​Tamazight/Neo-Tifinagh

Updated 31 October, 2021

This page brings together basic information about the Tifinagh script, in particular the so-called Neo-Tifinagh writing system, and its use for the Standard Moroccan Tamazight and other Northern Berber languages. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Neo-Tifinagh using Unicode.

Phonetic transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide, only. Many are more phonemic than phonetic, and there may be variations depending on the source of the transcription.

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Sample (Tifinagh)

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details.
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ⴰⵎⴰⴳⵔⴰⴷ 1 ⴰⵔ ⴷ ⵜⵜⵍⴰⵍⴰⵏ ⵎⵉⴷⴷⵏ ⴳⴰⵏ ⵉⵍⴻⵍⵍⵉⵜⵏ ⵎⴳⴰⴷⴷⴰⵏ ⵖ ⵡⴰⴷⴷⵓⵔ ⴷ ⵉⵣⵔⴼⴰⵏ, ⵢⵉⵍⵉ ⴰⴽⵯ ⴷⴰⵔⵙⵏ ⵓⵏⵍⵍⵉ ⴷ ⵓⴼⵔⴰⴽ, ⵉⵍⵍⴰ ⴼⵍⵍⴰ ⵙⵏ ⴰⴷ ⵜⵜⵎⵢⴰⵡⴰⵙⵏ ⵏⴳⵔⴰⵜⵙⵏ ⵙ ⵜⴰⴳⵎⴰⵜ.

ⴰⵎⴰⴳⵔⴰⴷ 2 ⴽⵓ ⵢⴰⵏ ⵉⵥⴹⴰⵕ ⴰⴷ ⵉⵟⵟⴼ ⴽⵓⵍⵍⵓ ⵉⵣⵔⴼⴰⵏ ⴷ ⵜⴷⵔⴼⵉⵢⵉⵏ ⵍⵍⵉ ⵉⵍⵍⴰⵏ ⵖ ⵓⵍⵖⵓ ⴰⴷ, ⴰⴷ ⵓⵔ ⵢⵉⵍⵉ ⵓⵙⵏⵓⵃⵢⵓ, ⵣⵓⵏⴷ ⵡⵉⵏ ⵓⵥⵓⵕ, ⵏⵖ ⴰⴽⵍⵓ, ⵏⵖ ⴰⵏⴰⵡ, ⵏⵖ ⵜⵓⵜⵍⴰⵢⵜ, ⵏⵖ ⴰⵙⴳⴷ, ⵏⵖ ⵜⴰⵏⵏⴰⵢⵜ ⵜⴰⵙⵔⵜⴰⵏⵜ ⵏⵖ ⵜⴰⵏⵏⴰⵢⵜ ⵢⴰⴹⵏ, ⵏⵖ ⵎⴰⴷ ⵉⵥⵍⵉⵏ ⵙ ⴰⵙⵓⵔⵙ ⴰⵎⴰⴷⴰⵏ, ⵏⵖ ⵡⵉⵏ ⴰⵢⴷⴰ ⵏⵖ ⵡⵉⵏ ⵜⵍⴰⵍⵉⵜ ⵏⵖ ⴰⵙⵓⵔⵙ ⵢⴰⴹⵏ. ⴰⵎⵔ ⴰⵙⵏⵓⵃⵢⵓ ⵏⴳⵔ ⵉⵔⴳⴰⵣⵏ ⵜⵉⵎⵖⴰⵔⵉⵏ. ⵓⵔ ⴷ ⵉⵇⵇⴰⵏ ⴰⴷ ⵢⵉⵍⵉ ⵓⵙⵏⵓⵃⵢⵓ ⵉⵟⵟⴼⵏ ⵙ ⵡⴰⴷⴷⴰⴷ ⴰⵙⵔⵜⴰⵏ, ⵏⵖ ⴰⵣⵔⴼⴰⵏ ⵏⵖ ⴰⵎⴰⴹⵍⴰⵏ ⵏ ⵜⴰⵎⵓⵔⵜ ⵏⵖ ⴰⴽⴰⵍ ⵖ ⵉⴷⴷⵔ ⵓⴼⴳⴰⵏ, ⴰⴷ ⵜⴳ ⵜⵎⵓⵔⵜ ⴰⴷ ⵏⵖ ⴰⴽⴰⵍ ⴰⴷ ⴰⴷⵔⴼⵉ, ⵏⵖ ⴰⵎⵙⵏⴰⵍ ⵏⵖ ⵡⴰⵔⴰⵙⵉⵎⴰⵏ ⵏⵖ ⴰⵙ ⵉⵜⵜⵓⴳⴰ ⴽⵔⴰ ⵏ ⵓⵡⵜⵜⵓ.

Usage & history

The Tifinagh alphabet is used to write the Berber languages of North Africa. It use has been promoted with royal support in Morocco, where it is taught in elementary schools and used in publications. It is also widely used by the Tuareg, the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior, and is also used in Algeria, Mali and Niger, although alongside the Latin or Arabic alphabets.

ⵜⵉⴼⵉⵏⴰⵖ tifinaʁ Neo-tifinagh ⵜⵊⵉⵏⵗ tʒinʁ̇ Tuareg Tifinagh ⵜⵊⵏⵗ tʒnʁ̇ ditto

A modern alphabetical derivative of the traditional script, known as Neo-Tifinagh, was introduced in the 20th century by the Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM) .

There are many regional variations of the script and the standardised version proposed by IRCAM doesn't represent the full phonemic inventory of any particular language, but was proposed with a view to progressively unifying regional phonological variations in the orthography. It has officially been the only writing system for transcribing the Tamazight language in Morocco since 2003.

Standard Moroccan Tamazight is an ongoing project to create a standardized national Moroccan variety of Berber by combining the three major Moroccan Berber languages (Shilha/Tashelhiyt, Central Atlas Tamazight and Riffian/Tarifit). No-one speaks Standard Tamazight natively and it must be learned in school.

Sources: Scriptsource, Wikipedia.

Basic features

The Neo-tifinagh orthography is an alphabet, ie. both consonants and vowels are indicated in a straighforward way, and geminated consonants are simply indicated by repeating the consonant. (The Tuareg use Tifinagh also, but as an abjad.) See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Tamazight orthography.

Text runs from left to right for Tamazight (but Tuareg text runs right-to-left, and ancient Tifinagh symbols were sometimes written vertically, running from bottom to top).

Words are separated by spaces.

The script is monocameral.

It has 27 basic consonant letters and 8 additional letters in the extended set. The modifier letter   [U+2D6F TIFINAGH MODIFIER LETTER LABIALIZATION MARK] is used to create 5 labialised velar sounds (3 of which use the extended letters). The extended set also recognises 4 digraphs, each representing a single sound, which may be rendered as ligatures

There are 4 vowel letters.

Other and older orthographies of Tifinagh, such as Tuareg orthographies, include a single vowel character, whose sound is determined by the preceding consonant. In other uses, diacritics are used to indicate vowels. They may also use conjunct forms to differentiate words that would otherwise be ambiguous.

Numbers use ASCII digits.

Character index

Letters

Show

Basic consonants

ⴱ␣ⵜ␣ⴷ␣ⵟ␣ⴹ␣ⴽ␣ⴳ␣ⵇ␣ⴼ␣ⵙ␣ⵣ␣ⵚ␣ⵥ␣ⵛ␣ⵊ␣ⵅ␣ⵖ␣ⵃ␣ⵄ␣ⵀ␣ⵎ␣ⵏ␣ⵡ␣ⵔ␣ⵕ␣ⵍ␣ⵢ

Extended consonants

ⵒ␣ⴲ␣ⵠ␣ⵝ␣ⴸ␣ⴺ␣ⴴ␣ⴿ

Vowels

ⵉ␣ⵓ␣ⴻ␣ⴰ

Other

Combining marks

Show
̂␣̄␣̇␣̉

Punctuation

Show
«␣»␣„␣”␣…

ASCII

(␣)␣,␣.␣:␣;␣?␣!

Not used for Neo-Tifinagh

Character lists show:

Phonology

These are sounds for the Tamazight language.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i ɨ ɨ u ɪ ʊ o ə ə æ ɐ ɐ a ɑ ɑ

Diphthongs

ɪj ʊw

An epenthetic schwa is found in certain consonant clusters. Wikipedia has a table indicating typical contexts for Central Atlas Tamazight.wcat,#Vowels

The same article also has a table showing typical phonetic renderings of the 3 phonemes, according to context.

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
alveolar
palatal velar uvular pharyngeal glottal
stop p b t d
    c ɟ k ɡ q ɢ
   
affricate                  
fricative β
f v
θ ð
ðˁ
s z
ʃ ʒ ʝ x ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ h
nasal m   n          
approximant w   l ɫ   j      
trill/flap     r    

Vowels

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.

Basic vowels

Neo-Tifinagh is designed to show vowels (and therefore, alphabetic), however, other writing sytems such as Touareg and older variants are not.

The ancient Berber script used a single vowel symbol, read normally as a, but i after y, and u after w.u Some Tuareg orthographies display a single vowel letter at the end of a word.

The vowel letters of Neo-Tifinagh are:ws

ⵉ␣ⵓ␣ⴻ␣ⴰ

Vowels in other orthographies

The Unicode block has two further vowel letters, used for Tuareg. ap

ⵦ␣ⵧ

Vowel sounds mapped to characters

This section maps Tamazight vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Neo-Tifinagh orthography. Click on the character names to see examples.

Plain vowels

i ɪ ɨ
 
u ʊ o
 
a æ ɐ ɑ
 

Consonants

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see consonant_mappings.

IRCAM consonants

IRCAM defines the following set of characters for Neo-Tifinagh, which is a subset of the Unicode Tifinagh block designed to cater for Tarifit, Tamazight, and Tachelhit languages.ws

Stops

ⴱ␣ⵜ␣ⴷ␣ⵟ␣ⴹ␣ⴽ␣ⴳ␣ⵇ

Fricatives

ⴼ␣ⵙ␣ⵣ␣ⵚ␣ⵥ␣ⵛ␣ⵊ␣ⵅ␣ⵖ␣ⵃ␣ⵄ␣ⵀ

Nasals

ⵎ␣ⵏ

Others

ⵡ␣ⵔ␣ⵕ␣ⵍ␣ⵢ

Extended repertoire

The following characters are listed by IRCAM as 'extended'. The first 6 are rotated versions of other characters, and the last two are to represent foreign sounds. See also the digraphs.

ⵒ␣ⴲ␣ⵠ␣ⵝ␣ⴸ␣ⴺ␣ⴴ␣ⴿ

Other consonants

The remaining consonants in the Unicode Tifinagh block are mostly used for modern Tuareg, but there are four others.

ⴾ␣ⵈ␣ⵞ␣ⴵ␣ⴶ␣ⵤ␣ⵋ␣ⵌ␣ⵆ␣ⵗ␣ⵘ␣ⵁ␣ⵂ␣ⵐ␣ⵑ

There is a significant amount of variation in the use of Tifinagh symbols between different regions.

A useful exploration of the differences ae.

Digraphs

The symbol   [U+2D6F TIFINAGH MODIFIER LETTER LABIALIZATION MARK] (tamatart) is used with other consonants to indicate labiovelarisation. IRCAM's Tifinagh alphabet uses it for:

ⴳⵯ␣ⴽⵯ

The extended IRCAM list includes 3 labioverlarised consonants, written as digraphs:

ⵅⵯ␣ⵇⵯ␣ⵖⵯ

As part of its 'extended' set, IRCAM also recognises 4 more digraphs, each representing a single sound, which may be rendered as ligatures.

ⵜⵙ␣ⴷⵣ␣ⵜⵛ␣ⴷⵊ

Consonant clusters

Tamazight text written in Neo-Tifinagh typically displays consonants with no intervening vowels by simply putting them side by side, eg. ⵡⴰⴷⴷⴰⴷ waddad

Clusters in Tuareg

Consonant clusters may, however, be displayed as ligated forms in Tuareg.u This is particularly useful in text that is not fully vowelled. There are two ways to achieve this in Unicode-encoded text.

⵿

When a bi-consonant is considered obligatory,    ⵿   [U+2D7F TIFINAGH CONSONANT JOINER] is added between the two consonants. If the font supports bi-consonant shapes, the joiner is not shown, but the consonants are ligated. If the font doesn't support the joiner, it should be displayed visually, eg. ⵎ⵿‌ⵜ

ⵎ⵿ⵜⵏ⵿ⴾⵏ⵿ⵜⵔ⵿ⵜⵙ⵿ⵜ
Examples of ligated biconsonants.

See more information about the origin of the biconsonant glyph.

The second approach uses ZWNJ [U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER] rather than the Tifinagh joiner, and serves as an optional hint to the font. The fallback is simply the two consonants side by side.

The ligated shapes may vary from font to font.

ⵎ⵿ⵜⵏ⵿ⴾⵏ⵿ⵜⵔ⵿ⵜⵙ⵿ⵜ
The ligated biconsonants shown above, rendered using two different fonts (top, Tagmukay; bottom, Noto Sans Tifinagh).

Old Tifinagh texts don't show gemination.

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Tamazight consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Neo-Tifinagh orthography. Click on the character names to see examples.

Diacritics

̇␣̉␣̂␣̄

Diacritic marks from other blocks have been used in some notations, to represent vowels and foreign consonants, eg. ⴵ̇ aⵉ̉ ⴱ̂ p

When two diacritics are shown above the base, they may be dispayed side by side rather than stacked,u eg. ⵉ̇̄

Numbers

Tifinagh uses ASCII digits.

Text direction

The Neo-Tifinagh writing system is written horizontally, and left-to-right.

Modern Tuareg is written horizontally also, but right-to-left,s and reverses the glyphs of the characters, eg. ⴰⵙⵉⴹⵢⴰⵙ⵰ would be written ⴰⵙⵉⴹⵢⴰⵙ⵰This is not possible in plain text, and is achieved here by applying a CSS transform.

Early inscriptions of Tifinagh were written vertically, bottom-to-top, as well as horizontally left-to-right and right-to-left. Sometimes boustrophedon was used.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Neo-Tifinagh orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.

You can experiment with examples using the All Tifinagh character app or the Neo-Tifinagh character app.

The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.

Context-based shaping

In standard modern Tamazight there is very little contextual shaping, however when [U+2D4D TIFINAGH LETTER YAL] or [U+2D4F TIFINAGH LETTER YAN] are doubled, or appear next to each other, the second glyph is angled to the left in order to make the difference clear.u

ⵏⵏ ⵍⵍ ⵍⵏ ⵏⵍ

Examples of leaning shapes.

This is purely a font-based feature. The character codes remain the same.

Another example of context-based glyph changes is the use of Tuareg bi-consonant conjuncts described earlier.

Context-based positioning

This doesn't occur in standard Tamazight, since there are no combining diacritics.

When special notations combined multiple diacritics above consonants to represent vowels, however, the diacritics are presented side by side, rather than stacked.

ⵉ̇̄

Side by side rendering of diacritics to represent vowels in special notations.

Font styles

tbd

Punctuation & inline features

Grapheme boundaries

tbd

Word boundaries

In Neo-Tifinagh, words are separated by spaces. Other variants often don't.

Phrase & section boundaries

,␣;␣:␣.␣?␣!
phrase

, [U+002C COMMA]

; [U+003B SEMICOLON]

: [U+003A COLON]

sentence

. [U+002E FULL STOP]

? [U+003F QUESTION MARK]

! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK]

Tifinagh uses western punctuation.u

In some areas (such as Niger, Mali, Algeria pcs) [U+2D70 TIFINAGH SEPARATOR MARK] (tazarast) is used for phrase and sentence breaks.s In right to left text, this character should be mirrored, however this isn't currently possible in Unicode.

Parentheses & brackets

(␣)
  start end
standard

( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]

) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

Quotations

«␣»␣„␣”
  start end
initial

« [U+00AB LEFT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]

» [U+00BB RIGHT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]

nested

[U+201E DOUBLE LOW-9 QUOTATION MARK]

[U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]

Source, CLDR.

Emphasis

tbd

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

Ellipsis

Inline notes & annotations

tbd

Other inline ranges

tbd

Other punctuation

tbd

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

tbd

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Neo-tifinagh orthography.

Text alignment & justification

tbd

Letter spacing

tbd

Counters, lists, etc.

tbd

Styling initials

tbd

Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to Tifinagh and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.

Languages using the Tifinagh script

According to ScriptSource, the Tifinagh script is used for the following languages:

Online resources

  1. IRCAM web site (Amazigh version)

References