)


Tamazight (High and Central Atlas)

  1. Peace Corps textbook

2. A Grammar of Amazigh

3. Old Peace Corps textbook

4. Tamazight – English dictionary

5. This youtube channel, good for pronunciation practice

6. This weird website

Tamazight (IRCAM’s made-up “standard” dialect, which gives me the creeps and I don’t feel comfortable disseminating, but is good to be aware of)

  1. Vocabulary and Grammar (Français)

2. IRCAM Institute website (or a Geocities parody, I can’t tell)

3. Their list of state-approved publications

4. A textbook produced by IRCAM which uses Tifinagh characters, therefore I am including it only as a joke


Tarifit is very well studied, and there is a wealth of resources if you do simple searches. To start with, I did find this very helpful series of videos, however.

University of Leiden course on Youtube

Other links

Extensive list of Berber-language publications, all dialects including Kabyle and Touareg

This website  is mostly focused on Algerian berbers, but nonetheless it’s a fantastic resource with lots of books for free download

Grammaire berbere by Michel Quitout (all dialects)

Lots of resources listed here, you can trawl through and see if you find anything useful

If you search around on Google Books you can find several grainy scans of Berber-language textbooks written pre-1950, but I don’t think they’re much use compared to the textbooks by Mountassir and the Peace Corps.

Tachelhit in conversation: Transportation

<< Previous lesson: Possessives

You’ve learned the basics of the language, now let’s look at some scenarios you might find yourself in.

When I try to qualify how well I speak Tachelhit I tell people, “I’m not quite conversational but I know enough to argue with a Soussi taxi driver.” Transport is an everyday headache in Tachelhit-speaking regions, whether you’re halfway up a mountain trying to hitchhike a camion into town, or perhaps you find yourself dropped off at the Inezgane bus station at 3AM (I’ve spent more hours of my life there than I care to recall).

Here’s a conversation you might have if you’re hitchhiking, and a car with several people stops. Read the dialogue, trying to understand as much as you can. Then we’ll go over everything. Hint: the verb ‘to go’ is iri. Watch for how it’s conjugated.

Driver: –s-salamu عalaykum. mani trit?

Hitchhiker: –righ ad ddugh s-Tafraoute. 

Driver: –ura nra s-Tafraoute. numz ugharas n-Anezi.

Hitchhiker: –mnchkk ad kilumetru airaman s-Anezi?

Driver: -3chrin d-mraw id kilumetru.

Hitchhiker: –aywa, awiyyi s-Anezi, 3afak.


You might remember using the verb iri as ‘want’ — in fact it means both ‘go’ and ‘want’, which is easy enough to remember; imagine asking a traveler “Where are you wanting?”. Listen to this song; the refrain ahiawa, mani trit? basically means “Heya, where are you going?”

Also remember that when you see or hear ma-, it’s always a question. When the driver asks you mani trit he’s asking very simply ‘Where are you going’? (Remember the personal indicator for ‘you’ is t-t, so the verb iri becomes trit when it’s conjugated for the 2nd person singular.)

You, the hitchhiker, respond righ ad ddugh s-Tafraoute. “I want to go to Tafraoute.”

Notice how you’re using the verb iri in the other sense, meaning ‘want’.

“You go/ you want” – trit

“I go/ I want” – righ

You’re using the verb ddu “go, depart” as your action verb, to explain “I want to go to Tafraoute” — righ ad ddugh s-Tafraoute.

When you use two verbs in a row, join them with adWe haven’t touched on verb aspects yet (Tachelhit’s version of our past/present tense) but just know that the conjuctions ad/rad always mark a verb in the future tense, in this example the verb ddu.

“I will go/depart” – rad ddugh

“I want to go/depart” – righ ad ddugh

Whether you use rad or ad simply depends on how the verb is conjugated, but we’ll cover that in a different lesson.

The prefix u- always indicates a negative, so when you see ura/urad, that’s a conjunction preceding a negative verb in the present (ura) or future (urad) tense 

The driver says “We aren’t going to Tafraoute” — ura nra s-Tafraoute

We’re going — nra

I’m going — righ

You’re going — trit

Instead, they will take (amz) the road (agharas) toward the small market town of Anezi: numz ugharas n-Anezi.

Remember the word agharas changes to ugharas because it’s in the state of attachment (the road of/to Anezi).


The driver’s only going as far as Anezi, so you ask how many kilometers away that is: mnchkk ad kilumetru airaman s-Anezi? Literally translated that reads “how many of kilometers remain to Anezi?”

The preposition s- is an important one. It’s the preposition you use when movement is involved, as in

“I want to go to Tafraoute” – righ ad ddugh s-Tafraoute.

“They leave for the beach” – nddu s-taghart

The driver responds 3chrin d-mraw id kilumetru, that it’s 30 kilometers to Anezi. We’ll learn numbers in a later lesson.

That’s a pretty good chunk of the distance to your destination of Tafraoute, and you’ve heard that Anezi produces really excellent babouches and you’d like to buy a pair. So you say aywa, awiyyi s-Anezi, 3afak — “Okay, take me to Anezi, please!”

aywa just means OK, all right, and it’s a great word to know.

awiyyi is the verb awid, “bring”. You can use that to ask a taxi driver to bring you somewhere, or to ask a waiter to bring you a salad. The suffix -iyyi is used when the verb applies to you.

‘Excuse’ is samH; ‘excuse me’ is samHiyyi

‘Give’ is fk; ‘give me’ is fkiyyi

iyyi is an object pronoun, words which are used to say things like “he gave me” or “I told him”. We’ll learn the rest of them in the next lesson!

3afak means ‘please’. Good to know!

Now go back to the dialogue on top of the page and see if you can read it! Hopefully by now you’re comfortable with everything we’ve learned.

Here are some further expressions you’ll use or hear when dealing with transport.

Please take me to… awiyyi عafak s…

Stop here please – bidd ghid, 3afak

Is the meter on? – is ixdm l-kuntur?

Turn on the meter, please – ssxdm l-kuntur, 3afak.

How much? – mnchkk a dari?

How far is it from here? – mnchkk as iba d f ghid?

Are you going (to the souk) today? – is trit (s-suq) ghas-ad?

Where is the taxi stand? – manigh tlla l-maHt a n t-taksiyat?

Which bus do I need to take if I want to go to…? (you already know most of the words in this sentence) – man t-ubis rad amzgh igh righ ad ddugh s…?

Hitchhiking expressions

I don’t have money. – ura dari iqariDn

Is that OK? – is waxxa?

Are you going to… – is trit…

Take me to… – awiyyi عafak s…

the next village – aduwwar dyuchkan

the next road – agharas dyuchkan

the checkpoint – barrage

Where is the road to…? – manigh illa ugharas n-…

Take the road to the left/right – amz agharas aZlmad/afasi

My name is… – isminu

What’s your name? (m/f) madak/madam ism?

Nice to meet you. – mtsharfin

Thanks so much! – lla yrнm l-walidin (literally “may God bless your parents”, used when someone helps you).


Tachelhit lesson 7: Possessives

<<Previous lesson: “This and That”

We’ve already learned how to indicate possession using suffixes. Remember how easy these were?

-inu – my

-nk – your (m)

-nm – your (f)

-ns – his/her

-nغ/-ngh – ours

-nsn – their (m)

-nsnt – their (f)

-nun – your (pl. m)

-nunt – your (pl. f)

Another way to express possession is with the words win (m) and tin (f) which, as in French, must agree with the gender of the noun.


winu – mine

wink – yours (m)

winm – yours (f)

wins – his/hers

winغ/-wingh – ours

winnun – yours (pl. m)

winnunt – yours (pl. f)

winsn – theirs (m)

winsnt – theirs (f)

For feminine nouns, the above words are exactly the same, simply replacing with t. 

Examples: (See previous lesson to learn words for ‘this, that, these, those’)

 ghwad iga l-ktabinu  – this is my book

ghwad iga winu – this is mine

ghwid gan iDuDaninu – these are my fingers

ghwid gan winu – these are mine

win mit a yga ghwad? – whose is this? (m)

ghwad iga wingh – this is ours

tin mit a tga xttad?  whose is this? (f)

xttad tga tinsnt – this is theirs (f)


Next lesson: Scenario 1: Transportation >>


Cooling down in Casamance


I crawled out of Niokolo-Koba national park like Wile E. Coyote crawls out of a smoking crater. I’d avoided crippling sunburn by wearing long sleeves and pants despite 110º heat. The four days I’d spent hiking through burnt-over forest had left me coated in ash. I resembled a grilled fish.

Besides the heat, I was having a great time overall. I was sad to leave my friends at Campement du Lion after such a short time. When the park ranger dropped me off on the main highway it was with an air of never wanting to see my face again. But after driving off he pulled a U-turn and came back toward me.

“You’ll never catch a lift in this place; I might as well drive you to the next town.” He drove me another 5km and refused any sort of payment.

At a busy little roadside town I went on a mission to find the bottle of Poms (apple soda) which I’d been hallucinating about for days. It was lukewarm and disappointing. I sat on a bench making a mess of a baguette and a bag of mangoes. I got into a conversation with a Catalan who’d just bicycled there from Casablanca, and Niokolo-Koba was going to be his finishing point.

“Congratulations on almost finishing,” I told him, “but I think you’ll find the Gambia was more impressive.”

His stories were really inspiring. Although he had a tent, he’d been hosted almost every night by a Senegalese family. This made me realize my vacation was half over and time was running out to really get under the skin of the country. So far I’d had contact with nobody outside the tourism industry.

Worse still, I’d only just now discovered that mangoes were at their peak ripeness and cost less than a dime. I’d have to spend my remaining week making up for lost mango-eating time.

It took me two days to get into Casamance. Sharing a taxi with a Peace Corps volunteer did me good; hearing the perspective of someone who was in Senegal with a real purpose helped me to take my own objectives less seriously. I felt as though I put my foot in my mouth more than once during the conversation. From that point, I’ve tried to use very reserved language when talking about cultures alien to me (which should be evident in this series of blog posts). Meeting her left me wishing I could conduct myself with as much finesse in life as a PCV can in the chaos of a Senegalese bus station.


Once in Ziguinchour, I slipped back into dissatisfaction. Casamance was beautiful, and I wanted to spend a lot of time here. But to get back north for my return flight would eat up half of my remaining time. The obstacle was Gambia, which, much like the wrought-iron fence at the Dakar airport, seemed always to be in my way. Without the necessary paperwork to cross the Gambia, it looked like I’d have to retrace my steps the whole damn way. I stood on a pile of rubbish under a palm tree by the river, sucking moodily on a mango and tossing flecks of peel into the water.

I ran to an internet cafe and with sticky fingers typed an email to my wife.

“I feel helpless,” I said. “I need to get back to Dakar but I’m staring down a 36 hour taxi ride in one direction, and Gambia’s diplomatic hanky-panky in the other. My plans have been flipped upside down and I don’t know what to do.”

She wrote back, “There’s always a way to take control; it’s just that there’s something blinding you from seeing how. Do whatever it takes, spend whatever you have to, talk to whomever you need to. The answer’s likely staring you in the face.”

She was right. Across the street from the cybercafe was a travel agent’s office where I was able to book a flight for Dakar, meaning I could spend the next three days exploring Casamance rather than sitting in taxis retracing my steps. Sorted.

I bought six mangoes and took a taxi to the woodsy village of M’lomp, and then found passage on a pirogue going to Île de Carabane.


If I ever decide to knuckle down to write my novel, Carabane is where I’m going to do it. This was evidently the low season for tourism, and I envied the handful of other westerners who had clearly been here for some time, having settled into a routine of fishing off the beach and getting tipsy on the terrace of their homestays between meals.

There were perhaps ten of them in total, all dressed in whites and khakis, all smoking cigarettes like it was their last day on earth. All the ones I spoke to were German. Germans tend to materialize at all seasons and locations, in contrast to the French and Spanish who, as far as I’ve seen, keep their mass migrations to predictable schedules, coming and going like the tide from the beach towns of Africa.

After I spent a couple days swatting at mosquitoes and walking on beaches, a family I stayed with on Ile de Carabane offered me a place in their boat to Cap Skirring, Casamance’s tourist hub. I was happy not to have to deal with any more taxis or bus drivers.


Cap Skirring is interesting. Evidently it sees a lot of tourism, but I was there at the off-season. I couldn’t decide if that was better or worse. The only tourists I saw there were old French men and women, each arm-in-arm with a young Senegalese sugar-baby. But overall it seemed like a very good place for young backpackers. There’s a strong rasta culture among the young locals.

I bought a bag of mangoes and walked down to the beach, which was alive with guitar music. The only stretch of beach accessible from town belongs to the fishermen, who have a pleasant little shanty-town set up on it, and all their boats lined up on the sand. Luxury hotels outside the town keep their beaches clean of trash and undesirable humans, but I was content here.

I hung out with some restauranteurs who had closed up shop for the season. One of them contented himself with sitting on a pile of fishing nets playing guitar, and I recorded him.


The beach was buzzing with fishermen who’d returned from their morning’s work. Small fires were popping up here and there, and women with baskets of fish on their heads were busy unloading the beached pirogues. I walked down toward the water to get a better look at the boats, when a couple of guys squatting by a fire whistled me over.

“Come eat with us,” they said. “We’re having lunch.”

This was one of those caricature moments of travel, when you can’t believe your luck. These guys were Usman and Hamed, cool young dudes who’d been fishing for most of their adult lives. They’d sold their catch, and were cooking the left-overs, an exotic melange of fresh sea creatures.


“Actually I’m trained to work at a restaurant,” Usman said, as he used his fingers to flip the fish over on the hot coals, “but where are the restaurants?”

We tore apart fish, crustaceans, snails, singeing our greasy fingers as we plucked them off the coals. I sat back in a gluttonous ecstasy, sucking clean the legs of a crab.


“That was just an appetizer,” said Usman, smiling “Come with us, we’re going for a proper lunch.”

I hoped he was joking, but he took me to a three-walled beach shack made out of wicker and bamboo. There were about 10 other guys there, one of whom was “le capitain” of their fishing boat. The captain’s wife had fixed an enormous platter to be eaten by everyone. She was a very cool lady. It was a pleasing contrast to the Arabic world, where women never dine with men, to see this lady nudging men out of her way, grabbing bigger fistfuls of rice than anyone, and making jokes at our expense. Her kids were adorable too, and I made myself useful by keeping them occupied with a pack of crayons and my notebook while their mother washed dishes.

I was allowed to sleep in the beach shack, with my belongings hidden under a pile of fishing net.

Hamed mentioned that if I paid the captain, I could go out with them on the next morning’s fishing trip. Waking up at 5am, however, I found they’d decided conditions weren’t right to go out. I’ve never been more disappointed. I still passed a nice day with Usman, exploring the outlying villages and chopping vegetables for lunch and dinner. That night a group of us sat on the front step of a derelict building on the beach, eating haut-cuisine by the light of our cell phones and singing:

Manamanama, eh eh

Waka waka eh eh

Manamanama zangalewa

‘Cause this is Africa

Which was perfectly true.


Tachelhit lesson 6: This and That

These lessons have been getting a huge amount of traffic, and it’s awesome that so many people want to learn Tachelhit, but makes me feel bad that I’ve been updating so infrequently. A big obstacle for me is not knowing in which direction to take these lessons, so I’d really appreciate if you left a comment with feedback. What do you like about these posts, what do you dislike, what do you want to learn next? Are you learning this language for academic or for tourism purposes? Is my transliteration sloppy? Do you want more cat pictures?

<< Previous lesson: Noun genders

Here’s a short lesson on how to say this, that, these, and those, otherwise known as demonstratives. The major difference with English is that in Tachelhit, we need to think of whether we’re using these words as an adjective or a pronoun:

Used as demonstrative adjectives: this car, that cat, these things

Used as demonstrative pronouns: I want that, what are thosethis car is John’s

In Tachelhit we use a separate word for a demonstrative pronoun, and we use a suffix for demonstrative adjectives. Just keep reading and you’ll understand.

Demonstrative pronouns:

ghwad – this (m)

ghwan – that (m)

ghwid – these (m)

ghwin – those (m)

xttad – this (f)

xttan – that (f)

xttid – these (f)

xttin – those (f)

Yes, memorizing these will make you want to cry. Here’s a hint: the letter i is drawn with two parts, and it refers to two or more things. ghwad = this one, ghwid = these ones

I’ll link to my Quizlet flashcards at the bottom of this page.

Demonstrative adjectives:

-ad – this

-an – that

agharas-ad this road

agharas-an that road

igharasn-ad these roads

igharasn-an those roads

To facilitate pronunciation, add a sound to nouns that end in vowels:

baTaTa-yad – these potatoes

tasga-yad this side

tasga-yan the other side

gh-id here

gh-in there


  1. Fill in the blank with the proper suffix.

Example: This book (m) – lktab___         = lktab-ad

This cat (m) – amush___

That cat (m) – amush___

This house (f) – tigmmi___

That house (f) – tigmmi___

Those men – irgazn___

These women – tifrxin___

2. Finish translating these sentences using the right demonstrative pronouns.

Example: I want that one (m) – righ _______       = righ ghwan

I want that one (f) – righ _______

Hmad wants this one (m) – ira Hmad _______

What’s this? (f) – ma tga _______?

Those (m) are ours – _______ gan wingh

Those (f) are delicious – _______ tmmim


Link to Quizlet flashcards

Next lesson: Possessives >>



Noun Genders in Tachelhit

<< Previous lesson: Noun states and Directions

Noun genders in Tachelhit are very straightforward, and much easier to cope with as a student than any European language I’ve studied.

As in most languages, a noun’s gender can often seem completely arbitrary. But unlike in, for example, German, where a student has to learn the gender of each noun as he goes along, nouns in Tachelhit are kind enough to tell you what gender they are (99% of the time).

We’ve already looked at this, but just to recap:

Nouns beginning with a vowel are almost always masculine. 

Examples: argaz (man)afrux (boy)igr (field), aduwwar (village), anzar (rain)

Nouns beginning (and usually ending) with are always feminine.

Examples: tamghart (woman), tafruxt (girl)tigmmi (house)taqr3it (bottle)tafukt (sun)

In many cases, the base root of a noun can take either gender by adding or dropping the feminine marker:

afrux (boy) –> tafruxt (girl)

afullus (rooster) –> tafullust (hen)

asli (groom) –> taslit (bride)

axddam (male worker) –> taxddamt (female worker)

achelhi (male Berber) –> tachelhit (female Berber)

N.B. this is not always true. Some examples of nouns where the female form does not resemble the male:

argaz (man), tamghart (woman)

azgr (bull), tafunast (cow)

izimmr (ram), tili (ewe)

gwma (my brother), ultma (my sister)

iwi (my son), illi (my daughter)

Another use of the feminine marker t-t is to form the diminutive of an object (similar to how in Spanish burro ‘donkey’ can become burrito ‘little donkey’ just by changing the form of the word).

This rule was explained to me by a native Tachelhit speaker, and the example he used was:

agayyu (head) –> tagayyut (cute little headsy-weadsy)

That’s the example he gave me, OK?

Often two similar or related things can have the same noun root, but different genders:

aggu (smoke), taggut (mist)

achelhi (Berber man), tachelhit (Berber language)

ayyur (moon), tamayyurt (full moon)

I find learning these words in pairs helps with memorization.



A significant percentage of spoken Tachelhit includes Arabic loanwords. These fall into two categories: those that have been absorbed into Tachelhit, and those that have kept their Arabic form.

Here are some Arabic nouns that behave as Tachelhit words:


a3skri – soldier

anjjar – carpenter

aHddad/s-sudur – welder


tashttabt – broom

tal3rst – garden

talxnsht – bag

taqr3it – bottle


And here are some Arabic nouns which keep their Arabic form:


l-kas – glass

s-suq – market

l-bab – door, gate

s-snduq – box


d-dunit – world, everything

l-mdrasa – school

l-bit – room

t-tumubil – car

Next lesson: Demonstratives >>