Berber is spoken by large populations of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and by smaller populations of Tunisia, northern Mali, western and northern Niger, northern Burkina Faso, Mauritania and in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt. Large Berber-speaking migrant communities, today numbering about 4 million, have been living in Western Europe, spanning over three generations, since the 1950s. The number of Berber people is much higher than the number of Berber speakers. The bulk of the populations of the Maghreb countries are considered to have Berber ancestors.
Around 90% of the Berber-speaking population speak one of seven major varieties of Berber, each with at least two million speakers. They are, in order of number of speakers: Shilha (Tacelḥit/Tasussit), Kabyle (Taqbaylit), Central Atlas Tamazight (Tamaziɣt), Riffian (Tmaziɣt), Shawiya (Tacawit) and Tuareg (Tamaceq/Tamajaq/Tamahaq). The extinct Guanche language spoken on the Canary Islands by the Guanches, as well as the languages of the ancient C-Group culture in present-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan, are believed to have belonged to the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic family.
The Berber languages and dialects have had a written tradition, on and off, for about 2,500 years, although the tradition has been frequently disrupted by cultural shifts and invasions. They were first written in the Libyco-Berber abjad, which is still used today by the Tuareg in the form of Tifinagh. The oldest dated inscription is from 3rd century BCE. Later, between about 1000 CE and 1500 CE, they were written in the Arabic script, and since the 20th century they have been written in the Berber Latin alphabet, especially among the Kabyle and Riffian communities of Morocco and Algeria. The Berber Latin alphabet was also used by most European and Berber linguists during the 19th and 20th centuries.
A modernised form of the Tifinagh alphabet, called Neo-Tifinagh, was adopted in Morocco in 2003 for writing Berber, but many Moroccan Berber publications still use the Berber Latin alphabet. Algerians mostly use the Berber Latin alphabet in Berber language education at public schools, while Tifinagh is mostly used for artistic symbolism. Mali and Niger recognise a Tuareg-Berber Latin alphabet customised to the Tuareg phonological system. However, traditional Tifinagh is still used in those countries.
There is a cultural and political movement among speakers of the closely related varieties of Northern Berber to promote and unify them under a written standard language called Tamaziɣt. The name Tamaziɣt (or Tamazight) is the current native name of the Berber language in the Moroccan Middle Atlas region, the Rif regions and the Libyan Zuwarah region. In other Berber-speaking areas this name was lost. There is historical evidence from medieval Berber manuscripts that all indigenous North Africans from Libya to Morocco have at some point called their language Tamaziɣt. The name Tamaziɣt is currently being used increasingly by educated Berbers to refer to the written Berber language, and even to Berber as a whole, including Tuareg.
In 2001, Berber became a constitutional national language of Algeria, and in 2011 Berber became a constitutionally official language of Morocco. In 2016 Berber became a constitutionally official language of Algeria, after years of persecution.