Tifinagh script summary

Updated 8 February, 2019 • 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. Use the control on the right to choose which transcription data you want to see.

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.

Show transcriptions

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⵰ asidˁyas• Saturday 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.

Vowels

Neo-Tifinagh is designed to be fully vowelled (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 or u after w.u Some Tuareg orthographies display a single vowel letter at the end of a word.

The vowel letters of Neo-Tifinagh arew:

ⴰ␣ⴻ␣ⵉ␣ⵓ

Vowels in other orthographies

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

ⵦ␣ⵧ

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 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.w

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

Other consonants

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.

ⴲ␣ⴴ␣ⴸ␣ⴺ␣ⴿ␣ⵝ␣ⵠ␣ⵒ

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

ⴵ␣ⴶ␣ⴾ␣ⵁ␣ⵂ␣ⵆ␣ⵈ␣ⵋ␣ⵌ␣ⵐ␣ⵑ␣ⵗ␣ⵘ␣ⵞ␣ⵤ

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

A useful exploration of the differences →a.

Digraphs

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

The extended IRCAM list includes 3 labioverlarised consonants, written as digraphs: ⵅⵯ , ⵇⵯ , and ⵖⵯ ɣʷ.

As part of its 'extended' set, IRCAM also recognises four digraphs, 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.

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.

ⵎ⵿ⵜm͓t
ⵏ⵿ⴾn͓k̇
ⵏ⵿ⵜn͓t
ⵔ⵿ⵜr͓t
ⵙ⵿ⵜs͓t
Examples of ligated biconsonants.

More information about the origin of the biconsonant glyph →p

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.

The ligated shapes may vary from font to font.

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

Old Tifinagh texts don't show gemination.

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

Diacritics

̇␣̉␣̂␣̄

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

Punctuation

Tifinagh uses western punctuation. However some orthographies use one native punctuation mark, tazarast, to indicate phrase and sentence breaks. See Text delimiters.

Numbers

Tifinagh uses european digits.

Glyph shaping & positioning

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 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.

Structural boundaries & markers

Word boundaries

The concept of 'word' is difficult to define in any language (see What is a word?). Here, a word is a vaguely-defined, but recognisable semantic unit that is typically smaller than a phrase and may comprise one or more syllables.

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

Phrase boundaries

Tifinagh uses western punctuation.u

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

TBD

Further information needed for this section includes:

Glyph shaping & positioning
    Cursive text
    Context-based shaping
    Multiple combining characters
    Context-based positioning
    Transforming characters

Structural boundaries & markers
    Grapheme, word & phrase boundaries
    Hyphens & dashes
    Bracketing information
    Quotations
    Abbreviations, ellipsis, & repetition
    Emphasis & highlights
    Inline notes & annotations

Inline layout
    Inline text spacing
    Bidirectional text

Line & paragraph layout
    Text direction
    Line breaking
    Hyphenation
    Text alignment & justification
    Counters, lists, etc.
    Styling initials
    Baselines & inline alignment

Page & book layout
    General page layout & progression
    Directional layout features
	Grids & tables
    Notes, footnotes, etc.
    Forms & user interaction
    Page numbering, running headers, etc.

References

  1. [ a ] Paul Anderson, Evolution of the Tifinagh script in Unicode
  2. [ aa ] Paul Anderson, Proposal to add two Tifinagh characters for vowels in Tuareg language variants
  3. [ b ] Juan Luis Blanco, Tifinagh & the IRCAM
  4. [ d ] Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507993-0, p115.
  5. [ p ] Lorna A. Priest, Jon Coblentz, Documenting a fallback glyph for Tifinagh Consonant Joiner
  6. [ pa ] Lorna A. Priest, Jon Coblentz, Andrew Savage, Proposal to encode additional Tifinagh characters
  7. [ s ] Scriptsource, Tifinagh (Berber)
  8. [ u ] The Unicode Standard v10.0, Tifinagh, pp735-737.
  9. [ w ] Wikipedia, Tifinagh.
  10. [ wb ] Wikipedia, Berber Latin alphabet.
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