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.


John Cowan said...

The second article has pretty severe mojibake. For example, the first paragraph of the Grammar section looks like this internally:

<p>Nouns may form their plurals with a suffix -<em>n</em>&nbsp;(modern Berber;<em>-&Eacute;&trade;n</em>), eg <em>nbbn</em>&nbsp;"workers (woodcutters?)".</p>

As you can see, they misinterpreted the characters you sent them as things like É, ™, and non-breaking space, and then converted them to explicit HTML character references so that every reader would see them exactly that way!

Please get them to put in the right characters.

John Cowan said...

On reflection, the non-breaking spaces are probably correct. Note that this is far from the only example, just the first.

Anonymous said...

It's been over a decade since you posted this. I'm wondering if there have been any new breakthroughs (or at least developments) with our understanding Libyco-Berber, particularly when it comes to dating and deciphering the inscriptions.

PS: As a side question, why are the neo-Tifinaghs officialized in Morocco and Algeria so rife with invented letters (e.g., ⴽ) when Libyco-Berber could have been the more natural choice? To me, it seems like the official organs haven't properly researched Libyco-Berber, and instead settled for letters that were made up by amateur revivalists of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Académie Berbère).