Egypt’s Berber language is fading
By Carles Grau Sivera
Siwa Oasis, Egypt, Nov 10 (efe-epa).- The Berber community in the Siwa Oasis in western Egypt is struggling to keep its language alive.
From his date processing warehouse in central Siwa, Suliman, 60, greets his neighbors in Siwi, a language derived from North African Berbers who moved to the area around a thousand years ago. It has been classified as endangered by Unesco.
He is now one of only 15,000 people living in the Siwa Oasis — located 560 kilometers from Cairo — who speak Siwi, which is not a written language.
Italian Egyptologist Sergio Volpi, who retired in the oasis several years ago having spent the best part of his career studying the history of the region, told Efe: “In a hundred years, no one will speak Siwi. It will be forgotten.”
Volpi has opened a library in central Siwa bringing together over a hundred books on the history of the oasis, its traditions and the language of its inhabitants.
This easternmost Berber language has changed in the past 500 years. It has been influenced by Arabic with the arrival of Arabs to the region and subsequent annexation of Siwa, near the modern-day Libyan border, to Egypt in the early 19th century, the specialist added.
“The word for ‘table’ doesn’t exist in Siwi because the Berbers ate on the ground and tables did not exist. Now thousands of new words have arrived and the language has mixed with Arabic,” he added.
“This mixture means that the original language will disappear. It will disappear very slowly, but it will surely disappear,” he said.
As with Nubian and other minority languages in Egypt, Siwi is not taught in schools and a few efforts have been made to preserve it.