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Languages of Algeria: Wikis


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Trilingual welcome sign in Isser Municipality, (Boumerdès) written in Arabic, Kabyle (Tifinagh script), and French.

The official language of Algeria is (literary) Arabic, as specified in its constitution since 1963. In addition to this, Berber has been recognized as a "national language" by constitutional amendment since May 8, 2002. Between them, these two languages are the native languages of over 99% of Algerians, with Arabic spoken by about 72% and Berber by 27%.[1] French, though it has no official status, is still widely used in government, culture, media (newspapers) and education (since primary school), due to Algeria's colonial history and can be regarded as being de facto the co-official language of Algeria. The Kabyle language, the most spoken Berber language in the country, is taught and partially co-official (with a few restrictions) in parts of Kabylia.


Currently spoken languages


Arabic is the language of 83% of Algeria's population; in addition to this, non-native speakers learn Arabic at school, as such a large portion of the population understands Standard Arabic or the Algerian Arabic dialect. Algerian Arabic (or darja) is spoken by 60% of the total population and 83% of Arab speakers.[1]

In Algeria, as elsewhere, spoken Arabic differs very substantially from written Arabic; Algerian Arabic has a much-simplified vowel system, a substantially changed vocabulary with many new words and many words from Berber, Turkish, and French, and, like all Arabic dialects, has dropped the case endings of the written language. Within Algerian Arabic itself, there are significant local variations; Jijel Arabic, in particular, is noteworthy for its pronunciation of qaf as kaf and its profusion of Berber loanwords, and the dialects of some ports show influence from Andalusi Arabic brought by refugees from al-Andalus. Algerian Arabic is part of the Maghrebi Arabic dialect continuum, and fades into Moroccan Arabic and Tunisian Arabic along the respective borders.

In the Sahara more conservative Bedouin dialects, grouped under the name Saharan Arabic, are spoken; in addition, the many Sahrawi refugees at Tindouf speak Hassaniya Arabic.

Most Jews of Algeria once spoke dialects of Arabic specific to their community, collectively termed "Judeo-Arabic"; however, most came to speak French in the colonial period even before emigrating to France and Israel after independence.


Berber-speaking population in each département in 1966.

Berber languages are spoken in many parts of Algeria, but mainly in Kabylia, in the Aurès, and in the Sahara (by Tuaregs). Until the Phoenicians' arrival, Berber was spoken throughout Algeria, as later attested by early Tifinagh inscriptions. Despite the growth of Punic, Latin, and later Arabic, it remained the main language of Algeria until the invasion of the Banu Hilal in the 11th century.[citation needed]

The Berber languages/dialects spoken in Algeria include:

In the north

In the west

In the Sahara


French is a part of the standard school curriculum, and is widely understood; Ethnologue estimates indicate that 20% of the population can read and write it[4] other sources estimate much larger percentages. Some two-thirds of Algerians have a "fairly broad" grasp of French, and half speak it as a second language.[1] French is widely used in media and commerce. There is also a very small community of French native speakers, including pied-noirs who stayed behind, and people raised in French-speaking households. During the French colonisation, about one million French native speakers lived in Algeria. The pied-noirs developed a distinctive dialect, termed Pataouète. French was also the mother tongue for many of the Algerian Jews.


English, because of its status as a global lingua franca, is taught from the first year of Middle School. However, only a tiny number of Algerians speak English, most of them younger people.

Sub-Saharan African languages

The Korandje language of the Saharan oasis of Tabelbala is a heavily Berber-influenced variety of Songhay, a language more widely spoken far to the south in Niger. Another northern Songhay language, Tadaksahak, may be spoken in parts of the far south; its nomadic speakers range over a wide area centered in northern Mali.

There are also a few thousand Hausa speakers in the south.

Sign languages

Algerian Sign Language is used in Algeria by the deaf; it has sometimes been used on national TV.

Formerly spoken languages


Phoenician, particularly in its North African Punic form, was brought to Algeria by Carthage's influence, and was widely spoken in its east for a time; Augustine grew up speaking it, and quotes occasional phrases. However, by his time the language was losing ground to Latin, and no trace of it survives now (apart from occasional names of places).


Latin itself was the language of the Roman occupation; it became widely spoken in the coastal towns, and Augustine attests that in his day it was gaining ground over Punic. However, it gave way to Arabic and Berber after the Umayyads' conquest, leaving only a few loanwords in those two languages.

Ottoman Turkish

Ottoman rule after the 16th century brought a dominant minority of Turks to Algeria, particularly concentrated in the large cities; for a while, Ottoman Turkish became a major governmental language. However, over time these Turks gradually assimilated, and, while many families of partial Turkish descent remain in Algeria, none speak the language.


  • Ladino was formerly spoken by some Algerian Jews, particularly around Oran, in the Tetuani dialect; however, most shifted to French during the colonial period.
  • The Mediterranean Lingua Franca, a mixture of many Mediterranean languages, was once widespread as a means of communication with foreigners in the ports, including the slaves of the bagnios and the European renegades that joined the Barbary pirates; after 1830, it gradually disappeared, its functions taken over by French.
  • Spanish has a long history in Oran, which was occupied by Spain between 1509 and 1790; it has left some traces in that city's dialect. It was also spoken by pied-noirs immigrating from the Spanish Mediterranean. Spanish is also spoken by the Sahrawis living in refugee camps in the area of Tindouf.


  1. ^ a b c Leclerc, Jacques (2009-04-05). "Algérie: Situation géographique et démolinguistique". L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Université Laval. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  2. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Kabyle: A Language of Algeria". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (sixteenth edition). SIL International. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  3. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Tachawit: A Language of Algeria". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (sixteenth edition). SIL International. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  4. ^ a b Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). "Chenoua: A Language of Algeria". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (sixteenth edition). SIL International. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  5. ^ Souag, Lameen (2009-03-19). "Beni-Snous: Two unrelated phonetic forms for every noun?". Jabal al-Lughat. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  6. ^ Ilahiane, Hsain (2006). Historical dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 84. ISBN 9780810854529. 

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