Eating sow thistle to learn how to speak Amazigh

Catalonia’s vibrant Amazigh community hopes new learning method will help strengthen language

Carles Múrcia explains details on the units during the launch event.
Carles Múrcia explains details on the units during the launch event. Author: David Forniès
One saying from Morocco’s Atlas has it that eating sow thistle helps people learn Amazigh, the language that is indigenous to that mountain range. The sentence, “ⵜⵛ ⵡⴰⵡⵊⴹⵎ!” (“tc wawjḍm!”, roughly pronounced “chwawzhdm”), is the name chosen for a new learning method that Catalan civil society organizations CIEMEN and Casa Amaziga de Catalunya have just published. The tool is primarily intended for its use in classes of Amazigh language and culture with the Catalan public education system, but the method has also been designed for self-learning.

ⵜⵛ ⵡⴰⵡⵊⴹⵎ! is the first method developed and published in Catalonia to learn Amazigh —a language also known as Berber, although many speakers reject that name. The contents have been created by a team coordinated by University of Barcelona associate professor Carles Múrcia —co-author, with Salem Zenia, of the Catalan-Amazigh / Amazigh-Catalan Dictionary— with Aziz Baha, Abdellah Ihmadi and Mohamed Kaddoumi, teachers of Amazigh language and culture at the Catalan public education system.

ⵜⵛ ⵡⴰⵡⵊⴹⵎ! is entirely written in Amazigh in the Tifinagh alphabet, in the standard variant of the northern diasystem, which dialects spoken by Catalonia’s Amazigh population belong to. Each unit revolves around a specific topic and includes a dialogue, comprehension questions, concise grammatical notions, exercises and a complementary activity, with visual and audio support.

The units come with a teacher-oriented didactic guide, which can also be individually used by people who seek a method for self-learning, as the guide has explanations, clarifications, and references to the Amazigh grammar as available on, as well as the solutions of the exercises.

The guide is being released in Catalan and French but can be potentially translated into any other language. Both the units, the guide and the recordings can be freely downloaded from CIEMEN’s website. “Thus, materials can be used worldwide,” says Múrcia.

Six units are being released in January 2019, while another six are already being drafted, to be published later this year. In 2020 and 2021, the release of an expected further 12 lessons will add to a whole method of 24 units.

One of Catalonia’s most spoken languages

According to several estimates, out of more than 20 million Amazigh speakers in the world, some 100,000 to 200,000 live in Catalonia. Many are first-generation migrants from Morocco, but an increasing number are Catalan-born people. The figure likely means that Tamazight is the third most spoken language in Catalonia as L1, only behind Spanish and Catalan.
Some 85 pupils are currently learning Amazigh in eight class groups in the Catalan municipalities of Sabadell, Manresa and Montcada i Reixac, thanks to an agreement by the Casa Amaziga de Catalunya and the Catalan ministry of Education. The Casa Amaziga hopes to raise the numbers in the coming years and believes the release of the units —as they contribute to further uplifting and promoting the learning of the language— will help this to happen.