Orthography in a plurigraphic society: the case of Tuareg in Niger
07 / 2005 - 02 / 2011
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
Tuaregs live in the central and southern parts of the Sahara, in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Libya and Algeria. Tuareg is a Berber language. The Tuaregs present a rare example in Africa of a plurigraphic society and script plays an important role in the self-conscience and self-definition of the Tuareg. Tuareg is a national language of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. At present, three different alphabets are used to write Tuareg: Tifinagh is the traditional Tuareg script. It is based on the ancient Libyan script, which was in use in Northern Africa in the centuries just before and during Roman occupation. Tifinagh is still much in use in Tuareg society. In the last 30 years many reformed versions of Tifinagh have been created in order to adapt it to the needs and conventions of modern society. The Arabic script is mostly used by those tribes which specialise in Islamic learning. Little is known about the use and conventions of this script when used to write Tuareg. Latin script has become the official standard in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso after independence. Systems vaccillate between graphically more 'Sub-Saharan' systems and graphically 'Northern Berber' choices. In addition to the official standards, non-governmental organisations have developed several other orthographical variants. The project aims at the collection and analysis of the different forms and orthographies in use for Tuareg in Niger in the contemporary period (i.e. after 1960). It concerns a number of issues, especially: - The graphic features of the scripts and interactions in graphic features between the different scripts. - The relationships between phonemic structure and graphic representation in the different scripts. - The solution for supra-phonemic problems in the different scripts. - The treatment of loanwords. - The contemporary history of the different scripts and the reasoning behind the different scriptural reforms. - The proper analysis of some linguistic details pertinent to the subject of investigation. The project aims at an analysis of the different systems and at a model of the interaction between different scripts. As such, it provides a solid basis for general theory building of script development and script interaction; moreover it could constitute the necessary basis for further socio-graphic studies. As the proposed researcher is the head of the Tuareg department at the alphabetisation office in Niamey, the results of the study will certainly find practical application in ongoing orthographic reform and alphabetisation.