The case of Tifinagh, type design to the rescue

The case of Tifinagh, type design to the rescue

Tifinagh is an ancient script which was broadly used in a vast area of North Africa to write the Amazigh languages. After a long period of displacement by foreign scripts (Arabic and Latin), the beginning of the XXI century has witnessed the normalisation and unification of the language, along with the renaissance and standardisation of its original script, especially in Morocco. However, neither the use of the Tamazigh languages nor the Tifinagh script are still normalised. Actually, they have been banned in many areas of North Africa, being Morocco an exception since 2011, when it became official.

The practice of typeface design in this peculiar context raises extremely interesting and uncommon questions, namely: Which are the criteria to define a unified and manageable character set from more than 20 dialects each one with diverse peculiarities and uses? How to translate the shapes of ancient carved letters into digital media? How to encourage the adoption of an unfamiliar writing system in a context of competition with the Arabic and the Latin script? Would the design of a cursive and more easily writable alphabet facilitate its use at schools? Would a bicameral script help readability in long texts? If so, is Tifinagh an uppercase or a lowercase alphabet? Which would be the right approach to devise a bicameral writing system from a monocameral script that has no calligraphic tradition?

These are the context and some of the questions that designers involved in the design of Tifinagh fonts in Morocco have faced in the last decade. They have led them to interesting explorations and singular results. The talk will show a glimpse of the history and development of the Tifinagh alphabet as the answers to these questions are analised. Whether the decisions taken by Tifinagh typeface designers will help survive and spread the script only time will tell.

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Juan Luis Blanco

December 12, 2015
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