Re: Berber/Tifinagh (was: Swahili & Banthu)

From: Don Osborn (
Date: Sun Nov 09 2003 - 13:50:25 EST

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    Philippe, I thought I understood the intent of your first letter, but now
    I'm not sure. So let me back up and go over some basics as I understand

    1) The Berber languages as we know are written with three scripts, Tifinagh,
    Arabic, and Latin. I've been given to understand that the characters
    available in the Latin and Arabic ranges cover all uses for these languages
    (even alternatives in Latin transcription, see #7 below).
    2) I'm not sure why one would want to encode Tifinagh as anything else,
    since one has the option of using the other scripts as they are. Tifinagh
    is challenging enough as is, given its variations, history, and current
    uses. I doubt, though, that it is significantly different in difficulty
    from other old scripts, or that any benefit would accrue from linking
    Tifinagh encoding to non-Tifinagh scripts.
    3) There may be a need to harmonize transcriptions within each script among
    the different countries. Such was the approach in sub-Saharan Africa
    several decades ago re transcription of numerous cross-border languages.
    This is not an encoding issue, but might be helpful as a language policy
    4) There is also a point in working out correspondences among the three
    scripts at some point, but it's not as far as I understand an encoding issue
    either (concurring here with Michael) - it could be something for scholars,
    perhaps at the same time harmonization of transcriptions is considered. In
    fact, I understand that an agency in Morocco concerned with Tifinagh
    recently worked up a chart of equivalent characters between Arabic and
    Tifinagh alpabets. In the longer run, having clear rules for alternating
    among transcriptions would seem to be helpful (for routines that could
    transliterate among the transcriptions).
    5) There was a considerable discussion on Unicode-Afrique in Sept.-Oct. on
    various topics related to Berber languages and transcriptions. Among these I
    would mention a font, ZU-fonts (Unicode for Tamazight) which is Latin.
    6) The latter opted for a sigma - and corrected that from a Greek to a Latin
    7) The dot under issue is one similar to what is encountered in Igbo and
    Yoruba (the latter alternatively a small vertical line under). The main
    issue here is standardization. And to that end could be something
    undertaken at the same time as nos. 3&4 above?

    Hope this helps...


    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Philippe Verdy" <>
    To: "Michael Everson" <>
    Cc: <>
    Sent: Sunday, November 09, 2003 5:54 PM
    Subject: Re: Berber/Tifinagh (was: Swahili & Banthu)

    > From: "Michael Everson" <>
    > > When we encode Tifinagh we will encode Tifinagh. We will not
    > > meta-encode it for ease of transliteration to other scripts.
    > Yes that was the intent of my suggestion, I don't say that this must be
    > done. But what would be wrong if a font was created for the Tifinagh
    > that would display Latin-based glyphs with diacritics rather than historic
    > glyphs?
    > Could it help to allow exchanges between use of the historic script in
    > Morocco, and those that criticize Morocco and now want to support their
    > language with Latin-based glyphs?
    > Of course this would exhibit differences of orthograph in the visual
    > rendering between a text written in Tifinagh then displayed with Latin
    > glyphs, and the same text written normally with the Latin script.
    > But it could help exhibit these cultural differences, as well as it could
    > help studying the historic texts by people which are not used to read the
    > Tifinagh glyphs, and would greatly appreciate to be able to interpret them
    > with Latin glyphs but with their native orthograph (later they could laern
    > to read the historic glyphs of this script with exactly the same texts).
    > This is not really a proposal for a transliteration, as it does not want
    > map Tifinagh letters with their possible Latin equivalents, taking into
    > account the history of this transliteration, which may have modified the
    > orthograph to be easier to read in the Latin script (for example if
    > have then been added or changed in the Latin script for the modern form of
    > the language).
    > This problem is similar between Latin and Cyrillic version of
    > Serbo-Croatian, which is still considered as a single language (even if
    > there are lexical preferences now between Serbian and Croatian, only
    > being written today with both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabet).
    > I'm sorry if this seems stupid for you. The intent is not to deprecate the
    > historic script by writing it systematically (with a bijective mapping)
    > Latin glyphs: such system will look possibly ugly in some cases for users
    > which have learned to write their language with the Latin script which
    > includes now its own orthograph.

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