Rare Language Specialist - Tachelhit (Berber/Amazigh)
Name: Jamal Benhamou
Nationality or Ethnicity: Moroccan/ American, of Amazigh (Berber) ethnicity
Where do you live?: Pensacola, Florida, United States
Representative of rare language: Tachelhit (Berber/Amazigh)
1. What’s your story? How did you get exposed to this rare language?
I come from an Amazigh (berber) family from the anti Atlas mountains of Morocco. I grew up speaking Tachelhit just like everyone in my family, and to this day I continue to use Tachelhit with my family members and other Imazighen especially my mother who speaks only this Tachelhit.
2. How would you describe the efforts being made, at the civil, social, and governmental languages, to preserve this language?
For many years Tachelhit just like other Amazigh languages were marginalized, banned, neglected and excluded from public education. Tachelhit speakers find themselves under pressure to integrate with a more powerful linguistic group that's being described as more" beneficial" but calls for more rights among Tachelhit and other Amazigh speakers made it possible for Tachelhit to be included in public education. Though it is being taught in primary schools only a handful of schools have the ability and resources to teach it . As an Amazigh language Tchelhit was finally recognized as one of the official languages of Morocco where I was born. There is however more work needed to fully raise the status of Tachelhit including teaching it at the university level, providing translation and interpretation of governmental materials for the inclusion of those who speak Tachelhit.
3. How often do you get the chance to use this language in your daily life?
Even though I live in the United states, I use this Tachelhit almost on a daily basis when I communicate with Family and other Amazigh people.
4. Are you satisfied with the response of students in your department and your university to the available offerings in your language?
I can't say I am satisfied because many people don't even know about the existence of such a language and people. While Millions of people speak Tachelhit in Morocco most people think of Morocco as an Arab country and I usually find myself having to educate people about Tachelhit and its people.
5. What is your message to young people who wish to learn this language?
My message would be first to people who are Chelouh to learn Tachelhit and not give it up for the sake of other languages. Tachelhit is our identity and losing it would mean losing who we are. I also encourage people from other countries and other backgrounds to learn Tachelhit because it is an ancient language that holds so much beauty in its expressions, poetry, songs and speech. No language is more important than the other, a language is what you make of it.