Languages of Tunisia

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Languages of Tunisia
Official languages Literary Arabic
Vernaculars Tunisian Arabic
Minority languages Berber languages
Main foreign languages French
Sign languages Tunisian Sign Language
Street view in Tunis
Sign in Arabic and French at the Sousse Faculty of Medicine.

Tunisia is, in terms of language, the most homogeneous of the Maghreb states.[1] This is because almost the entire population speaks Tunisian Arabic (also called Darija) natively. Most are also literate in Literary Arabic, which is the country's official language, and French. The Tunisian Darija is considered a variety of Arabic - or more accurately a set of dialects [2] - therefore, there is no official standardisation body for Tunisian Arabic[3] and it is spoken mainly in the context of a daily dialogue within the family. According to linguistic studies, it is a close relative to Maltese.[4] Berber languages are spoken by a minority, especially in the south.

During the French protectorate of Tunisia, French was imposed through public institutions, notably the education system, which became a strong vehicle for dissemination of the language. From independence, the country gradually became Arabised even though the public administration, justice and education remained bilingual[5] meanwhile knowledge of French and other European languages (as English and Italian) is enhanced by Tunisia's proximity to Europe and notably by media and tourism.

The 1990s marked a turning point for the Arabisation process. Science classes up to the end of middle school were Arabised in order to facilitate access to higher education and promote the Arabic language in society.[5] Since October 1999, private establishments are forced to give Arabic characters twice the size compared to Latin characters,[5] this rule is not always followed however. At the same time, the public administration is required to communicate in Arabic only. Nevertheless, only the departments of Defense and Justice and the Parliament are fully Arabised.[1] In this context, the use of French seems to decline despite the increased number of graduates of the educational system, which leads to the fact that a good knowledge much of French remains an important social marker.[5] This is because French is widely practised in the business community, the spheres of natural sciences and medicine and intellectual domains, one can even consider that the language has become gentrified.[5]

According to recent estimates provided by the Tunisian government to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the number French speakers is estimated at 6.36 million people, or 63.6% of the population.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b (French) Aménagement linguistique en Tunisie (Université de Laval)
  2. ^ « Travaux de phonologie. Parlers de Djemmal, Gabès, Mahdia (Tunisie) et Tréviso (Italie) », Cahiers du CERES, Tunis, 1969
  3. ^ (French) Juliette Garmadi-Le Cloirec, « Remarques sur la syntaxe du français de Tunisie », Langue française, vol. 35, 1977, p. 86
  4. ^ Albert J. Borg et Marie Azzopardi-Alexander, Maltese, éd. Routledge, New York, 1996, p. XIII
  5. ^ a b c d e Samy Ghorbal, « Le français a-t-il encore un avenir ? », Jeune Afrique, 27 avril 2008, pp. 77-78
  6. ^ (French) Christian Valantin (sous la dir. de), La Francophonie dans le monde. 2006-2007, éd. Nathan, Paris, 2007, p. 16 PDF (5.58 MB)

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