Berber Latin alphabet

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, of which the Neo-Tifinagh alphabet/abjad is the modern development.

The use of a Latin script for Berber has its roots in European (French and Italian) colonial expeditions to North Africa.[1] Dictionaries and glossaries written with Latin letters, ordered alphabetically and following European orthography (mainly French) began to appear in print in the 19th century, they were intended to the colonial administration, traders and military officers.[1] With the arrival of linguists specialized in Semitic languages there emerged a system based on Semitic romanization conventions:[1] diacritics were used, and dictionary entries were now ordered by root. This system has since become the most common way of Berber transcription in scientific documents and literature.[1]

Various writing standards were used since the 19th century, some are phonetically oriented, other phonologically oriented. While the Tuareg languages use a phonetically oriented transcription, the northern Berber languages use on the other hand a mixed transcription, the latter is recommended by the French institute of languages, INALCO and has been adopted by the HCA in Algeria and IRCAM in Morocco (although in Neo-Tifinagh).[1]

Northern-Berber Latin alphabet

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
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.

Berber Latin alphabet and the Tifinagh Berber alphabet

The following table shows the Northern-Berber Latin alphabet with its Neo-Tifinagh[2] and Arabic equivalents:

Similar sound in other languages
1A aأ / ا / َæBy default like English a in "map". When there is an emphatic Berber consonant then the Berber "a" is pronounced like the English a in "car".
2B bبb or βEnglish b or a soft Spanish b / v
3C cشʃEnglish sh in "ship"
4Č č (tc)تشt͡ʃEnglish ch in "China"
5D dد / ذd or ðEnglish d as well as English th in "this"
6ض / ظðˤThick English d in "dork" or "door". Emphatic d
7E enoneəAmerican e in "hammer" or English unstressed a in "attack".
8Ɛ ɛعʕ‘ayn (voiced equivalent of , similar to English onomatopoeia for retching)
9F fفfEnglish f
10G g(گ)ɡEnglish g in "gate" or "gold"
11Ǧ ǧ (dj)جd͡ʒEnglish j in "joke" or English g in "George"
12Ɣ ɣ (gh)غɣ~ʁِlike French / German r or between this sound and Spanish intervocalic g
13H hهـhStrong English h in "hello" or "hold"
14حħArabic in Muammad (stronger than h, similar to English onomatopoeia for being cold)
15I iي / ِiEnglish ee like in "sheet" or English i in "hidden".
16J j(ج)ʒEnglish s in "measure" or "television", or English j in "déjà-vu".
17K k(ک)kEnglish k
18L lلl or ɫusually British English clear L in "light" (as in French, Spanish, German)
19M mمmEnglish m
20N nنnEnglish n
21Q qقq, or ɢlike k, but deeper in the throat
22R rرr, Spanish or Italian r
23Ř řرɺSoft Italian/Spanish r, but even softer, almost l
24رThick emphatic Spanish r
25S sسsEnglish s in "seed"
26صThick English s as in "sold". Emphatic s
27T tت / ثt or θEnglish t in "tea", as well as English th in "thought"
28طThick English "t" in "toll". Emphatic t
29U uو / ُʊEnglish u in "put" or "rule"
30W wوْwEnglish w
31X xخx~χGerman / Dutch ch in "Nacht", European Spanish j
32Y yيْjEnglish y in "yes" or "yard"
33Z zزzEnglish 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.[3]

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).[4] The INALCO standard uses the diacritic ° for labiovelarization only when needed to distinguish words, e.g. ireggel vs. iregg°el.[4]

North-Berber Latin letterTifinagh equivalentIPA equivalent
Bʷ bʷ / B° b°ⴱⵯ
Gʷ gʷ / G° g°ⴳⵯɡʷ
Ɣʷ ɣʷ / Ɣ° ɣ°ⵖⵯɣʷ
Kʷ kʷ / K° k°ⴽⵯ
Qʷ qʷ / Q° q°ⵇⵯ
Xʷ xʷ / X° x°ⵅⵯ

The letter 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.[6] Exceptional cases of other emphatics, e.g. [ʊʃˤːæj] "hound", are ignored (i.e. written as uccay).[6]

Rif-Berber usages

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".[7]

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

Riffian letterRiffian wordThe word in other Berber dialectsmeaning in English
Ř řulheart
awařawalspeech / talk
Ǧ ǧazedjifazellifhead
yedjayella(he) is / (he) exists
Č čwučmaweltmamy sister
thacemřačtacemlaltblonde / white
thaɣyučtaɣyultfemale donkey (jenny)

Souss-Berber local usage

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

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.[8] 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).[8]

Unofficial usage (Kabyle)[8]
CharacterINALCO equivalentIRCAM Tifinagh equivalentIPA equivalentPronunciation
Ţ ţTt ttⵜⵙt͡sts like in "Tsetse fly"
Ss ss
Z̧ z̧Zz zzⴷⵣd͡zdz / 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.[4] 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:[9]

  • 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
CharacterINALCO equivalent
 âƐ ɛ
Ġ ġƔ ɣ
Gh gh
djǦ 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.[10] 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.[11]

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)

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 in the Latin alphabet of Southern Berber (Tuareg), but is also used in some (but not all) Northern Berber languages. The vowel "O" in Tuareg words mostly corresponds to "U" in Northern Berber words.

aăbd eǝfg ɣhij klmn ŋoqrs štu wxyzž ʕ

Tawellemet and Tamajaq also use Ââ Êê F̣f̣ G̣g̣ Îî J̣j̣ Ḳḳ Ṃṃ Ṇṇ Ôô Ṛṛ Ṣṣ Ṣ̌ṣ̌ Ûû Ẉẉ[12]

37-Letter Latin alphabet for Tuareg-Berber (Tamahaq), official in Niger since 1999
aăǝbc defg ǧhijǰ ɣklm nŋopq rsšt uwxy 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.[13]

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.[14]

In Burkina Faso the emphatics are denoted by "hooked" letters, as in Fula, e.g. ɗ ƭ.[15]

See also


  1. Kessai (2018)
  2. Initiation à la langue amazighe", 2004, p.14.
  3. Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, p. 6.
  4. Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, pp. 8–9.
  5. "L'alphabet Kabyle" (in French). Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  6. Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, p. 9.
  7. [Examples of local Riffian orthography]
  8. Tira n Tmaziɣt, 1996, pp. 7–8.
  9. "L'alphabet berbère latin" (in French). Retrieved 2010-03-21.
  10. Prof. Salem Chaker of INALCO
  11. "DEBAT : De la graphie arabe pour tamazight ?". Le Matin DZ. August 21, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  12. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. Sudlow (2001:33–36)
  14. Sudlow (2001:34)
  15. Sudlow (2001:33)


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