Neo-Tifinagh, a modern alphabetical derivative of the traditional script, was reintroduced 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.
Workshop on Tifinagh during WikiArabia 2019 conference in Marrakech.
Tifinagh or Libyc was widely used in antiquity by speakers of Libyc languages throughout North Africa and on the Canary Islands. Some authors believe it to be attested from as far back as the 2nd millennium BC, to the present time. The script's origin is considered by most scholars as being of local origin, although a relationship between the Punic alphabet or the Phoenician alphabet has also been suggested.
The ancient Tifinagh script was a pure abjad; it had no vowels. Gemination was not marked. The writing was usually from the bottom to the top, although right-to-left, and even other orders, were also found. The letters would take different forms when written vertically from when they were written horizontally.
There are four known variants: Eastern Libyc, Western Libyc, Bu Njem Libyc and Saharan Libyc.
Eastern Libyc or Numidian
The eastern variant covers approximately the north-west of Tunisia as well as eastern Algeria, the western limit of its use is placed at the east of Sétif although inscriptions of the eastern type can exceptionally be in Kabylia, it shows a clear Phoenician influence. It is the best-deciphered variant, due to the discovery of several Numidian bilingual inscriptions in Libyan and Punic (notably at Dougga in Tunisia). Researcher Lionel Galand maintains that there are two versions of Eastern Libyc: one used for monuments, which he called the Dougga script, and one for funerary steles, which is Eastern Libyc proper. The latter contains only 23 letters, which agrees with observations made by historian Fabius Planciades Fulgentius. In the Dougga script, 22 letters out of the 24 were deciphered so far.
Western Libyc or Moorish
The western variant covers Morocco and the western half of Algeria (country populated by the Mauri), as well as the Canary Islands. It is more archaic and shows no Phoenician influence. Its inscriptions are fewer and generally shorter and rougher. The characteristic of this alphabet is that it includes additional signs, that the eastern one is unaware of, whose value could not be given. Some of these characters are identical to the Tuareg letters of the alphabet.
Bu Njem Libyc or Libyan
There are graffiti discovered at Bou Njem, the ancient Gholaia in Libya, on the wall of an old monument which dated from the 3rd century. The writing is horizontal, made up of nine inscriptions. This variant was heavily influenced by Latin to the point of constituting a special alphabet.
Saharan Libyc or Garamantian
This variant was widespread in pre-Saharan and Saharan Libya, territory of the Gaetuli and Garamantes, where it was used by the inhabitants to engrave their messages. It is mostly unknown and badly located.
Entrance to the town of Kidal. The name is written in Tifinagh (//Kdl) and Latin script.
The Libyco-Berber script is used today in the form of Tifinagh to write the Tuareg languages, which belong to the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic family. Early uses of the script have been found on rock art and in various tombs. Among these are the 1500 year old monumental tomb of the Tuareg queen Tin Hinan, where vestiges of a Tifinagh inscription have been found on one of its walls.
According to historians, the Tuareg are "an entirely oral society in which memory and oral communication perform all the functions which reading and writing have in a literate society... The Tifinagh are used primarily for games and puzzles, short graffiti and brief messages."
Occasionally, the script has been used to write other neighbouring languages such as Tagdalt, which is a Northern Songhay language and not a member of the Afroasiatic family.
Common forms of the letters are illustrated at left, including various ligatures of t and n. Gemination, though phonemic, is not indicated in Tifinagh. The letter t, +, is often combined with a preceding letter to form an orthographic ligature. Most of the letters have more than one common form, including mirror-images of the forms shown here.
When the letters l and n are adjacent to themselves or to each other, the second is offset, either by inclining, lowering, raising, or shortening it. For example, since the letter l is a double line, ||, and n a single line, |, the sequence nn may be written || to differentiate it from l. Similarly, ln is |||, nl|||, ll||||, nnn|||, etc.
Traditionally, the Tifinagh script does not indicate vowels except word-finally, where a single dot stands for any vowel. In some areas, Arabic vowel diacritics are combined with Tifinagh letters to transcribe vowels, or y, w may be used for long ? and ?.
Neo-Tifinagh is the modern fully alphabetic script developed from earlier forms of Tifinagh. It is written left to right.
Until recently, virtually no books or websites were published in this alphabet, with activists favouring the Latin (or, more rarely, Arabic) scripts for serious use; however, it is extremely popular for symbolic use, with many books and websites written in a different script featuring logos or title pages using Neo-Tifinagh.
In Morocco, use of Neo-Tifinagh was suppressed until recently. The Moroccan state arrested and imprisoned people using this script during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2003, however, the king took a "neutral" position between the claims of Latin script and Arabic script by adopting Neo-Tifinagh; as a result, books are beginning to be published in this script, and it is taught in some schools. However, many independent Berber-language publications are still published using the Berber Latin alphabet. Outside Morocco, it has no official status.
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