Berber Latin alphabet

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The Berber Latin alphabet (Berber languages: Agemmay Amaziɣ Alatin) is the version of the Latin alphabet used to write the Berber languages. It was adopted in the 19th century, using varieties of letters.


The Berber languages were originally written using the ancient Libyco-Berber script and then centuries later by the Tuareg Tifinagh script in Tuareg language areas, from which the Neo-Tifinagh alphabet/abjad is the modern development.

The use of a Latin script for Berber has its roots in French colonialist expeditions to North Africa.[1] Berber texts written with Latin letters began to appear in print in the 19th century when French, Italian, and Spanish colonial expeditionaries and military officers began surveying North Africa. The French attempted to use Romanization schemes for North African Arabic dialects and for Berber. The attempts for Arabic were unsuccessful, but Berber was more susceptible, having little established literature to stand in the way.[1]

In the colonial era a French-based system was used. Though it has now fallen partly out of favor, it is still used for transcription of names into French. More recently the French institute of languages, INALCO, has proposed its own writing standard which now is the primary system used in mainly Kabyle-Berber writings [1] in Kabylie, Algeria.

Other, slightly different, varieties of Latin-based standards have been used since the beginning of the 20th century by Berber linguists in North Africa, France, and recently at the University of Barcelona, Spain.[2][3][4]

Northern-Berber Latin alphabet[edit]

The Berber Latin alphabet of Northern-Berber usually consists of 34 letters:

  • 23 standard Latin letters, all found in the English alphabet except for O, P, and V. However, these three are also used by some in modern Berber texts.
  • 11 additional modified Latin letters: Č Ḍ Ɛ Ǧ Ɣ Ḥ Ř Ṛ Ṣ Ṭ Ẓ
  • The labialization mark "ʷ" is added to some letters in some Berber dialects, producing: , , ɣʷ, , , , , and . However, these are usually not considered as independent letters of the Berber Latin alphabet.
The 34-Letter Alphabet of Northern-Berber
Lower case
a b c č d e ɛ f g ǧ ɣ h i j k l m n q r ř s t u w x y z
Table of Unicode Berber-Latin letters used in the Kabyle language of Algeria

In Northern-Berber texts, foreign words and names are written in their original form even if they contain the letters: O, P, V, or any other non-Berber letter (like: Ü, ẞ, Å, ...). According to SIL, the letter P is used in Kabyle.[5]

Berber Latin alphabet and the Tifinagh Berber alphabet[edit]

The following table shows the Northern-Berber Latin alphabet with its Neo-Tifinagh[6] and Arabic equivalents:

Berber-Latin IRCAM's
Similar sound in other languages
1 A a أ / ا / َ æ By default like English a in "map". When there is an emphatic Berber consonant then the Berber "a" is pronouned like the English a in "car".
2 B b ب b or β English b or a soft Spanish b / v
3 C c ش ʃ English sh in "ship"
4 Č č (tc) تش t͡ʃ English ch in "China"
5 D d د / ذ d or ð English d as well as English th in "this"
6 ض / ظ ðˤ Thick English d in "dork" or "door". Emphatic d
7 E e none ə American e in "hammer" or English unstressed a in "attack".
8 Ɛ ɛ ع ʕ ‘ayn (voiced equivalent of , similar to English onomatopoeia for retching)
9 F f ف f English f
10 G g (گ) ɡ English g in "gate" or "gold"
11 Ǧ ǧ (dj) ج d͡ʒ English j in "joke" or English g in "George"
12 Ɣ ɣ (gh) غ ɣ~ʁ ِlike French / German r or between this sound and Spanish intervocalic g
13 H h هـ h Strong English h in "hello" or "hold"
14 ح ħ Arabic in Muammad (stronger than h, similar to English onomatopoeia for being cold)
15 I i ي / ِ i English ee like in "sheet" or English i in "hidden".
16 J j (ج) ʒ English s in "measure" or "television", or English j in "déjà-vu".
17 K k (ک) k English k
18 L l ل l or ɫ usually British English clear L in "light" (as in French, Spanish, German)
19 M m م m English m
20 N n ن n English n
21 Q q ق q, or ɢ like k, but deeper in the throat
22 R r ر r, Spanish or Italian r
23 Ř ř ر ɺ Soft Italian/Spanish r, but even softer, almost l
24 ر Thick emphatic Spanish r
25 S s س s English s in "seed"
26 ص Thick English s as in "sold". Emphatic s
27 T t ت / ث t or θ English t in "tea", as well as English th in "thought"
28 ط Thick English "t" in "toll". Emphatic t
29 U u و / ُ ʊ English u in "put" or "rule"
30 W w وْ w English w
31 X x خ x~χ German / Dutch ch in "Nacht", European Spanish j
32 Y y يْ j English y in "yes" or "yard"
33 Z z ز z English z in "zoo"
34 (ژ) Thick English z in "Zorro". Emphatic z

The letter "O" does occur often in Tuareg-Berber orthography and sometimes in Northern Berber. In Northern-Berber orthography it usually corresponds to the letter "U".

In the interest of pan-dialectal legibility, the Berber Latin alphabet omits the partly phonemic contrasts found in some Berber language varieties (notably the Kabyle language and Riffian Berber) between stops and fricatives.[7]

Phonemic labiovelarization of consonants is widespread in Berber varieties, but there are rarely minimal pairs and it is unstable (e.g. ameqqʷran "large", in the Ainsi dialect of Kabyle, is pronounced ameqqran in At Yanni Kabyle-Berber, only a few kilometers away).[8] The INALCO standard uses the diacritic ⟨°⟩ for labiovelarization only when needed to distinguish words, e.g. ireggel vs. iregg°el.[8]

North-Berber Latin letter Tifinagh equivalent IPA equivalent
Bʷ bʷ / B° b° ⴱⵯ
Gʷ gʷ / G° g° ⴳⵯ ɡʷ
Ɣʷ ɣʷ / Ɣ° ɣ° ⵖⵯ ɣʷ
Kʷ kʷ / K° k° ⴽⵯ
Qʷ qʷ / Q° q° ⵇⵯ
Xʷ xʷ / X° x° ⵅⵯ

The letter ⟨ṛ⟩ is used for [rˤ] only when it contrasts with ⟨r⟩ (e.g. ṛwiɣ "I am satisfied" vs. rwiɣ "I am moved"). In all other cases ⟨r⟩ is used, e.g. tarakna "carpet" (pronounced taṛakna). This is because [rˤ] is often an allophone of /r/ in the environment of other emphatics, and it rarely contrasts with /r/ otherwise.[10] Exceptional cases of other emphatics, e.g. [ʊʃˤːæj] "hound", are ignored (i.e. written as uccay).[10]

Rif-Berber usages[edit]

In most Riffian areas (northern Morocco), the letter "L" in the word alɣem is pronounced [ařɣem]. "Ř" is pronounced as something between "L" and "R".[11]

Riffian Berbers pronounce the "LL" (in a word like yelli, "my daughter") like "dj" or "ǧǧ" (yeǧǧi). Depending on the author's whim, this might be represented in writing as "ll", "dj", a single "ǧ", or "ǧǧ".

Riffian letter Riffian word The word in other Berber dialects meaning in English
Ř ř ul heart
aɣyuř aɣyul donkey
awař awal speech / talk
Ǧ ǧ azeǧǧif azellif head
yeǧǧa yella (he) is / (he) exists
ajeǧǧid agellid king
Č č wečma weltma my sister
tacemřač tacemlalt blonde / white
taɣyuč taɣyult female donkey (jenny)

Souss-Berber local usage[edit]

In Souss (mid-southern Morocco), Berber writers either rarely use the neutral vowel "e", or they use it inconsistently. Elsewhere in the Berber world, the neutral vowel "e" is used to represent the non-phonemic [ə]. Tuareg-Berber uses "ə" for this purpose.

Kabyle-Berber local usages[edit]

In Kabyle-Berber (northeastern Algeria), the affricates /t͡s, d͡z/ have traditionally been notated as ⟨ţ, z̧⟩ for over thirty years. However these affricates are uncommon in other dialects (except in Riffian) and they are morphologically conditioned, so for the sake of pan-dialectal legibility the INALCO standard omits them.[12] In Kabyle the affricate [t͡s] may derive from underlying /tt/ or /ss/. In the former case the INALCO standard uses ⟨tt⟩, and in the second it uses ⟨ss⟩ (e.g. yettawi vs. ifessi deriving from the verb fsi).[12]

Unofficial usage (Kabyle)[12]
Character INALCO equivalent IRCAM Tifinagh equivalent IPA equivalent Pronunciation
Ţ ţ Tt tt ⵜⵙ t͡s ts like in "Tsetse fly"
Ss ss
Z̧ z̧ Zz zz ⴷⵣ d͡z dz / the English "ds" in words

Labiovelarization is indicated with the superscript letter ⟨ʷ⟩ (examples: kʷ, gʷ), or with the "degree sign": "°" (examples: k°, g°), or simply by using the letter ⟨w⟩.[8] ǥ ⟩ may represent spirantization.[1]

On the internet, it is common to replace the Latinized Greek epsilon and gamma, ⟨Ɛɛ⟩ and ⟨Ɣɣ⟩, with actual Greek letters:[13]

  • ⟨Σ⟩, Greek upper case sigma, since Greek upper case epsilon "Ε" is visually indistinguishable from Latin upper case E
  • ⟨ε⟩, Greek small letter epsilon (Unicode U+03B5)
  • ⟨Γ, γ⟩ Greek capital and small letter gamma (Unicode U+0393, U+03B3)

Among non-Kabyle Berber writers a number of alternative letters are used:

Unofficial / alternative usages
Character INALCO equivalent
 â Ɛ ɛ
Ġ ġ Ɣ ɣ
Gh gh
dj Ǧ ǧ


There has been a long and fierce debate on whether to use the Latin alphabet, the Tifinagh alphabet, or the Arabic alphabet, as the official alphabet for Berber in Algeria and Morocco, between Berber activists and the anti-Berber establishments, mainly those with Arab-Islamic agendas or orientations. The Berber activists overwhelmingly favor the use of the Latin alphabet in order to ensure a quick development and proliferation of the Berber language (Tamazight) in schools, in public institutions, and on the internet.[14] A small number of them prefer the neo-Tifinagh alphabet. The states of Morocco and Algeria usually distance themselves from Latin-based Berber writing, fearing that it would strengthen the position of Berber against Arabic and French, and thus leading to a stronger Berber political activism. The Arab-Islamic establishments and political parties often reject the Latin alphabet as a Berber alphabet for the same reasons, and they usually brand it as a tool to westernize and Christianize Berbers.[15]

In 2003, king Mohammed VI of Morocco approved the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) Berber Institute's decision of using neo-Tifinagh as the sole official alphabet for the Berber language in Morocco. The IRCAM's decision was met with much disapproval among independent Berber activists and they saw it as a way of neutralizing Berber and preventing it from quick flourishing and development.

Southern-Berber Latin alphabet (Tuareg)[edit]

The Southern-Berber (Tuareg) Latin alphabet is made of 36 letters. They are mostly Latin letters with one IPA character and one Greek letter incorporated.

The vowel O is used only in the Latin alphabet of Southern Berber (Tuareg), not in Northern-Berber. The vowel "O" in Tuareg words mostly corresponds to "U" in Northern Berber words.

a ă b d e ǝ f g ɣ h i j k l m n ŋ o q r s š t u w x y z ž ź

Tawellemet and Tamajaq also use Ââ Êê F̣f̣ G̣g̣ Îî J̣j̣ Ḳḳ Ṃṃ Ṇṇ Ôô Ṛṛ Ṣṣ Ṣ̌ṣ̌ Ûû Ẉẉ [16]

37-Letter Latin alphabet for Tuareg-Berber (Tamahaq), official in Niger since 1999
a ă ǝ b c d e f g ǧ h i j ǰ ɣ k l m n ŋ o p q r s š t u w x y z

The Malian national literacy program DNAFLA has proposed a standard for the Latin alphabet, which is used with modifications in Karl G. Prasse's Tuareg French Dictionary and the government literacy program in Burkina. In Niger a slightly different system was used. There is also some variation in Tifinagh and in the Arabic script.[17]

The DNAFLA system is a somewhat morphophonemic orthography, not indicating initial vowel shortening, always writing the directional particle as ⟨dd⟩, and not indication all assimilations (e.g. ⟨Tămašăɣt⟩ for tămašăq.[18]

In Burkina Faso the emphatics are denoted by "hooked" letters, as in Fula, e.g. ⟨ɗ ƭ⟩.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Souag (2004)
  2. ^ "Berber-Catalan Wordlist – University of Barcelona, Spain – Guia de Conversa Universitària – Amazic-Català". Retrieved 2010-12-26.
  3. ^ "La llengua rifenya – Tutlayt Tarifit". University of Barcelona. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  4. ^ "Seminario permanente de lengua y cultura Tamazight" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-17. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  5. ^ "SIL".
  6. ^ Initiation à la langue amazighe", 2004, p.14.
  7. ^ Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, p. 6.
  8. ^ a b c Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, pp. 8–9.
  9. ^ "L'alphabet Kabyle" (in French). Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  10. ^ a b Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, p. 9.
  11. ^ [Examples of local Riffian orthography]
  12. ^ a b c Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, pp. 7–8.
  13. ^ "L'alphabet berbère latin" (in French). Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  14. ^ Prof. Salem Chaker of INALCO
  15. ^ "DEBAT : De la graphie arabe pour tamazight ?". Le Matin DZ. August 21, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  16. ^ Template:Php?item id=wrSys detail&key=ttq-Latn-NE
  17. ^ Sudlow (2001:33–36)
  18. ^ Sudlow (2001:34)
  19. ^ Sudlow (2001:33)


External links[edit]