Tifinagh script summary

Updated 11 February, 2018 • tags tifinagh, scriptnotes

This page provides 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 is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as i learned. For character-specific details follow the links to the Tifinagh character notes.

For similar information related to other scripts, see the Script comparison table.

Clicking on red text examples, or highlighting part of the sample text shows a list of characters, with links to more details. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text.

Sample (Tifinagh)

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

From Scriptsource:

The Tifinagh alphabet is used to write the Berber languages spoken in North Africa; it is believed to be a form of the Ancient Berber script. It is widely used by the Tuareg, the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior.

There are many regional variations of the script; the standardised version proposed by the Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM) consists of 33 symbols. This character set does not represent the full phonemic inventory of any particular language, but was proposed with a view to progressively unifiying regional phonological variations in the orthography. ... The Tifinagh script as regulated by IRCAM has officially been the only writing system for transcribing the Tamazight language in Morocco since 2003. The script also remains widely used in Algeria, Mali and Niger; however, it is generally used alongside the Latin or Arabic alphabets. Public use of the script was banned in Libya under Colonel Gaddafi's regime, but the interim government, the National Transitional Council, appears to be more open to it.

Tifinagh is also sometimes known by the name of the language or the people using it, for example Tuareg or Berber. It is also referred to as Neo-Tifinagh to distinguish it from the old Berber abjad, Tifinagh.

From Wikipedia:

Tifinagh (Berber pronunciation: [tifinaɣ]; also written Tifinaɣ in the Berber Latin alphabet; Neo-Tifinagh: ⵜⵉⴼⵉⵏⴰⵖ; Tuareg Tifinagh: ⵜⵊⵉⵏⵗ or ⵜⵊⵏⵗ) is an abjad script used to write the Berber languages.

A modern alphabetical derivative of the traditional script, known as Neo-Tifinagh, was introduced in the 20th century. A slightly modified version of the traditional script, called Tifinagh Ircam, is used in a number of Moroccan elementary schools in teaching the Berber language to children as well as a number of publications.

Key features

The Tamazight writing system is an alphabet, ie. both consonants and vowels are indicated in a straighforward way, and geminated consonants are simply indicated by repeating the consonant. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features, taken from the Script Comparison Table.

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.

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.

Character lists

The Tifinagh script characters in Unicode 10.0 are in a single block:

  1. Tifinagh (57 letters, 1 mark, 1 punctuation : total 59)

The following links give information about characters used for languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.

For character-specific details see Tifinagh character notes.

Consonants

IRCAM defines the following set of characters for Neo-Tifinagh, which is a subset of the Unicode Tifinagh block.w

list all
bb
gɡ
dd
ff
kk
hh
ħ
ɛ, ʕʕ
xχ
qq, qʷ, ɢ
jʒ
ll, ɫ
mm
nn
rr, rˤ
ɣʁ, ɣ
ss
šʃ
tt
ww
yj
zz
°ʷ

The following characters are listed by IRCAM as 'extended'. The last four are actually digraphs, which may be rendered as ligatures.

list all
β
ʝ
ð
ḍ̱ðˁ
ⴿç
pp
θ
vv
ⵜⵙtsʦ
ⴷⵣdzʣ
ⵜⵛtcʧ
ⴷⵊdjʤ

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

See the remaining consonants in the Tifinagh block.
list all

The symbol [U+2D6F TIFINAGH MODIFIER LETTER LABIALIZATION MARK] (tamatart) is used with other consonants to indicate the sound ʷ. IRCAM's Tifinagh alphabet uses it for ⴳⵯ ɡʷ and ⴽⵯ .

Consonant clusters

Berber Tamazight text displays consonants with no intervening vowels by simply putting them side by side, eg. ⵡⴰⴷⴷⴰⴷ waddad.

Consonant clusters may, however, be displayed as ligated forms in Tuareg.u There are two ways to achieve this.

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.

ⵎ⵿ⵜmt
ⵏ⵿ⴾnk
ⵏ⵿ⵜnt
ⵔ⵿ⵜrt
ⵙ⵿ⵜst
Examples of ligated biconsonants.

The second approach uses ZWJ [U+200D ZERO WIDTH 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.

Could this be a feature that is associated with a higher level protocal, such as a CSS property?

Old Tifinagh texts don't show gemination.

Vowels

The vowel letters of Neo-Tifinagh arew:

list all
aæ
eə
ii
uʊ

Vowels in other orthographies

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

list all
ee
oo

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

Diacritic marks from other blocks have been used in some notations, to represent vowels and foreign consonants, eg. ⴵ̇ a, ⵉ̉ , and ⴱ̂ p. Sometimes two diacritics are shown above the base, side by side rather than stacked,eg. ⵉ̇̄ .u

Numbers

Tifinagh uses european digits.

Other characters

The Unicode Tifinagh block has two characters that are not consonants or vowels.

list all
◌⵿

The first is punctuation (see below). The second is used to produce biconsonant clusters – see the section on consonant clusters above.

Context-based glyph changes

Contextual 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 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.

Text layout

Text direction

Berber Neo-Tifinagh script is written horizontally, and left-to-right.

Modern Tuareg is written horizontally also, but right-to-left.s

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.

Text delimiters

Words are separated by spaces.

Tifinagh uses western punctuation.u

In some areas [U+2D70 TIFINAGH SEPARATOR MARK] (tazarast) is used for phrase and sentence breaks.s

TBD

Other features to be investigate in this section include: emphasis & highlighting, text decoration, abbreviations & ellipsis, hyphens & dashes quotations, repetition, line breaking, hyphenation, justification & alignment, first-letter styling, notes & footnotes, page layout

References

  1. [U] The Unicode Standard v10.0, Tifinagh, pp735-737.
  2. [D] Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507993-0, p115.
  3. [W] Wikipedia, Tifinagh.
  4. [B] Wikipedia, Berber Latin alphabet.
  5. [S] Scriptsource, Tifinagh (Berber)
Last changed 2018-02-11 12:25 GMT.  •  Make a comment.  •  Licence CC-By © r12a.