Tifinagh unites all the Amazigh dialects spoken across North Africa.
On January 12, 2020, Amazigh (Berber) people across Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and parts of Egypt will celebrate Yennayer, the Amazigh New Year 2970. Traditional festivities include dancing in the streets, serving traditional food, and playing traditional music.
Among the key symbols of the Amazigh people is Tifinagh, the Amazigh alphabet.
Tifinagh is the alphabet used by the Amazigh people in North Africa to write in Tamazight (Berber language) and record their traditions and customs.
Anthropological studies have shown that the indigenous people of North Africa created Tifinagh over two millennia ago. The oldest document found written in Tifinagh dates back to the first century BCE.
Archeologists have found Tifinagh letters in numerous artifacts dating back to a number of different historical periods, showing the evolution of the alphabet through time. Many researchers track the origins of Tifinagh to a variety of the Phoenician language that was spoken in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean.
Despite Tifinagh being mainly used in North Africa, the Tuareg people in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Algeria, and Libya also played an important role in preserving the alphabet thanks to their nomadic and reclusive lifestyle, most particularly after the spread of Arabic in North Africa.
Archeologists found evidence of the use of Tifinagh principally in religious texts and in love letters. Ancient documents written in Tifinagh, however, remain scarce due to the oral traditions within the Amazigh and Tuareg cultures.
Efforts to revive the alphabet started in the 1960s, with Amazigh activists from Algeria creating the Berber Academy in Paris in 1966. The cultural association consisted of Amazigh intellectuals, artists, and journalists who wanted Tifinagh to be an official alphabet.
The organization, renamed Berber Assembly in 1967, also published the first periodic magazine written in Tifinagh, “Imazighen,” and proposed the design of the Berber flag that became a symbol of Amazigh movements all over North Africa.
The association’s efforts led Algeria to start using Tifinagh on information and road signs in the 1980s.
In Morocco, Amazigh activists have also been demanding the implementation of Tifinagh on public signs and the recognition of their dialects since the last quarter of the 20th century.
King Mohammed VI responded to the demands and established the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture in October 2001.
The institute offers advice to the King and government about the measures that would help develop the Amazigh dialects and culture, especially within the Moroccan education system.
The establishment also developed a modern Tifinagh, called Neo-Tifinagh, now used on information signs all over Morocco. The alphabet consists of 33 different characters.
In 2011, following the protests organized by the 20 February Movement, Morocco’s reformed constitution recognized Tamazight as an official language for the first time.
Today, Tifinagh is displayed on the information signs of most public institutions, alongside Arabic, and sometimes French.