Amazigh writing system adaptable to the modern age


An international colloquium on Tifinagh, the earliest alphabet used to transcribe the Amazigh language, took place on Thursday (March 22nd) in Algiers. Organized by the High Commission for Amazigh (HCA), the conference was attended by distinguished social science experts from Niger, Morocco, Tunisia and France. Those in attendance deliberated the alphabet’s use and how best to preserve it as a part of the Berber people’s cultural heritage.

The event was part of a programme run by the HCA to rehabilitate the Tamazight language in Algeria. For two days, the participants presented papers on the origins and history of the Libyco-Berber language and shared their ideas on the use of the Tifinagh script.

Prehistorian Malika Hachid argued for a re-adaptation of Lybic characters, which she described as being “of native origin and the earliest historic evidence we have” of writing in the region. She added that they “are fully capable of being adapted to the modern age” and that to stop using them “would erase one of the most beautiful aspects of our cultural heritage.”

Historian Karima Ouazar Merzouk expounded a new theory on the local origins of the Lybic alphabet, which rejects the idea that it was a variant of the Phoenician alphabet. “If this theory were to be proven, it would change all current thinking on the origins of writing, not only in North Africa but also in the world as a whole.”

In support of the previous speaker, socio-linguist Said Toudji expanded on the theory of the origins of Libyco-Berber writings and their recent developments, commenting that the most ancient inscriptions “date to the 6th century BC.” In his view, this shows that the Berber alphabet survived in North Africa at least until the end of the ancient world.

Jean-Pierre Laporte, a French archaeologist, argued that surviving documents should be used effectively so that scholars can gain an in-depth knowledge of the Lybic languages. He spoke of the various methods which have been implemented to gain knowledge of them through linguistic study. “Sadly, this study has told us little and this means there are gaps in our knowledge of the exact origin of these languages,” he concluded.

Hacene Halouene, an Amazigh researcher and linguist, spoke about the use of Tifinagh in the public sector in Kabylia. Giving his views on the opportunity to reinforce Berber cultural identity through the use of its language, he deplored the fact that the teaching of the Tifinagh alphabet “has not been adopted by any official institution to date.”

Fatima Boukhris, the director of the Centre for Language Development in Morocco, reported on the work carried out by the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture to develop the Tifinagh script as the official alphabet of the Tamazight language in Morocco. She highlighted the fact that for several years now, Tifinagh has been the accepted system for the writing and publishing of Amazigh textbooks and other literature.

Modi Issouf of the Ministry of Primary Education and Literacy in Niger raised the issue of Tifinagh characters in the Unicode Standard. He said that “the adaptation of national languages for use in IT requires compatibility with regard to encoding methods.” He added that in 1992 the Unicode Consortium created a universal character table intended to include the characters of all world languages.

By Lyes Aflou in Algiers

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