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Zenaga [own name: Tuẓẓungiyyä ] is a Berber language spoken between Mederdra and the Atlantic coast in southern Mauritania . The number of speakers was estimated at almost 5,000 in 2008, with a decreasing trend. The language is threatened with extinction as it is only spoken by older people and not passed on to children. The latter learn instead Hassania , the dominant dialect of the Arabic language in Mauritania , which in turn contains a large number of loan words from the Zenaga.

Zenaga is probably the most unusual surviving Berber language. The language has the same basic structure as other Berber languages, but sound changes such as l → y, γ (q) → ʔ and the abandonment of the original vowel quantities have greatly changed the image of the language.

The name Zenaga comes from what used to be a much larger Berber tribe, whom Arab geographers in the Middle Ages called Sanhajah . The name of the Senegal river is also derived from Zenaga.

Zenaga is spoken by Muslim nomads who have Black African and Middle Eastern ancestors. Some are descendants of slaves who were captured in various wars centuries ago.

The ISO 639-2 code for Zenaga is: zen .

According to the system


The Zenaga distinguishes a relatively large number of consonants:

Labials Dental emphatic
Palatal Velare Postvelare Pharyngals
voiceless plosives t č k (q)
voiced plosives b d ǧ G
voiceless fricatives f θ θ̣ (x) (H)
voiced fricatives v ð ð̣ γ (ʕ)
voiceless sibilants s š
voiced sibilants z ž, ž̠
Nasals m n ñ

Then there are l, r, w, y, and the glottals ʔ, h. The sounds in brackets are rare and mostly found in foreign Arabic words.

ž̠ is a more weakly articulated variant of ž.

The consonants f, t and k (with sporadic exceptions in Arabic foreign words) do not appear between vowels, but are replaced there by v, ð or g. The consonant v essentially only occurs in this position and can therefore be understood as a positional variant of f.

Short and long consonants

Like the other Berber languages, Zenaga also has a contrast between short and long consonants. A change from short and long consonants takes place among other things in many verbs between the past tense and the durative. Some of the consonants actually only differ in length, such as t , m and f . The following table shows some such alternations (long consonants are written twice):

Pair short-long Example verb with
the meaning ...
t - tt "stay" yuktäy yikattäy
m - mm "bear" yiž̠mär yiž̠ämmär
f - ff "to spread" yətfä yiðäffä

For another part of the consonants, the difference in length is accompanied by an additional difference in articulation. Couples that belong together can be easily identified using the alternations in the verbal system. The following are the most important related pairs:

Pair short-long Example verb with
the meaning ...
š - ss "descend" yukšär yikässär
ð - dd "lie" yūðäž̠ yāddäž̠
ð̣ - ḍḍ "lend" yuṛð̣äy yiṛaḍḍäy
θ - zz (no alternation in the
verbal system known)
θ̣ - ẓẓ "break" yaṛθ̣a yiṛaẓẓa
y - ll "throw" yəž̠yäh yiž̠älläh
ž̠ - žž (no alternation in the
verbal system known)

As a result, consonants like š , y etc. appear mainly as shortenings, consonants like s , l etc. mainly as lengths ( ss , ll ). The opposite variant ( šš , yy , s , l etc.) is usually also possible, but less often and in some cases largely limited to Arabic foreign words.

Long consonants can in principle also appear at the beginning and end of a word. In this case, however, the length is barely or not audible. If the elongation is accompanied by a change in the type of articulation, the distinction is still preserved. In other cases the opposition of shortening and length can be lost in this position. For example, the durative stem of numerous verbs begins with tt- ( yə-ttättä "he eats"). If, however, no prefix precedes, the doubling is neither audible as a length nor in the articulation, since there is no difference between a short and a long t ( would be "they eat" instead of * ttättaʔn ).

Emphatic consonants

Like other Berber languages ​​and Arabic, Zenaga has emphatic consonants, which are marked by a subordinate point. They are articulated with a narrowing of the oral cavity by raising the tongue and also affect the articulation of neighboring vowels. Since the phenomenon often extends to syllables or entire words, it can be doubtful which consonants should be noted as emphatic. For Zenaga, as in general for other Berber languages, it is assumed that above all ḍ and ẓ (as well as their variants ð̣ and θ sein) can be primarily emphatic and the emphasis spreads from there to neighboring consonants. But in Zenaga, ṛ, f̣ and ṃ also appear as primarily emphatic sounds.


Taine-Cheikh's documentation distinguishes between the following short vowels: a, ä, o, ə, i, u. The vowels are partly predictable through the consonantic environment. There are probably only two phonemes: / a / (most common realization ä, next to a mainly next to ʔ and emphatic consonants, and o mainly next to labials and velars), and / ə / (often alternating with i, next to labials and velars u). In the documentation, ə and i appear more or less as free variants; but they are reproduced here according to the sources.

There are also three long vowels: ā, ī, ū. These are clearly differentiated and are not as influenced by the consonantic environment as the short vowels.

Glottal stop

The glottal stop (symbol ʔ) occurs extremely often in Zenaga, but never as a length. It shows the positional peculiarity that it only appears in the interior of a word at the end of a syllable, i.e. before a consonant. There is no obvious glottal stop at the end of the word, but the following interesting connection exists:

  • Words that end in a simple vowel get a glottal stop as soon as a suffix is ​​added: yəttättä "he eats" - tattaʔ-n "they eat". One can assume that these words in the underlying form end in glottal stop, which is not articulated at the end of the word.
  • Words that end in -h lose this before the suffix: yənäbbäh "he says" - nabbä-n "they say". One can assume that these words end in the underlying form in a vowel that ends in -h at the end of the word.
  • Long vowels always belong to the second group, i.e. i.e., they end at the end of the word in -h and have no hidden glottal stop: yəttäggāh "he stops" - täggā-n "they stop"

Personal pronouns

The Zenaga not only differentiates the gender of the pronoun - like German - in the 3rd person. so called, but in the 2nd and 3rd persons in the singular and plural:

independent Suffix after
Object suffix Object suffix
after ʔ
Dative suffix
1st sg. "I" niʔkk -iʔh -iʔn -iʔh -iʔh -iʔh
2.sg.mask. "you" kəkk -ki -ənk -ki -āg -āg
2.sg.fem. "you" kəmm -com -əm -com -at the -at the
3.sg.mask. "he" nəttä -ənš -ti -iʔh -āš
3.sg.fem. "she" nəttäʔhäð -ənš -täð -iyäð -āš
1.pl. "we" nəkni -näg -ənnaʔn -aʔnäg -aʔnäg -aʔnäg
2.pl.mask. "her" nətni -kūn -ənnūn -kūn -āgūn -āgūn
2.pl.fem. "her" nətnaʔgəmñäð -kəmñäð -ənnäðkəmñäð -kəmñäð -āgəmñäð -āgəmñäð
3.pl.mask. "she" nəhni -sow -ənšän -dan -nän -āšän
3.pl.fem. "she" nəhnäʔññäð -šəññäð -ənšəññäð -təññäð -ññäð -āšəññäð



In Zenaga, the noun forms two genera (masculine and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural). These are generally marked by prefixes and / or suffixes, so that gender and number can usually be read from the form. For most nouns the following scheme applies:

Singular Plural
masculine a─ ə─an
feminine ta─t tə─ən

The phoneme / a / is realized by a, ä or o, depending on the context, the phoneme / ə / depending on the context by ə, i or u.

This formation of forms can be illustrated well with tribes like the following, which occur in both sexes:

  • ämγar "old man, boss, sheikh" - uṃγarän "old men" - tämγart "old woman" - tuṃγarən "old women" (tribe: -mγar-)
  • oʔḅḅäy "slave" - ​​uʔḅḅäyän - toʔḅḅäll "slave girl" - tuʔḅḅäyn "slave girl" (tribe: -ʔḅḅäy-)
  • ärð̣äy "male hyena" - ərðäyän "male hyena" - tärðäll "female hyena" - tərðäyin "female hyena" (tribe: -rð̣äy-)
  • äyiʔm "male camel" - iʔymän "male camels" - tayi (ʔ) mt "female camel" - tiʔymən "female camels" (tribe: -yiʔm- ~ -ʔym-)
  • äðuʔmri "male gerbil" - əðuʔmräʔn "male gerbils" - taðuʔmriʔð "female gerbil" - təðuʔmraʔn "female gerbils" (tribe: -ðuʔmr-)

In detail, there are numerous special features and irregularities. Please note in particular:

  • Most feminines start with a prefix t- and end (in the singular) with a suffix -t. A small number of feminine nouns do not have the suffix, e.g. B. taxssäh "belly", tawž̠ih "egg", täšši "cow". Occasionally the feminine prefix is ​​also missing: yuṃṃih "mother", yäðmäh "sister".
  • The ending -t for the feminine singular is only directly visible after a few consonants (e.g. after -m, -r, -k). It merges with other consonants to form a long consonant, which then results in the changes in articulation that were discussed above in the section "Short and long consonants" (e.g. y + t → ll, θ̣ + t → ẓẓ). After vowel (very rare) as well as after vowel + ʔ and vowel + y, the ending -t is realized as -ð.
  • The final vowel in front of the suffix is ​​treated like vowel + vgl (see section "Glottal stop" above).

The plural formation in detail

First, a few more examples of plural forms that are regular or have only minor peculiarities:

  • äššaʔr "tree" - šaʔrän "trees"
  • ägoʔðər "vultures" - əgoʔðərän "(the) vultures"
  • tayəṛθ̣aẓẓ "rabbit" - tiyəṛθ̣aθ̣ən "rabbit"
  • äššäbbäš "year" - iššäbbäšän "years"
  • oʔf̣f̣uð "knee" - uʔf̣f̣uðan "(the) knees"
  • äšäggär "key" - əšäggärän "(the) key"
  • äwgθīh "son" - ugθān "sons" (contraction -īh + -an → -ān)
  • äðäri "star" - əðärän "star" (-i of the singular falls off in the plural with this word)
  • aṣṣ "day" - uṣṣan "days"
  • äwkši "tooth" - ūkšän "teeth" (ə + w → ū)

Occasionally, in the plural, a glottal stop is added to the singular or one is omitted:

  • að̣aʔṛ "foot" - əð̣aṛan "feet"
  • tawrəss "way" - tuʔršaʔn "ways" (at the end š + t → ss)

Some words, especially those ending in a vowel plus -h, have a plural ending -ayn:

  • taθ̣uð̣ "ax" - tīθ̣äyn "axes"
  • tawž̠ih "egg" - tūž̠äyn "eggs"
  • tawgθətt "daughter" - tugθäyn "daughters"
  • ägunnih "forest" - ugunnäyn "forests"

Other words show a plural ending -ūn. Often these do not have the usual alternations in the prefixes:

  • taxssäh "belly" - taxssūn "bellies"
  • əll "river" - ällūn "rivers"
  • əmmi "mouth" - əmmūn "mouths"
  • əθri "page" - äθrūn "pages"

Numerous nouns change their stem in the plural. The most common change is to replace a stem vowel -i - / - ə- or -u in the singular with -a- in the plural:

  • tänf̣uẓẓ "molar" - tənf̣aθ̣ən "molar"
  • aʔžžiy "donkey" - uʔžžäyän "(the) donkey"
  • təffiʔð "gift" - tuf̣f̣aʔn "gifts"
  • tunḍull "grave" - ​​tunḍayən "graves"
  • əmīð̣niš "mouse" - əmāð̣näššän "mice"
  • äʔžžər "month" - īžžärän "months"
  • taγθəll "kidney" - tuγθäyin "kidneys"
  • taššänḍuḍḍ "mirror" - təššändäðən "(the) mirror"
  • aγð̣uð̣ "bird" - uγð̣að̣än "birds"
  • taḅyuγiʔð "cloud" - tuḅyaγən "clouds"

As a stem change in the plural, the doubling of a consonant occurs occasionally:

  • ävuʔš "hand" - uvässän "hands"
  • ūy "heart" - ällūn "heart"
  • iʔšəm "name" - ässäṃṃūn "name"

Finally, more extensive stem changes can also occur in the plural:

  • täniʔð "fountain" - tūnən "(the) fountain"
  • tənəščəmt "woman" - tənəššīmən "women"
  • ämäddäwkč "friend" - əmdukkäyän "friends"
  • īði "dog" - uð̣an "dogs"
  • tašši "cow" - ətšiʔðän "cows"
  • oʔǧi "horse" - iʔšän "horses"
  • taššillift "Zecke" - ətšəčfən "Ticks"
  • taʔḍḍ "goat" - tūlläðən "goats"

A minority of nouns lack the prefix a- in the singular:

  • tuḍḍ "eye" - tuḍḍayn "eyes"
  • tšiymiʔð "fish" - tšiymaʔn "fish"
  • təlliss "story" - təlləšən "stories"
  • waʔr "lion" - waʔran "lion"
  • iǧǧ "man" - īžinän "men"
  • turuṃt "week" - turämən "weeks"

This group also includes some nouns that start with i- in the singular and a- in the plural. The assumption is that the vowel i- belongs to the stem and is replaced by -a- in the plural:

  • iʔssi "bones" - aʔssän "(the) bones"
  • īð̣ "night" - āð̣an "nights"
  • īn "tent" - ānän "tents"

Conversely, some nouns have a stable prefix a-, which is also retained in the plural:

  • äytäb "book" - äytäbän "books"
  • tägumbuyiʔð "bottle" - tägumbuyən "bottles"
  • äčfaγa "teachers" - äčfaγän "(the) teachers"
  • ärägäž̠ "man" - ärägäž̠än "men"
  • äräh "hour" - äräyn "hours"
  • taššuffäh "viper" - täššuffäyn "vipers"
  • ašγaγ "twin brother" - ašγaγän "twin brother"

Individual nouns that are irregular due to the fact that they do not have the normal singular prefix form the plural by placing a prefix əð- in front:

  • yuṃṃih "mother" - əðyuṃṃih "mothers"
  • aʔll "place, place" - əðwaʔllitt "places, places"
  • kārä "thing" - əðkārūn "things"
  • bābäh "father" - əðḅäwḅäh "fathers"

In contrast to some other Berber languages, Arabic loanwords are not used in Arabic plural forms, but the plural is formed using local means.

Singularia tantum and Pluralia tantum

Some nouns are only used in the plural form. Unlike in German, this also includes some names for liquids:

  • əðämmän "blood"
  • əmäräwän "parents"
  • ətssän "clothes; clothing"
  • ämän "water"

Conversely, terms for abstracts often only appear in the singular. Many of these are feminine:

  • taʔṣkäkt "construction"
  • taffäšt "moisture"
  • tamað̣uḍḍ "fever"
  • tayšbətt "size"
  • tətt "truth"


The order Possessum - Possessor is always used. If the possessor is nominal, both are separated by the particles n . There is no case marking, for example in accordance with our genitive.

As a special feature, it should be noted that the possessum can change its final: In front of the particle n, on the one hand, the hidden glottal stop of vowel-like final nouns appear, and on the other hand, an isolated -h final -h is repelled:

  • əmmi "mouth" + īði "dog" → əmmiʔ n īði "the dog's mouth"
  • ogθīh "son" + ādəm "Adam" → ogθī n ādəm "son of Adam" = "man"

If the possessessor is pronominal, a possessive suffix is ​​used (forms above in the section "Personal pronouns"):

  • iʔf "head" - iʔfənš "his / her head" - iʔfiʔn "my head"
  • tawgθətt "daughter" - tawgθəttənš "his daughter"
  • ävuʔš "hand" - ävuʔšənš "his hand"
  • iʔšəm "name" - iʔšmənš "his name"
  • tayimt "cow" - tayimtəm "your (fem.) cow"
  • āddäy "turban" - āddäynk "your turban"

Again, a noun that ends in isolation on a vowel is given an additional vor in front of the suffix:

  • əmmi "mouth" - əmmiʔnš "his / her mouth" - əmmiʔnk "your mouth"
  • əθri "side" - əθriʔnš "his side"

And a noun ending in vowel + h loses this h before the suffix:

  • äwgθīh "son" - äwgθīnš "his son"
  • tīyih "sheep" - tīyənš "his sheep"
  • taðämräh "speech" - taðämräš "his speech"
  • taxssäh "belly" - taxssänš "his belly"
  • tawrih "work" - tawrinš "his work"

The -n- of the possessive suffixes merges with a final -n of the plural:

  • tuḍḍayn "eyes" - tuḍḍaynš "his eyes"
  • umnän "camels" - umnänš "his camels"
  • ämän "water" - ämänš "his water"


An equivalent for the pronoun "this" is the suffix -äð (singular) / -ið (plural):

  • äyiʔm-äð "this camel"


Personnel affixes

The verb forms 9 different personal forms with the help of prefixes and suffixes. In the 3rd person sg. and the 2nd / 3rd person pl. a distinction is made between masculine and feminine forms. The personal affixes are the same for all tenses and for all verbs. Since the person is already clearly marked in the verb, verbs can normally be used without additional personal pronouns.

Here the forms using the example of the past tense of "haben" (stem -uʔgam-).

Affixes in the past tense
of "to run"
1st sg. ─äg uʔgamäg I ran
2.sg. t─äð tuʔgamäð you ran
3.sg.mask. y─ yuʔgam he ran
3.sg.fem. t─ tuʔgam she ran
1.pl. n─ nuʔgam we ran
2.pl.mask. t─äm tuʔgumäm you ran
2.pl.fem. t─ämñäð tuʔgumämñäð "
3.pl.mask. ─än uʔgumän they ran
3.pl.fem. ─əññäð uʔgamiññäð "

In this and other verbs, the last stem syllable of the 2.pl. and the 3.pl.mask. to a vowel change / a / → / ə / (sometimes implemented as i or u).

Some examples of other verbs:

  • yännuʔṃäš "he loves" - tännuʔṃäš "she loves" - ännuʔṃiššän "they love" - ​​ännuʔṃäššäg "I love" - ​​tännuʔṃäššäð "you love"
  • yuf̣f̣aθ̣ "he bit" - uffaθ̣ag "I bit" - uf̣f̣uθ̣an "they bit"
  • yənnäh "he said" - tənnäh "she said" - ənnäg "I said" - ənnän "they said"
  • yäðbāh "he went" - äðbāg "I went" - äðbān "they went"
  • yərmäš "he took" - tərmäš "she took" - tərmäššäm "you took"
  • yəšbä "he drank" - əšbaʔn "they drank" - əšbaʔññäð "they (fem.pl.) drank"
  • yəššä "he came" - təššäð "you came"
  • yahað̣ "he can" (formally simple past) - tahð̣að "you can" - nahað̣ "we can"


The Zenaga distinguishes three tenses:

  • The past tense
  • The aorist. It differs from the simple past in the vocalization of the stem. The aorist occurs mainly in some special grammatical connections, such as (1) after the particle äð, which corresponds either to a desired sentence with "should" or a conditional sentence with "if": äð yäwgni "he should be right / if he is right ", (2) after modal verbs: tahð̣að təššīwiyäð" you can speak ", and (3) as a continuation form for non-initial sentences, especially as a continuation of the imperative.
  • The durative, which expresses repeated or straight actions and often corresponds to our present tense. It has an elongated stem, usually either by doubling the middle consonant or by adding tt- in front of the stem.

Verbal forms can change in negated sentences. The past tense of almost all verbs changes its vocalization in negated sentences. In the durative, some verbs in negated clauses change their vocalization, others don't. The aorist has no special negative forms.

Conjugation: The dominant vocalization pattern

Most verbs are two-syllable and have the following vocalization pattern: -ə-a- in the past tense, -ə-ə- in the negated past tense, -a-ə- in the aorist, -ə-ä - ä- with doubling of the middle stem consonant in the durative . In general, the usual phonetic rules of Zenaga must be observed, namely the context-related adaptations of the vowel phonemes / a / and / ə / as well as changes in some consonants depending on their position:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"go down" yukšär yukšər yokšər yikässär
"go out" yəzgär yizgər yäzgər yiθäggär
"go in" yukšäm yukšum yäkšum yikässäm
"lie" yūðäž̠ yūðəž̠ yäwðəž̠ yāddäž̠
"to take" yərmäš yərməš yärməš yirämmäš
"conclude" yuθ̣ṃað̣ yuθ̣ṃuð̣ yaθ̣ṃuð̣ yəθ̣aṃṃað̣
"write" yuktäb yuktub yäktub yikättäb
"speak" yəðmär yəðmər yäðmər yiðämär

Other verbs do not form the durative by doubling a consonant, but by placing tt- in front of the stem. This affects, among other things, all those verbs that already have a long consonant in the root form:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"bite" yuf̣f̣aθ̣ yuf̣f̣uθ̣ yaf̣f̣uθ̣ yəttäffaθ̣
"help" yuwäš yuwuš yäwuš yəttäwäš
"steal" yuʔgär yuʔgər yoʔgər yəttaʔgər
"to wash" yəräð yirəð yärəð yittärəð
"knowledge" yəssän yəssən yässən yəttässän

In those verbs whose stem ends in -a- plus consonant in the past tense and the durative, the 2nd pl. and 3.pl.mask. the -a- to -ə-:

  • yəzgär "he went out" - əzgərän "they went out"
  • yiθäggär "he goes out" - θäggərän "they go out"
  • yuwäš "he helped" - uwuššän "they helped"
  • yəttäwäš "he helps" - tawuššän "they help"
  • yuθ̣ṃað̣ "he closed" - uθ̣ṃuð̣an "they closed"

As a result, the positive and negative past tense coincide in these people, e.g. B. əzgərän "they went out" is at the same time the form of the positive and the negative past tense.

Some verbs have basically the same vocalization pattern, but end in a vowel. In the end the phoneme / ə / is consistently implemented as i:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"come" yəššä yišši yäšši yəttäššä
"(leave" yəǧǧä yiǧǧi yäǧǧi yətäǧǧä
"set, set, place" yigä yigi yägi yəttäggä
"to get dressed" yičšä yičši yäčši yiyässä
"cry" yīyä yīyi yäyyi yāllä

When adding most personal endings (but not the 1st / 2nd sg.), Such verbs receive a stem-ending glottal stop. In addition, the difference between the final -a and -i and thus the difference between the positive and negative past tense before a personal ending is lost:

  • yičšä "he ate" - yičši "he ate" (negative simple past) - əčšaʔn "they ate" (positive and negative simple past)
  • yičšä "he dressed" - əčšaʔn "they dressed"
  • yiyässä "he dresses" - yässaʔn "they dress"
  • yukf̣ä "he gave" - ​​ukf̣aʔn "they gave"
  • yəttäggä "he lays" - täggaʔn "they lay"

Here is the complete past tense paradigm of "eat":

1st sg. əčšäg I ate
2.sg. təčšäð you ate
3.sg.mask. yičšä he ate
3.sg.fem. təčšä she ate
1.pl. nəčšä we ate
2.pl.mask. təčšaʔm you ate
2.pl.fem. təčšaʔmñäð "
3.pl.mask. əčšaʔn they ate
3.pl.fem. əčšaʔññäð "

Still other verbs end in a short or long vowel plus -h. The vocalization pattern remains basically the same:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"stop" yuggāh yuggīh yoggīh yəttäggāh
"Listen" yugrāh yugrīh yogrīh yəgärāh
"to remember" yuktāh yuktīh yoktīh yikättāh
"throw" yəž̠yäh yəž̠yih yäž̠yih yiž̠älläh

The -h is dropped before the suffix:

  • yuktāh "he remembered" - uktān "they remembered" (this form also functions as the plural of the negative simple past yuktīh)
  • yikättāh "he remembers" - kättān "they remember"

Depending on the verb, the final short vowel is either repelled in front of a suffix or combined with the suffix to form a long vowel:

  • yənnäh "he said" - ənnän "they said" (this form also in the negative past tense)
  • yəž̠yäh "he threw" - əž̠yān "they threw" (this form also in the negative past tense)
  • yuʔgäh "he refused" - uʔgān "they refused"

A number of verbs show irregular durative forms of various kinds:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"get up" yunkar yunkur yänkur yäynkär
"eat" yičšä yičši yäčši yəttättä
"Find" yuθ̣ṛa yuθ̣ṛi yaθ̣ṛi yəθ̣aṛä
"give" yukf̣ä yukf̣i yäkf̣i yākä
"to run" yuʔgam yuʔguṃ yoʔguṃ yäykäm
"learn" yuγrä yuγri yaγri yiγarä
"say" yənnäh yənnəh yizzən yənäbbäh
"beat" yuwah yuwih yäwih yukka (ʔ)
"drink" yəšbä yəšbi yäšbi yəθässä

Conjugation: Less common vocalization patterns

There are also verbs with rarer vocalization patterns that deviate from the main pattern, namely:

-aa- in the simple past, -ə-ə- in the negated simple past, -a-ə- in the aorist, e.g. B .:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"go" yäðbāh yiðbīh yäðbīh yäyðbāh
"to take" yäzgä yizgi yazgi yiθäggä
"break" yaṛθ̣a yuṛθ̣i yaṛθ̣i yiṛaẓẓa

-aa- in the simple past, -ə-ə- in the negated simple past and in the aorist. Some three-syllable verbs also belong to this class. Examples:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"work" yäwräh yūrih yūrih yəttūrih
"accompany" yäddäg yiddug yiddug yəttuddug
"stay" yäwgä yūgi yūgi yittūgi
"to fill" yuθ̣að̣ yuθ̣uð̣ yuθ̣uð̣ yəttuθ̣uð̣
"agree" yämkännāh yuṃkunnīh yuṃkunnīh yəttuṃkunnīh
"to sit down" yaʔmä yiʔmi yiʔmi yittiʔmi
"speak" yäššāwäy yiššīwiy yiššīwiy yiššāwäy

Other three-syllable verbs have -ə- in the middle syllable, e.g. B .:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"love, want" yännuʔṃäš yənnuʔṃiš yənnuʔṃiš yətnuʔṃiš
"sleep" yaṣṣuṃṃäh yuṣṣuṃṃih yuṣṣuṃṃih yətṣuṃṃih

-a-ə- in the past tense, -ə-ə- in the negated past tense and in the aorist, e.g. B .:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"Be thirsty" yäffuð yuffuð yuffuð yətfäð
"be healthy" yoʔf̣ur yuʔf̣ur yuʔf̣ur yəttuʔf̣ur
"to be afraid" yaxšuð̣ yuxšuð̣ yuxšuð̣ yəttaxšuð̣

-ə-a- in the past tense, -ə-ə- in the negated past tense and in the aorist, e.g. B .:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"see" yuẓẓaʔṛ yuẓẓuʔṛ yuẓẓuʔṛ yətmaʔðär

-aa- in the positive and negative past tense and in the aorist, e.g. B .:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"can" yahað̣ yahað̣ yahað̣ yəttuhuð̣

-a-ə- in the positive and negative past tense and in the aorist, e.g. B .:

preterite negated simple
Aorist Durative
"to die" yäṃṃih yäṃṃih yäṃṃih yətmättäh


The imperative singular is identical to the stem of the aorists with no prefixes or suffixes:

  • äktub "write!"
  • äčši "eat!"

In the plural, one of the endings -äm (mask.) Or -mñäð (fem.) Is added:

  • äktubäm / äktubəmñäð "writes!"
  • äčšaʔm / äčšaʔmñäð "eat!"

There are also less well-documented imperative formations based on the durative.


A so-called participle is formed by connecting the verbal forms of the 3rd person with the suffix -än (singular) or -ən (plural). Accordingly, there are three forms: Mask.sg., Fem.sg. and plural. For the verbs that you -a- in the 3rd pl. umlauts to -ə-, -ə- applies to all three forms of the participle. The participle can be formed from both the past tense and the durative:

  • yuð̣aṛ "he fell" (simple past) - yuð̣uṛ-än "who fell" - tuð̣uṛ-än "who fell" - uð̣uṛn-ən "who fell"
  • yäykäm "he runs" (durative) - iǧǧ yäykäm-än "a man who runs" - īžinän äykämn-ən "men who run"


Adjectives in Zenaga are formally similar to verbs and, like these, have personal suffixes, but never personal prefixes. When adjectives are used attributively, they take the form of the participle, i.e. That is, they have the ending -än in the singular and -nən in the plural. They are after their reference word:

  • äyiʔm äðäy-än "a black camel" - iʔymän äðiy-nin "black camels"
  • tənəščəmt maṣk-än "a little woman"

Predicative adjectives take on personal endings that are in part similar to those of finite verbs:

  • nəttä äðäy "he is black" (without ending)
  • nəttaʔhäð äðäy-äð "she is black"
  • nəhni äðäy-ið "they are black"
  • šäṃṃuð̣-ag "I'm cold"

Pronominal object

The pronominal accusative or dative object is expressed using suffixes on the verb. The forms of the suffixes are listed in the "Personal Pronouns" section above. Examples:

  • yäskär-ti "he did it"
  • äktub-ti "write it!"
  • yukf̣-iʔh kāräh "he gave me something" (kāräh = "thing, something")

Between vowels -t- and -k- the suffix becomes -ð- or -g-:

  • yugrāh "he heard" + -ti → yugrāði "he heard him"
  • yugrāh "he heard" + -ki → yugrāgi "he heard you"
  • yugrāðän "he heard her (pl.)"


  • ugrāntän "they heard her (pl.)"

The personal ending -g of verbs in the 1st pers. so called falls before an object suffix or is reduced to a glottal stop (the latter especially before dative suffixes):

  • äskäräg "I did" + -ti → äskäräði "I did it"
  • ənnäg "I said" + -ti → ənnäði "I said it"
  • ənnäg "I said" + -āg → ənnaʔg "I told you"
  • ənnäg "I said" + -āš → ənnaʔš "I said him / her"

In other cases, too, certain signs of assimilation occur:

  • yuθ̣að̣ "he filled" + -ti → yuθ̣aḍḍi "he filled him"

If the verb ends in a vowel with a hidden glottal stop (type yəǧǧä "Lassen") and the verb is used in a personal form that does not add a personal ending, a special series of suffixes is used for the direct object (forms in the table above) :

  • yəǧǧiʔh "he let him" - yəǧǧāg "he let you" - yəǧǧaʔnäg "he let us" - yəǧǧənän "he let her (pl.)"

If a dative suffix and an accusative suffix appear at the same time, the dative suffix comes first:

  • yäskär-āg-ti "he did it for you"
  • äskär-aʔm-ti "I did it for you (fem.)"
  • äskär-aʔs-si "I did it for him" (with assimilation š + t → ss)


The Zenaga has prepositions. This is followed by either a noun or a personal suffix:

  • əð "with" - əðki "with you (mask.)" - əðkäm "with you (fem.)" - əðnäg "with us" - ətš "with him / her" - ətšän "with them"

The preposition ðäg "in" has slightly irregular forms in front of the suffix:

  • ðäʔgiʔh "in me" - ðäʔgnäg "in us" - ðäʔš "in him / her"

The indirect (dative) object is represented by the preposition i (y); for the pronominal dative there are special clitics (see above under "Pronominal object").


Sentences are negated by the negation "weren't" that comes before the verb. If available, the negation must be combined with the special negative variants of the tenses. As shown above, almost all verbs have a different stem in the positive past tense and in the negative past tense. If would immediately preceding the verb, which is usually the case, the auslautende -r is a Personalpräfix n- to -nn- and a y- Personalpräfix to -LL contracted:

  • yəzgär "he went out" - wäl-lizgər (from would + yizgər) "he did not go out" (negative perfect)
  • would əgäg "I did not lay" - wän-nəgi "we did not lay" - wäl-ləgi "he did not lay"
  • əčšäg "I ate" - if əčšäg "I did not eat"

A majority of the verbs also form a special stem variant for the negative durative by means of a vowel change a → ə:

  • yuḍḍaʔṛ "he falls" - wäl-luḍḍuʔṛ "he does not fall"
  • yəθ̣aṛa "he finds" - wäl-luθ̣uṛi "he does not find"
  • yākä "he gives" - wäl-līki "he does not give"
  • yətfäð "he is thirsty" - wäl-lətfəð "he is not thirsty"
  • yəgärāh "he hears" - wäl-lugurīh "he does not hear"
  • yəttättä "he eats" - wäl-ləttitti "he does not eat"
  • yəttäššä "he comes" - wäl-littišši "he does not come"

Verbs that already have ə-vocalization in the durative remain unchanged in the negative form. But this also applies to some verbs with a-vocalization:

  • yäyðbāh "he goes" - wäl-läyðbāh "he does not go"
  • yäynkär "he gets up" - wäl-läynkär "he doesn't get up"

The imperative cannot be directly negated. Instead, modal clauses with äð + aorist appear. The aorist never changes his vocalization in connection with the negation:

  • äčši "eat!" - äð would be tačšiʔð "you shouldn't eat / don't eat!"
  • äð would be tärmišäð "you shouldn't take / don't take!"

If pronominal object suffixes are present, they are not attached to the verb in the negated sentence, but move to the second position in the sentence, i.e. H. mostly behind the negation:

  • yukf̣-āg "he gave you", but: if-āg yukf̣i "he did not give you (-āg)"
  • would-ās-si yukf̣i "he did not give it to him"
  • äð-ti would be təzznäð "don't say it (-ti)!"


Question words, e.g. B. mäð "who?" or käyð "what?", as in German, are usually at the beginning of a sentence. Questions about the subject express the verb in the form of the participle:

  • mäð yäðbān (spoken: mäǧǧäðbān) "who has gone (away)?"
  • käyð təssäkkäräð "what are you doing?"

As in negative statements, object suffixes move to the second position in the sentence and thus behind the question word:

  • mäð-ti (spoken: mäddi) yuẓẓuʔṛan "who saw him?"

Verbal sentence

Both SVO and VSO appear as word order in verbal sentences. There is neither a case marking nor an "état d'annexion" of nouns, as is found in many other Berber languages. Examples:

ämän ägrässän
Wasser gefror
"the water is frozen" (ägrässän is 3rd pl. from yägrässäh; "water" is treated as plural)

yəšbä īði ämän-š
drank dog water-his
"the dog has drunk his water"

Relative clause

Basically, the reference word of a relative clause often, if not obligatorily, adopts the clitic -iʔð (German for example "der / die / das That"). If the adversary is the subject of the relative clause, the verb is in the form of the participle:

  • äräbiy-iʔð yuð̣uṛan "that (that) child who fell"

If the reference word acts as an object, a normal sentence without any special marking is placed after the reference word as a relative clause:

  • tənəščəmt-iʔð uẓẓaʔṛag "the woman - I saw" = "the woman I saw"

In more complex cases, the relative clause is introduced by äyš, which also means "that":

mīn-iʔð äyš äbðāg šär-š
man-the one that I-went to-him
"the man I went to"

Non-verbal sentence

If a noun acts as a predicate, an invariable copula is used:

nəttä äð iǧǧ
er COP man
"he is a man"

An adjective has no copula and is conjugated with personal endings (see above in the section "Adjective").


Some elements from the basic vocabulary. Verbs are in the 3rd person sing. cited in the past tense:

eye doḍḍ
three kaṛað̣
one yuʔn
eat yičšä
woman tənəščəmt
five šäṃṃuš
give yukf̣ä
go yäðbāh
grow up) yugṃä
Well ägmäh
hand ävuʔš
Listen yugrāh
man iǧǧ
mouth əmmi
Surname iʔšəm
say yənnäh
see yuẓẓaʔṛ
four battery θ
water ahem
knowledge yəssän
two šinän


  • Cohen, David & Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2000: À propos du zénaga. Vocalisme et morphologie verbale on berbère, Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 95: 269–322
  • M. Kossmann: L'origine du vocalisme en zénaga de Mauritanie , in Frankfurter Afrikanistische Blätter 13, 2001, 83–95
  • Kossmann, Maarten 2001: 'The Origin of the Glottal Stop in Zenaga and its Reflexes in the other Berber Languages'. Africa and Overseas 84: 61-100
  • M. Kossmann: Remarks on the history of some Zenaga pronouns , in Études berbères III, 2004, 167-174
  • M. Kossmann: Some new etymologies for glottal-stop initial Zenaga Berber words , in Folia Orientalia 49, 2012, 245-251
  • Nicolas, Francis 1953: La langue berbère de Mauritanie, Dakar
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2003: La corrélation de gémination consonantique en zénaga (berbère de Mauritanie), In: Comptes rendus du Groupe Linguistique d'Études Chamito-Sémitiques (GLECS), 2003, 34 (1998-2002): 5-66
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2003: L'adjectif et la conjugaison suffixale en berbère, In: J. Lentin & A. Lonnet (eds.): Mélanges David Cohen. Études sur le langage, les langues, les dialectes, les littératures, Paris, 2003, pp. 661–674
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2004: Les verbes à finale laryngale en zénaga, In: K. Naït-Zerrad et al. (Ed.): Nouvelles études berbères. Le verbe et other articles. Actes du 2nd Bayreuth-Frankfurter Colloquium on Berberology, Cologne, 2004, pp. 171–190
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2005: Les marques de 1ère personne en berbère. Réflexions à partir du zénaga, In: A. Mengozzi (Ed.), Studi Afroasiatici: XI Incontro Italiano di Linguistica Camitosemitica, Milano, 2005, pp. 97-112
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2007: Les propositions relatives du zénaga et leproblemème des relateurs en berbère, In: M. Moriggi (Ed.), Actes du XII Incontro Italiano di Linguistica Camito-Semitica (Afroasiatica), Rubbetino, 2007, p. 301-309
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2008: Dictionnaire zénaga-français. Le berbère de Mauritanie présenté par racines dans une perspective comparative, Cologne: Köppe
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2009: L'aoriste en zénaga. Contribution à l'étude du système aspecto-modal du berbère, In: S. Chaker et al. (Ed.), Études de phonétique et de linguistique berbères. Hommage à Naïma Louali (1961–2005), Paris, 2009, pp. 231–249
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2010: The role of the Berber deictic and TAM markers in dependent clauses in Zenaga, In: I. Bril (Ed.), Clause-Linking and Clause-Hierarchy. Syntax and Pragmatics, Amsterdam, 2010, pp. 355-398
  • Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2010: Ordre, injonction, souhait et serment en zénaga (étude comparative), In: H. Stroomer et al. (Ed.), Etudes berbères V - Essais sur des variations dialectales et autres articles, Cologne, 2010, pp. 191-212.

The work by Nicolas (1953) is available as a monographic grammar, but it is considered unreliable. Today one preferably relies on the documentation by C. Taine-Cheikh (numerous essays, which in sum contain a lot of information on grammar; but so far no monographic grammar). There is also a detailed dictionary by Taine-Cheikh (2008).


  1. ^ Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2008: Dictionnaire zénaga-français, p. Xv.
  2. ^ Taine-Cheikh, Catherine 2008: Dictionnaire zénaga-français, p. Xix.
  3. After C. Taine-Cheikh: L'adjectif et la conjugaison suffixale en berbère, 2003, p. 5.
  4. ə + w becomes ū
  5. əwa is here contracted to ā
  6. After C. Taine-Cheikh: Les verbes à finale laryngale en zénaga, 2004, p. 3.
  7. Exceptionally, the aorist in this verb is also irregular.
  8. ə + w becomes ū
  9. A participle of the feminine plural does not seem to be common or is in any case not documented.