Siwa language

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Žlan n Isiwan
Native to Egypt
Region Siwa Oasis, Gara Oasis
Native speakers
15,000 (2010)[1] to 20,000 (2013)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 siz
Glottolog siwi1239[3]

The Siwa (Sioua) language, Siwi, also known as Oasis Berber or ambiguously as Zenati, is a Berber language of Egypt, spoken by 15,000 to 20,000 people[1][2] in the oases of Siwa and Gara, near the Libyan border. The language has been heavily influenced by Egyptian Arabic,[4] and it is not closely related to the other Berber languages.[2] Its use by the ethnic Siwi population is in decline,[5] as most have shifted to Arabic as their primary language.[6] Some native adult Siwis express a certain distaste for the language, believing it would be better for their children's educational prospects if they spoke Arabic from the start.[1] Overall, the majority of the native population views the language in a positive light[1] and nearly all learn to speak Arabic as a second language from an early age.[1]


Ethnologue[7] places Siwi in an Eastern Berber group with the Awjila–Sokna languages of central and eastern Libya. Kossmann (1999)[8] links it with Sokna and the Nafusi dialect cluster of western Libya and Tunisia, but not with Awjila. The "Endangered Languages Project"[9] classifies the Siwa language as vulnerable to extinction, listing a 20% certainty based on compiled evidence[10][11]


A preliminary inventory of the Siwa language shows a total of 42 distinctive segments, 38 consonants and 4 vowels.[12]


The Siwa language contains 38 consonants and 38 long counterparts of these consonants.[12]

Labial Alveolar
Velar Uvular Epiglottal Glottal
plain phar. plain phar. plain lab. plain lab.
Nasal m n
Stop b t d tˤ (dˤ) c ɟ k ɡ kʷ ɡʷ q (ʔ)
Fricative f s z sˤ zˤ ʃ χ ʁ χʷ ʁʷ ʜ ʢ h
Approximant l j w
Tap ɾ ɾˤ
  • /c ɟ/ can appear as [t͡ʃ d͡ʒ].
  • /ʁ ʁʷ ʢ/ can appear as approximants.


In Siwa, there are 4 vowels and 1 or 2 diphthongs: /a, i, u, ə/; /ai/ [e:] and /au/ [o:].[clarification needed][12]

Writing samples

The thumbnail picture at the following link contains a list of pronouns and typical greetings first written in Siwi, then with the English pronunciation and translation, and ending with a description of the word in Arabic.[13]

Numerical system

The Siwi utilize a numerical system almost entirely borrowed from Arabic, and have only retained two traditional Berber numerals: one and two.[12] This system uses numerals 3-10 both for counting and qualifying nouns.[12] Numbers 11-19 have two separate forms for counting and qualifying nouns.[12]

1. waʜəd ~ əd͡ʒːən, əd͡ʒːən, əd͡ʒːət 22. ətnaina wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
2. ətnain ~ sən, sən 23. ətlata wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
3. ətlata 24. arˤbˤəʢa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
4. arˤbˤəʢa ( c. and q. ) 25. χamsa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
5. χamsa ( c. and q. ) 26. sətti wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
6. sətti ( c. and q. ) 27. səbʢa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
7. səbʢa ( c. and q. ) 28. ətmanja wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
8. ətmanja ( c. and q. ) 29. təsˤʢa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
9. təsˤʢa ( c. and q. ) 30. ətlatin ( c. and q. )
10. ʢaʃrˤa ( c. and q. ) 40. arˤbˤəʢin ( c. and q. )
11. əʜdaʃərˤ (counting), əʜdaʃ (q.n.) 50. χamsin ( c. and q. )
12. ətˤnaʃərˤ(c.), ətˤnaʃ (q.n.) 60. səttin ( c. and q. )
13. ətlətˤaʃərˤ(c.), ətlətˤaʃ (q.n.) 70. səbʢin ( c. and q. )
14. arˤbəʢtˤaʃərˤ(c.), arˤbəʢtˤaʃ (q.n.) 80. ətmanjin ( c. and q. )
15. əχməstˤaʃərˤ(c.), əχməstˤaʃ (q.n.) 90. təsˤʢin ( c. and q. )
16. səttˤaʃərˤ(c.), səttˤaʃ (q.n.) 100. məjja ( c. and q. )
17. əsbaʢtˤaʃərˤ(c.), əsbaʢtˤaʃ (q.n.) 200. məjjətain ( c. and q. )
18. ətmantˤaʃərˤ(c.), ətmantˤaʃ (q.n.) 1000. alf ( c. and q. )
19. ətsaʢtˤaʃərˤ(c.), ətsaʢtˤaʃ (q.n.) 2000. alfain ??? * not attested


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Grammatical Contact in the Sahara: Arabic, Berber, and Songhay in Tabelbala and Siwa, Lameen Souag, PhD thesis, SOAS, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Siwa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Siwi". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Werner Vycichl. 2005. "Jlân n Isîwan: Sketch of the Berber Language of the Oasis of Siwa (Egypt)," Berberstudien & A Sketch of Siwi Berber (Egypt). Ed. Dymitr Ibriszimow & Maarten Kossmann. Berber Studies, vol. 10. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. ISBN 3-89645-389-0
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  6. Dimmendaal, Gerrit, and Erhard Voeltz. 2007. "Africa". In Christopher Moseley, ed., Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages.
  7. "Siwi". Ethnologue.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Kossmann, Maarten. 1999. Essai sur la phonologie du proto-berbère. Köln: Köppe.
  9. "Endangered Languages Project - Siwi". The Endangered Languages.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Brenzinger Matthias. 2007. "Language Endangerment in Northern Africa." Matthias Brenzinger- Mouton de Gruyter. Ch.6: 123-139
  11. Moseley, Christopher. 2010. "Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger." Christopher Moseley (edt.) 3rd edn.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 Mr. Christfried Naumann, Doctoral Student, Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. June 26, 2009.
  13. " * Siwa Oasis - Culture - Language *".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Ongoing research on Siwi: