Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Libyco-Berber (ancient Tifinagh) at MNAMON

Libyco-Berber is the writing system used in pre-Roman and Roman times to write an apparently Berber language in North Africa – especially inland in Numidia (northeastern Algeria and northwestern Tunisia), where the large majority of surviving inscriptions have been found. We can read the letters, thanks to a few bilingual inscriptions, but only a small number of words are known, because most of the inscriptions are very short (usually gravestones) and have no translations. It seems to have disappeared in the Maghreb by the end of the Classical period (there are no known Christian Libyco-Berber inscriptions, much less Muslim ones), but a variant of it, called Tifinagh, has survived among the Tuareg of the Sahara up to the present day – and, since the late 20th century, an adaptation of that called Neo-Tifinagh has been revived in Algeria and Morocco.

Last week MNAMON published pages by me on the Libyco-Berber (or ancient Tifinagh) script and language, which may be of interest to readers. I gave a talk at the Scuola Normale in Pisa for the occasion, giving an overview of what we know and discussing the language's position within the Berber family; I understand the video may appear online soon. A notable conclusion is that the glottal stop, recently reconstructed for Proto-Berber, had probably already been lost in the language of these inscriptions.