Learning Tifinagh | The World’s Writing Systems

In my post on Writing Systems of the World, I mentioned that I want to learn all the world’s writing systems. I mean, secretly, I’d love to learn all the world’s languages, but that is a pretty unrealistic goal, with over 3000 languages spoken across the globe. While it’s difficult to find an accurate estimate of how many writing systems there are, there appear to be a couple hundred, which is much more manageable. With the UK still being in lockdown, I thought learning a few new writing systems would be an exciting hobby to get me through.

I decided to start with an abjad or an alphabet, as these are the most familiar writing systems to me. Having lived in Morocco for a year, I picked up a few Amazigh words (the Berber language spoken in Morocco) and was fascinated by the abjad. Amazigh is one of the three languages used on signage in Morocco (along with French and Arabic), so I saw this crazy, wingding-esque abjad everywhere I went.

Some facts about Tifinagh

  • There are 33 letters
  • It is used for the Berber languages of Northern Africa
  • It is the modern alphabetical derivative of the traditional script
  • ‘Tifinagh’ could mean ‘the Phoenician letters’
  • It is believed to have descended from Ancient Libyan
  • There are two known variants: eastern and western
  • It is written left to right
  • Gadafi banned it in Libya

The Learning Journey

I picked up this book when I was in Morocco with good intentions but never actually looked through it. However, I thought it would be the perfect place to start my Tifinagh learning journey! Yet, the guide for the pronunciation of the letters was written based on the French alphabet with diacritics (accent marks) and it was quite tricky to work out how the letters were pronounced.

So I turned to the internet for help! I found this great video that pronounces the letters out loud and uses French and Arabic letters to aid comprehension. I quickly realised that there were many similarities between the sounds of Arabic and Tifinagh and I think if I hadn’t already learned Arabic, I would have really struggled!

However, once I had worked out the pronunciation, then came the challenge of actually getting the letters stuck in my brain. I obviously can’t remember how I learned the English alphabet, as I was a child, and I learned the Arabic abjad by practising writing it and then launching straight into reading and using it daily at university. With the Cyrillic alphabet, I practised it in a similar manner to Arabic. I didn’t have the luxury of carving out several hours per day to dedicate to Tifinagh, so I came up with a solution: the flashcard game! I’ve talked several times about this on this blog, but if you want to watch a video explaining the technique, you can do so here. I dedicated five minutes a day to practising and now, about six weeks later, the letters are pretty much solidified in my brain! I also added five basic phrases for fun.

So that’s how it’s going! Which writing system should I try next? I’m tempted to go for one of the Japanese writing systems, but I feel like that would be quite a challenge! If you want to keep up with my language learning journey, I recommend following me on Instagram, where I chat all things languages! And, as always, if I can help you with any Arabic or French to English translation, please contact me on verity.roat@cantab.net.

Next time, I will be changing the pace a little and chatting about my favourite productivity YouTubers who have provided me with so many tips on how to get the most out of my workday (and life)!

Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a UK-based Arabic and French > English translator, Copy-writer, Copy-editor, Transcriber, Role-player & Tutor.

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