Senhaja Berber is spoken by the Senhaja de Sraïr tribe confederation in the western part of the Rif mountains, northern Morocco. This tribe confederation consists of ten tribes (following the traditional terminology), which correspond to ten varieties of Senhaja. These varieties are: Ketama, Taghzut, Seddat, Bushibet, Hmed, Bunsar, Khennus, Bshir, Zerqet, and Mezduy. On the basis of Moroccan census data (HCP 2014), the number of Senhaja speakers is estimated by the present author at ca. 85,000.
The main publications on Senhaja are: a descriptive grammar by Renisio (1932), partly covering Senhaja; a vocabulary by Ibáñez (1959); a linguistic atlas by Lafkioui (2007); an article by Kossmann (2017), discussing the place of Senhaja within Berber, and a PhD thesis describing phonology, morphology, morphosyntax, and variation within Senhaja (Gutova 2021). While Senhaja is geographically close to other varieties of the Rif (Tarifiyt), it shows some unique linguistic features, distinguishing it from the varieties spoken to the East (Tarifiyt) and to the South (Central Atlas Tamazight). It shares some features with Ghomara Berber spoken to the West (El Hannouche 2008, Mourigh 2016) [see map 1].
In this dictionary, we treat several distinct Senhaja varieties, in order to cover Senhaja most fully. Senhaja often does not form a linguistic unity, and there is a large linguistic variation within it. The dialect continuum is not always smooth. Most Senhaja speakers are bilingual, speaking both Berber and dialectal (local)
Moroccan Arabic (“Darija”). Senhaja is among the Berber varieties that have been most influenced by Arabic. This influence is visible in all language domains. For example, based on the Leipzig-Jakarta list consisting of 100 words in the so-called “basic lexicon” (Haspelmath & Tadmor 2009), we estimate 35% borrowed vocabulary in Ketama, and 29% in Hmed and Zerqet. For comparison, Kossmann (2013: 110) estimates 10% of borrowings for Tarifit, and 37% for Ghomara. The influence of Arabic is also visible in morphology. Some word classes consist almost entirely of Arabic lexemes – e.g. numerals. The category of Berber adjectives could have developed on the basis of native stative verbs due to the large number of borrowed Arabic adjectives. Berber and Arabic adjectives fulfil the same syntactic function, but have different morphological marking. There is also a large number of borrowed Arabic participles. Occasionally, the Arabic morphological patterns to derive participles are applied to the native Berber verbs. The widespread borrowing led to many suppletive paradigms. Very often, native Berber verbs correspond to (unrelated) borrowed Arabic participles, causatives, passives, and verbal nouns.
Various names of this group include: Senhaja de Srair, Senhajiya, Shilha, Shilha Barbarya, Shilha n Jbala, Tajeblit, Tamazight, Tamazight n Jbala, and Tasenhajit.
Shilha is Arabic for Moroccan Berber language varieties in general. Shilha n Jbala means "Berber of the Jbala (i.e., mountainous) region", as the region where the Senhaja varieties are spoken is known as the Jbala. An Arabic name for this is Senhajiya.
Senhaja is classified as Afroasiatic, Berber, Northern. The ISO Code for this language is sjs.