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Dissertation

Le tifinagh au Niger contemporain: Étude sur l’écriture indigène des Touaregs

In this dissertation a large corpus of letter signs and texts gathered during fieldwork in Niger, and to a lesser extent Mali and Burkina Faso is used to show the graphemic diversity of the traditional script of the Tuaregs, tifinagh, and to analyze the orthographic system.

Author
Ramada Elghamis
Date
23 February 2011
Links
Full text in Leiden University Repository

This thesis concerns the traditional script of the Tuaregs,  tifinagh. This script is a direct descendent of the Libyco-Berber script, which appeared in Northern Africa in the first millennium BCE. Nowadays, it is used by most Tuareg populations in southern Algeria, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. The thesis focuses on the current form and usage of this script. On the basis of a large corpus of letter signs and texts gathered during fieldwork in Niger, and to a lesser extent Mali and Burkina Faso, the graphemic diversity of the script is shown, and the orthographic system is analyzed. The traditional Tifinagh script is basically consonantal, except for the fact that vowels are written in word-final position. Moreover, by means of ligatures, it is shown which consonants in a graphemic sequence are to be interpreted as a consonant cluster (in that case the ligature is used), and which are to be interpreted as consonants separated by a vowel in pronunciation (in that case two separated signs are used). 

The thesis also describes the many uses the Tifinagh script has in traditional usage. This ranges from personal administrative tasks to love letters and grafitti. It is shown that recently traditional Tifinagh have started to be used in printed media too. A new development is the creation of neo-Tifinagh systems - orthographies graphemically based on Tifinagh, but with different systems - esp. the introduction of vowel signs. The different proposals are analyzed as to their main inspirations, which are mainly the Arabic and the Latin script. The usage of these new systems is traced, both in personal contexts as in the printed media.

The thesis also contains a chapter on the other two scripts in use for writing Tuareg, the Latin script and the Arabic script. For the first, it shows the history of orthograohic reforms in Niger and Mali since independence. For the latter, it provides a first analysis of the graphemes and orthography used in the age-old tradition of writing Tuareg in Arabic script. 

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