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Autoglottonym: žlan n Isiwan
Pronunciation: []
Ethnologue name: Siwi
OLAC name: Siwi
WALS name: Berber (Siwa)
Location point: 29° 10′ 12.00″ N, 25° 30′ E
Family: Afro-Asiatic
Genus: Berber
Country: Egypt, Libya
Official in: not official
Writing system:
ISO 639-3: siz
WALS: bsi


"Siwi" is an Arabic nisba adjective from Sīwah, the Arabic name of the main oasis where Siwi is spoken; the word is also used in Siwi. The Siwi name of the oasis and of its inhabitants is Isiwan, and žlan n Isiwan means "speech of Siwa/the Siwis". Notwithstanding certain reports online, Siwis do not call their language tasiwit, although speakers of other Berber languages have been known to use the term.


Siwi is the main language of the oases of Siwa and Gara, in western Egypt. Emigration, mainly in search of work, has led to the presence of Siwis elsewhere in Egypt and in parts of Libya.


The number of Siwi speakers may be estimated as about 15,000. The population of Siwa and Gara, according to the Egyptian census of 2006 (link), was 17,675; of these, most are Siwi speakers. No estimate of the number of Arabic-speaking immigrants in town is available, but the western villages of Maraqi and Bahayeddin are mainly Arabic-speaking; excluding those villages would reduce the count to 15,886. The Ethnologue's (2005) estimate of 5,000 speakers in 1995 was undoubtedly too low.


No published data indicates dialectal variation within Siwi.



Validity of classification

There is no doubt that Siwi is a Berber language, although it has undergone Arabic influence to a degree unusually heavy even for Berber. The earliest reported written observation of its similarity to other Berber languages was by the Egyptian geographer al-Maqrīzī (1364-1442), who remarked of Siwa in al-Mawā`ið̣ wal-i`tibār fī ðikr al-xiṭaṭ wal-'āθār (2002:238) that "its language is called Siwi, and is close to the language of (the large Berber tribe) Zanāta".


Ongoing research on Siwi:

Older wordlists:


  • Maqrīzī. تقي الدين أحمد بن علي المقريزي. تحقيق: أيمن فؤاد سيد. 2002. المواعظ والاعتبار في ذكر الخطط والآثار. لندن: الفرقان.

Works on the language

  • Basset, René. 1890. Le Dialecte de Syouah. Paris: Publications de l'Ecole des Lettres d'Alger.
  • Laoust, Emile. 1932. Siwa I: son parler. Paris: Ernest Leroux.
  • Leguil, Alphonse. 1986. “Notes sur le parler berbère de Siwa.” Bulletin des études africaines de l'Inalco, vol. VI, no. 11, pp. 5-42; no. 12, pp. 97-124.
  • Vycichl, Werner. 1998. A Sketch of Siwi Berber. In Vycichl 2005. Berberstudien & A Sketch of Siwi Berber. Berber Studies Vol. 10. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
  • Walker, W. Seymour. 1921. The Siwi Language. London.

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