The Colour Purple: Decoding the Tifinagh Alphabet, Morocco

Historically, the Tifinagh writing system originated from the abjad script; each letter or glyph is a consonant where the most suitable vowel is integrated by the one that is reading the text. The evolution and originality of the alphabet is uncertain to date but, possibly descended from several parental systems.

The Evolution of the Tifinagh Alphabet

The underlying question is:
Which parental system did the writing system evolve from?’ Is there any evidence to date that can provide some clues of its originality?

Let’s travel to the north of Morocco to the well-preserved UNESCO heritage site: Volubilis. Historically, the ancient capital of Mauretania within the proximity of the Imperial city of Meknes. A partly excavated city that is described as a Berber and Roman Settlement. From 3rd century BC, a home to the indigenous people of North Africa; Amazigh (Berbers). Foreign travellers developed their settlements during 3rd-7th century BC with the expansion of the Carthaginian empire extending to North Africa. The empire consists of the Phoenicians who were cloth merchants and Phoenicia (term used in Ancient Greek) referring to the export of the cloth dyed in purple. By 1050 BC, the Phoenician alphabet was established and spread by the travelling merchants.; a writing system that was further integrated and further developed in by other cultures. Again, an alphabet that is originated from the abjad script; consonants with no vowels. Furthermore, it evident that the Phoenician settled in Volubilis as engraving of their writing is found to date and it’s clear that the remains of the temple of Punic God Baal was found at Volubilis. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Phoenician merchants brought trade in the purple cloth and a unique writing system. A system that evolved over centuries and embedded in the modern day Neo-Tifinagh (20th Century). To date, the writing system has been modernised and complete became one of the official writing systems in Morocco supporting the widely spoken Amazigh language of the country’s people. Its official status prompted a greater visibility of scripts/books written with the Tifinagh alphabet. Further modification of the alphabet developed the modern day Tifinagh Icram which is widely used in schools. The down fall of the Carthaginian empire in 146 BC, brought the expansion of Roman empire, subsequently the Islamic dynasty of Morocco by the 8th Century AD in the fertile plains of Volubilis, Morocco.

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