The Berber languages are a group of 26 closely related languages that constitute a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. They are spoken by 14 to 25 million people in Northern Africa throughout the Mediterranean coast, the Sahara desert and Sahel, an area which used to be dominated by Berbers before the arrival of the Arabs. Today, there are large groups of Berber-speaking people in Morocco and Algeria, Mali, Niger and Libya, and smaller groups in Tunis, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso and Egypt. Speakers of the various Berber languages make up around 50% of the population in Morocco, and about 25% in Algeria.
The oldest known Berber inscriptions date back to the 4th century BC, but Berber-speaking people have lived in North Africa since at least 3,000 BC, and references to them occur frequently in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sources. The name “Berber” comes from the Greek word barbaros ‘barbarians.’ It is understandably disliked by many Berbers who prefer the term “Tamazight” which is often used instead, particularly with reference to Northern Berber languages. However, “Tamazight” also refers to a language spoken in the Atlas Mountains region of Morocco, thus creating terminological confusion.