Berber Latin alphabet
The Berber Latin alphabet (Berber: Agemmay Amaziɣ Alatin) is the version of the Latin alphabet used to write the Berber language (which has two main sub-groups: Northern Berber, and Southern Berber, i.e. Tuareg). Though it was being written occasionally centuries ago, the Berber language started being written and printed systematically in the 19th century, using varieties of letters. Today, the Latin alphabet is preferred by most Berber writers and linguists in North Africa and abroad, for practical reasons.
The use of a Latin script for Berber has its roots in French colonialist expeditions to North Africa. Berber texts written with Latin letters began to appear in print in the 19th century when French, Italian, and Spanish colonial expeditionaries and military officers began surveying North Africa. The French attempted to use Romanization schemes for North African Arabic dialects and for Berber. The attempts for Arabic were unsuccessful, but Berber was more susceptible, having little established literature to stand in the way.
In the colonial era a French-based system was used. Though it has now fallen partly out of favor, it is still used for transcription of names into French. More recently the French institute of languages, INALCO, has proposed its own writing standard which now is the primary system used in mainly Kabyle-Berber writings  in Kabylie, Algeria.
Other, slightly different, varieties of Latin-based standards have been used since the beginning of the 20th century by Berber linguists in North Africa, France, and recently at the University of Barcelona, Spain.
Northern-Berber Latin alphabet
The Berber Latin alphabet of Northern-Berber usually consists of 34 letters:
- 23 standard Latin letters (all the letters found in the English alphabet except for O, P, and V).
- 11 additional modified Latin letters: Č Ḍ Ɛ Ǧ Ɣ Ḥ Ř Ṛ Ṣ Ṭ Ẓ
- The labialization mark "ʷ" is added to some letters in some Berber dialects, producing: gʷ, kʷ, ɣʷ, nʷ, qʷ, and xʷ. However, these are usually not considered as independent letters of the Berber Latin alphabet.
The 34-Letter Alphabet of Northern-Berber A B C Č D Ḍ E Ɛ F G Ǧ Ɣ H Ḥ I J K L M N Q R Ř Ṛ S Ṣ T Ṭ U W X Y Z Ẓ Lower case a b c č d ḍ e ɛ f g ǧ ɣ h ḥ i j k l m n q r ř ṛ s ṣ t ṭ u w x y z ẓ
In Northern-Berber texts, foreign words and names are written in their original form even if they contain the letters: O, P, V, or any other non-Berber letter (like: Ü, ß, Å,...).
Berber Latin alphabet and the Tifinagh Berber alphabet
The following table shows the Northern-Berber Latin alphabet with its Neo-Tifinagh and Arabic equivalents:
|Similar English sound|
|1||A a||ⴰ||أ / ا / َ||æ||"a" like in the English word bad|
|2||B b||ⴱ||ب||β||like the Spanish intervocalic "b" or "v"|
|3||C c||ⵛ||ش||ʃ||the English "sh" in ship|
|4||Č č (tc)||ⵞ||تش||t͡ʃ||the English "ch" in China|
|5||D d||ⴷ||د / ذ||d or ð||English "d", and English "th" in this|
|6||Ḍ ḍ||ⴹ||ض||ðˤ||emphatic "d"|
|7||E e||ⴻ||none||ə||"a" in (unstressed) attack|
|8||Ɛ ɛ (Â â)||ⵄ||ع||ʕ||like Arabic ع `ayn (no English equivalent)|
|9||F f||ⴼ||ف||f||like the English "f"|
|10||G g||ⴳ||(گ)||ɡ||"g" like in the words gate or Greek|
|11||Ǧ ǧ (dj)||ⴵ||(دج)||d͡ʒ||English "j" like in the words joke and James|
|12||Ɣ ɣ (gh)||ⵖ||غ||ɣ||like "g" in Spanish haga or Southern Dutch gaan|
|13||H h||ⵀ||هـ||h||"h" like in hello or high|
|14||Ḥ ḥ||ⵃ||ح||ħ||like in Arabic Muḥammad (no English equivalent)|
|15||I i||ⵉ||ي / ِ||i||English ee like in sheet|
|16||J j||ⵊ||ج||ʒ||like in confusion or television, French "j" in déjà vu.|
|17||K k||ⴽ||(ک)||k||English "k"|
|18||L l||ⵍ||ل||l or ɫ||non-emphatic "L" (like in German or French)|
|21||Q q||ⵇ||ق||q, qʷ or ɢ||like Arabic ق "qaf" (no English equivalent)|
|22||R r||ⵔ||ر||r, rˤ||like a Spanish or Italian "r"|
|23||Ř ř||ⵔ / ⵍ||ر||r ~ l||A very light "R", pronounced like something between "R" and "L".|
|24||Ṛ ṛ||ⵕ||ر||rˤ||emphatic "r"|
|26||Ṣ ṣ||ⵚ||ص||sˤ||emphatic "s"|
|27||T t||ⵜ||ت / ث||t or θ||English "t", and/or English "th" in three|
|28||Ṭ ṭ||ⵟ||ط||tˤ||emphatic "t"|
|29||U u||ⵓ||و / ُ||ʊ||English "u" like in put|
|30||W w||ⵡ||وْ||w||English "w" in water|
|31||X x||ⵅ||خ||χ||Spanish "j", German / Dutch "ch", Arabic "kh"|
|32||Y y||ⵢ||يْ||j||English "y" like in yes|
|33||Z z||ⵣ||ز||z||English "z" in zoo|
|34||Ẓ ẓ||ⵥ||(ژ)||zˤ||emphatic "z"|
The Latin letter "O" does occur occasionally in Tuareg-Berber orthography. In Northern-Berber orthography it corresponds to the letter "U".
In the interest of pan-dialectal legibility, the Berber Latin alphabet omits the partly phonemic contrasts found in some Berber language varieties (notably the Kabyle language and Tarifit) between stops and fricatives.
Phonemic labiovelarization of consonants is widespread in Berber varieties, but there are rarely minimal pairs and it is unstable (e.g. ameqqʷran "large", in the Ainsi dialect of Kabyle, is pronounced ameqqran in At Yanni Kabyle-Berber, only a few kilometers away). The INALCO standard uses the diacritic ⟨°⟩ for labiovelarization only when needed to distinguish words, e.g. ireggel vs. iregg°el.
|North-Berber Latin letter||Tifinagh equivalent||IPA equivalent|
|Bʷ bʷ / B° b°||ⴱⵯ||bʷ|
|Gʷ gʷ / G° g°||ⴳⵯ||ɡʷ|
|Ɣʷ ɣʷ / Ɣ° ɣ°||ⵖⵯ||ɣʷ|
|Kʷ kʷ / K° k°||ⴽⵯ||kʷ|
|Qʷ qʷ / Q° q°||ⵇⵯ||qʷ|
|Xʷ xʷ / X° x°||ⵅⵯ||xʷ|
The letter ⟨ṛ⟩ is used for [rˤ] only when it contrasts with ⟨r⟩ (e.g. ṛwiɣ "I am satisfied" vs. rwiɣ "I am moved"). In all other cases ⟨r⟩ is used, e.g. tarakna "carpet" (pronounced taṛakna). This is because [rˤ] is often an allophone of /r/ in the environment of other emphatics, and it rarely contrasts with /r/ otherwise. Exceptional cases of other emphatics, e.g. [ʊʃˤːæj] "hound", are ignored (i.e. written as uccay).
Riffian Berbers pronounce the "LL" (in a word like yelli, "my daughter") like "dj" or "ǧǧ" (yeǧǧi). Depending on the author's whim, this might be represented in writing as "ll", "dj", a single "ǧ", or "ǧǧ".
|Riffian letter||Riffian word||The word in other Berber dialects||meaning in English|
|awař||awal||speech / talk|
|yeǧǧa||yella||(he) is / (he) exists|
|Č č||wečma||weltma||my sister|
|tacemřač||tacemlalt||blonde / white|
|taɣyuč||taɣyult||female donkey (jenny)|
Souss-Berber local usage
In Souss (mid-southern Morocco), Berber writers either rarely use the neutral vowel "e", or they use it inconsistently. Elsewhere in the Berber world, the neutral vowel "e" is used to represent the non-phonemic [ə]. Tuareg-Berber uses "ə" for this purpose.
Kabyle-Berber local usages
In Kabyle-Berber (northeastern Algeria), the affricates /t͡s, d͡z/ have traditionally been notated as ⟨ţ, z̧⟩ for over thirty years. However these affricates are uncommon in other dialects (except in Riffian) and they are morphologically conditioned, so for the sake of pan-dialectual legibility the INALCO standard omits them. In Kabyle the affricate [t͡s] may derive from underlying /tt/ or /ss/. In the former case the INALCO standard uses ⟨tt⟩, and in the second it uses ⟨ss⟩ (e.g. yettawi vs. ifessi deriving from the verb fsi).
|Character||INALCO equivalent||IRCAM Tifinagh equivalent||IPA equivalent||Pronunciation|
|Ţ ţ||Tt tt||ⵜⵙ||t͡s||ts like in "Tsetse fly"|
|Z̧ z̧||Zz zz||ⴷⵣ||d͡z||dz / the English "ds" in words|
Labiovelarization is indicated with the superscript letter ⟨ʷ⟩ (examples: kʷ, gʷ), or with the "degree sign": "°" (examples: k°, g°), or simply by using the letter ⟨w⟩. ⟨ḇ ḏ ǥ ḵ ṯ⟩ may represent spirantization.
On the internet, it is common to replace the Latinized Greek epsilon and gamma, Ɛɛ and Ɣɣ, with actual Greek letters:
- "Σ", Greek upper case sigma, since Greek upper case epsilon "Ε" is visually indistinguishable from Latin upper case E
- "ε", Greek lower case epsilon
- "Γγ" Greek upper and lower case gamma
Among non-Kabyle Berber writers a numbers of alternative letters are used:
|Â â||Ɛ ɛ|
|Ġ ġ||Ɣ ɣ|
There has been a long and fierce debate on whether to use the Latin alphabet, the Tifinagh alphabet, or the Arabic alphabet, as the official alphabet for Berber in Algeria and Morocco, between Berber activists and the anti-Berber establishments, mainly those with Arab-Islamic agendas or orientations. The Berber activists overwhelmingly favor the use of the Latin alphabet in order to ensure a quick development and proliferation of the Berber language (Tamazight) in schools, in public institutions, and on the internet. A small number of them prefer the neo-Tifinagh alphabet. The states of Morocco and Algeria usually distance themselves from Latin-based Berber writing, fearing that it would strengthen the position of Berber against Arabic and French, and thus leading to a stronger Berber political activism. The Arab-Islamic establishments and political parties often reject the Latin alphabet as a Berber alphabet for the same reasons, and they usually brand it as a tool to westernize and Christianize Berbers.
In 2003, king Mohammed VI of Morocco approved the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) Berber Institute's decision of using neo-Tifinagh as the sole official alphabet for the Berber language in Morocco. The IRCAM's decision was met with much disapproval among independent Berber activists and they saw it as a way of neutralizing Berber and preventing it from quick flourishing and development.
Southern-Berber Latin alphabet (Tuareg)
The vowel O and the consonant P is used only in the Latin alphabet of Southern Berber (Tuareg), not in Northern-Berber. The vowel "O" in Tuareg words mostly corresponds to "U" in Northern Berber words.
|36-Letter alphabet for Tuareg-Berber (Tamasheq) as recognized in Mali since 1982|
|37-Letter Latin alphabet for Tuareg-Berber (Tamasheq), official in Niger since 1999|
The Malian national literacy program DNAFLA has proposed a standard for the Latin alphabet, which is used with modifications in Karl G. Prasse's Tuareg French Dictionary and the government literacy program in Burkina. In Niger a slightly different system was used. There is also some variation in Tifinagh and in the Arabic script.
The DNAFLA system is a somewhat morphophonemic orthography, not indicating initial vowel shortening, always writing the directional particle as ⟨dd⟩, and not indication all assimilations (e.g. ⟨Tămašăɣt⟩ for tămašăq.
- Souag (2004)
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