Amazigh culture has a tradition of riddles. These riddles are told with a specific formula, somewhat like
the English: “What’s black and white and read all over? A newspaper.” First, an introductory phrase is
given, announcing “I’m going to tell you a riddle.” Then one or two short statements are made. These
are not framed as questions but as statements. However, it is implied that the listener must then
guess what object is being described by the cryptic statements.
The introductory phrase is:
nzerx + ac + tt + i + n
first person indirect object direct object “i” sound “n” of farness
singular “past” pronoun: 2 m.s. pronoun: 3 f.s. added for
conjugation of “to you” “it,” that is, pronunciation
the verb “nzer” the riddle
Notice the presence of the indirect and direct object pronoun as well as a direction particle all with
one verb. The only thing that changes in this introductory phrase is the indirect object pronoun, which
may be ac , am , awen , or awent depending on who is being addressed. The verb nzer here functionally
means “to tell a riddle” and technically means just “to tell”: “I tell it to you.”
There are some regional variations: some areas use the masculine third person singular direct object
pronoun t (without the doubling of the consonant) instead of the feminine tt ; when that is used sometimes
the i for pronunciation is not added; some regions use slightly different indirect object pronouns (like
ak , with a hard or a fricative “k” sound, instead of ac ); and sometimes there are some slight changes to the
verb. Some regions use ɣ instead of x for the first person singular verb ending. Some regions also modify
some of the verb consonants or use a different verb. There are at least five
variations: bzer , zunzer, zuzzer , ḥeji , and qqen.
So, you say the introductory phrase. Then you say the cryptic statements. You can leave it at that, or you can
add a phrase like: Mag-gmes? or Matta ntta? (What is it?) or Ini mag-gmes or
Ini matta ntta (Say what it is.). Remember if the “it” you are talking about is feminine or plural, these
questions change to things like: May tmes? or Matta nttat? etc., according to the gender and
number of the “it.”
Most of these traditional riddles are virtually impossible for an outsider to guess correctly. They
often involve intricate details of agricultural and nomadic life.
Ddan-d iwaliwen-ad zeg E. Laoust, Cours de Berbère Marocain: Dialecte du Maroc Central, Paris, 1939, p. 269.