|تونسي Tounsi / دارجة dèrja|
|Native to||Tunisia, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, Libya, Algeria|
|Native speakers||9,406,900 (1995)|
|Writing system||Arabic alphabet, Latin script|
|Official language in||(none)|
Tunisian, or Tunisian Arabic (تونسي Tounsi local pronunciation: [ˈtuːnsi] or دارجة dèrja [ˈdɛːrʒæ]) is a Maghrebi dialect of the Arabic language, spoken by some 11 million people. It is usually known by its own speakers as Derja, which means dialect, to distinguish it from Standard Arabic, or as Tunsi, which means Tunisian. It is spoken all over Tunisia, and merges, as part of a dialect continuum, into similar varieties in eastern Algeria and western Libya. Its morphology, syntax, pronunciation and vocabulary are quite different from Standard or Classical Arabic. Tunisian Arabic, like other Maghrebi dialects, has a vocabulary mostly Arabic, with significant Berber substrates, and many words and loanwords borrowed from Berber, French, Turkish, Italian and Spanish. Derja is mutually spoken and understood in the Maghreb countries, especially Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but hard to understand for middle eastern Arabic speakers. It continues to evolve by integrating new French or English words, notably in technical fields, or by replacing old French and Spanish ones with Standard Arabic words within some circles. In Eastern Arab countries the similar term (العامية (al-)`āmmiyya ) is more commonly used for the colloquial varieties of Arabic there. Moreover, Tunisian is also closely related to Maltese, which is not considered to be a dialect of Arabic for sociolinguistic reasons.
Almost all literate speakers of Tunisian also understand and can speak some Standard Arabic. Some Tunisians view Tunisian Arabic as a derivative form of Classical Arabic with loanwords from Berber, French, Italian, Turkish and Spanish though awareness of Tunisian as a distinct language is growing, especially among the younger generation.
Tunisian Arabic is a spoken variety of Arabic, and as such shares many features with other modern varieties, especially North African ones. Some of its distinctives (from other Arabic dialects) are listed here.
- A conservative consonantal phonology (due to Berber substrates), with /q/ and interdental fricatives maintained.
- The use of إنتِ /ʔinti/ [ˈʔɪnti] in urban varieties meaning "you" when addressing both men and women, and a concomitant loss of this gender distinction in the verbal morphology. This distinction is still maintained in rural varieties by using إنتَ /ʔinta/ for male and إنتِ /ʔinti/ for female.
- The lack of an indicative prefix in the verbal system, resulting in no distinction between indicative and subjunctive moods.
- The innovation of a progressive aspect by means of the participle قاعد /qaːʕid/ [ˈqɑːʕɪd], originally meaning "sitting"; and the preposition في /fi/ "in" in transitive clauses.
- The distinctive usage of future tense by using the prefix باش /baːʃ/ [bɛːʃ] + verb which is nearly equivalent to "will" + verb.
- Some vocabulary such as فيسع /fiːsaʕ/ [ˈfiːsæ] "fast", باهي /baːhij/ [ˈbɛːhi] "good" and برشا /barʃa/ [ˈbɛrʃæ] "very much". (e.g.: /baːhij barʃa/ [ˈbɛːhi ˈbɛrʃæ] = "very good")
- Unlike most of the other Muslim countries, the greeting as-salamu alaykum is not used as the common greeting word in Tunisia. Tunisians use the expression عسلامة /ʕaslaːma/ [ʕæsˈlɛːmæ] (formal) or أهلا /ʔahla/ [ˈʔɛhlæ] (informal) for greeting. Also, بسلامة /bisslaːma/ [bɪsˈlɛːmæ] (formal) or the Italian ciao (informal) are used as the Tunisian "goodbye" expression, and برك الله فيك /barak allaːhu fiːk/ [ˈbɑːræk ɑɫˈɫɑːhu ˈfiːk], عيشك /ʕajʃak/ [ˈʕɛjʃæk] or أحسنت /ʔaħsant/ [ʔæħˈsɛnt] for "thank you", in lieu of شكرا /ʃukran/ [ˈʃʊkræn].
- The passive derivation of verbs is similar to Berber and does not exist in Classical Arabic. It is obtained by prefixing the verb with /t-/, /tt-/, /tn-/ or /n-/ (ex: /ʃrab/ "to drink" → /ttaʃrab/ "to be drunk").
- Nearly all educated Tunisians can communicate in French, which is widely used in business and as the main means of communication with foreigners. French expressions and vocabulary are used in the local language itself.
The major distinction within Tunisian Arabic is that between sedentary (mainly urban) and Nomadic-origin (rural) dialects (see Sedentary vs. Nomadic). Note that most speakers of these rural varieties are not actually nomadic. Sedentary varieties are spoken in large cities on or near the coast, such as Tunis, Bizerte, Nabeul, Hammamet, Sousse, Monastir, Mahdia, Kairouan, and Sfax, while the rest of the country to the west and south of this coastal strip uses rural varieties, including the towns of Gabès, Gafsa, Tozeur, El Kef and Béja. Rural dialects are also found in small villages not far from the centres of the urban dialects.
All the urban varieties use the voiceless uvular plosive [q] in words such as [qaːl] "he said", while rural varieties have the voiced velar plosive [ɡ] as in [ɡaːl]. Urban varieties also pronounce a final root vowel before another vowel, as in the word [mʃaːu] "they went", while rural varieties delete this final vowel, giving [mʃu]. Urban varieties also share with Maltese the distinction amongst Arabic dialects of not marking gender in the second person. The otherwise feminine /ʔinti/ is used to address men and women, much to the bemusement of other Arabic speakers, while in the verb no feminine marking is used. Rural dialects maintain the usual distinctions found in Arabic, whether standard or spoken.
There is further variation within both urban and rural dialects. For example, the dialect of Sfax maintains the diphthongs of Standard Arabic in words such as /lajl/ "evening" (commonly pronounced as [liːl] in other regions in Tunisian and [leːl] in other Arabic dialects), a trait shared by Maltese and the traditional women's dialect of Tunis.
Further information on Tunisian dialectology can be found in Gibson (1998), Marçais (1950), Singer (1984), and Talmoudi (1980).
Domains of use 
Tunisian Arabic or derja is the mother tongue of the Arabic-speaking population in Tunisia. It is also the second language of the Berber minority living in the country. Standard Arabic and French are taught at school. Tunisian Arabic has the role of the low variety in an example of classic diglossia, where Standard Arabic is the high variety.
As such, the use of Tunisian is mainly restricted to spoken domains, though cartoons in newspapers may be written in it, and since the 1990s many advertising boards have their slogans (though not the name of the company) written in Tunisian.
Increasingly, Tunisians are also choosing to communicate in Tunisian online, especially on social-networking sites and in mobile-phone text messages. Latin characters are used for online communication, using French phonology and inserting numbers in lieu of diacritics as signifiers of non-Latin phonemes (e.g., by using number 9 to show the letter "qaf" or the number 3 to show the letter "aiyn"). This trend accelerated during the recent street protests that brought down the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in which text messaging and social networking played a major role.
Literature in Tunisian Arabic 
There are very few works of literature written in Tunisian. A large body of folk tales and folk poems existed in the past. This was mainly an oral tradition told by wandering storytellers and bards at marketplaces and festivals, but it has almost disappeared due to the widespread introduction of television and mass media in general. Notable examples of this folk literature are "El Jaziya El Hilaliya" and "Hkayet Ommi Sisi w'Dheeb". Most authors who write novels or short stories prefer to write in standard Arabic or in French. In some cases, the dialogue in a novel will be in Tunisian Arabic, but the main narrative will be in standard Arabic. An exception is Hedi Balegh, who has published collections of Tunisian proverbs and translated The Little Prince into Tunisian Arabic. Plays are almost always written in Tunisian Arabic, except when they are placed in a historical setting. The lyrics to folk and popular music are usually in Tunisian Arabic. Newspapers and magazines are printed either in standard French or standard Arabic. Television newscasts and documentaries are broadcast in standard Arabic, while locally-produced soap operas, sitcoms and movies are usually delivered in Tunisian. In recent years, private radio stations have also begun broadcasting news bulletins and panel discussions in "Derja", which has also found favor (written in Latin characters) as a medium of expression on social websites.
The most immediately apparent difference between Tunisian and standard Arabic is the extensive use of words borrowed from Italian, Spanish, French, Punic, Berber and Turkish. For example: Electricity is /kahrabaːʔ/ in standard Arabic. It is /trisiti/ in Tunisian (a word mainly used by older people), from the French électricité. Other loans from French include /burtmaːn/ "apartment", and /bjaːsa/ "coin", from pièce. Kitchen is /matˤbax/ in standard Arabic, but is /kuʒiːna/ in Tunisian, from the Italian cucina. Shoe is /ħiðaːʔ/ in standard Arabic and is /sˤabbaːtˤ/ in Tunisian, either from the Spanish zapato or Turkish zabata. There are also words from Berber, such as /ʃlaːɣim/ "moustache" and /fakruːn/ "tortoise". Finally, there are words that come from Turkish, such as /baːlik/ "perhaps", "European" (Gavur); as well as the suffix of occupation /-ʒi/ as in /bustaːʒi/ "postman" from postacı and /kawwarʒi/ "footballer". Some more words similar to French, Italian or Spanish are below (taken from Arabe tunisien):
|Tunisian Arabic||Standard Arabic||English||Etymology of Tunisian Arabic|
|/babuːr/||سفينة /safiːna/||ship||French: vapeur, from bateau à vapeur meaning "steamboat"|
|/barʃa/ or /jaːsir/||كثيرا /kaθiːran/||many, a lot|
|/bilɡda/||جيدا /ʒajjidan/||well, good|
|/daːkurdu/||حسنا /ħasanan/||okay||Italian: d'accordo or French: d'accord|
|/battu/||قارب /qaːrib/||boat||French: bateau|
|/friːp/||second-hand clothes/second-hand clothes shop||French: fripe|
|/ʒraːna/||ضفدعة /dˤafdaʕa/||frog||Spanish or Italian: rana|
|/kwaːtru/||picture frame||Italian: quadro|
|/miziːrja/||misery, poverty||Italian: miseria|
|/ratsa/||race (of a person)||Italian: razza|
|/blaːsˤa/||مكان /makaːn/||place||Spanish: plaza|
|/busta/||بريد /bariːd/||Italian: posta|
|/fatʃatta/||واجهة /waːʒaha/||façade||Italian: facciata|
|/fiːʃta/||عيد /ʕiːd/||holiday||Italian: festa|
|/furɡiːtˤa/ or /furʃiːtˤa/||شوكة /ʃawka/||fork||Italian: forchetta|
|/kaːr/||حافلة /ħaːfila/||bus||French: car|
|/karhaba/||سيارة /sajjaːra/||car||Arabic: كهرباء /kahrabaːʔ/ meaning "electricity"|
|/kuʒiːna/||مطبخ /matˤbax/||kitchen||Italian: cucina|
|/sˤabbaːtˤ/||حذاء /ħiðaːʔ/||shoes||Spanish: zapatos|
|/triːnu/||قطار /qitˤaːr/||train||Italian: treno|
|/bisklaːt/||دراجة /darraːʒa/||bicycle||French: bicyclette|
|/brikijja/||ولاعة /walaːʕa/||lighter||French: briquet|
|/siɡaːru/||سيجارة /siːɡaːra/||cigarette||Italian: sigaro meaning "cigar"|
|/kajjaːs/||أسفلت /ʔasfalt/||asphalt||French: caillasse|
|/makiːna/||آلة /ʔaːla/||machine||Italian: machina|
|/qatˤtˤuːs/||قط /qitˤtˤ/||cat||Italian: gatto|
|/talvza/||تلفاز /tilfaːz/||television||French: télévision|
|/mutuːr/||محرك /muħarrik/||engine||French: moteur|
|/kakawijja/||فول سوداني /fuːl suːdaːni/||peanut||Spanish: cacahuete or French: cacahuète|
|/ruzata/||orgeat syrup||Italian: orzata|
These loans are not to be confused with the actual use of French words or sentences in everyday speech by Tunisians (codeswitching), which is common in everyday language and business environments. However, many French words are used within Tunisian Arabic discourse, without being adapted to Tunisian phonology, apart from the French r [ʁ] which is often replaced, especially by men, with [r] (Jabeur 1987). For example, many Tunisians, when asking "How are you doing?" will use the French "ça va?" instead of, and in addition to the Tunisian /ʃnija ħwaːlik/. It is difficult in this case to establish whether this is an example of using French or borrowing.
Shift in meanings and neologisms 
However, the greatest number of differences between Tunisian and Standard Arabic are not due to borrowing from another language, but due to shift in meaning of an Arabic root, as well as some neologisms. Almost all question words fall into the latter category. The table below shows a comparison of various question words in Tunisian and Standard Arabic:
|Tunisian Arabic||Origin||Standard Arabic||English|
|/ʃkuːn/||/ʃ-/ (< /aːʃ/) + /kuːn/||من /man/||who|
|/ʃ-/ (< /aːʃ/) + /ʔan/ + /huwwa/
/ʃ-/ (< /aːʃ/) + /ʔan/ + /hijja/
/ʔajja ʃajʔ/ "which thing"
|/wajn/||/wa ʔajna/ "and where"||أين /ʔajna/||where|
|/waqtaːʃ/||/waqt/+/aːʃ/ "what time"||متا /mata/||when|
|/ʕalaːʃ/||/ʕalaː/+/aːʃ/ "about what"||لمذا /limaːða/||why|
|/qaddaːʃ/||/qadd/+/aːʃ/ "what quantity"||كم /kam/||how much|
Shifts in meaning are demonstrated by roots such as /x-d-m/ which means "serve" in Arabic but "work" in Tunisian, as opposed to /ʕ-m-l/ which means "work" in Arabic but was narrowed to "do" in Tunisian; and /m-ʃ-j/ which in Tunisian has broadened to "go" from "walk".
Common words and phrases 
- Hello: /ʕaslaːma/, /ʔahla biːk/, salut
- How are you?: /labaːs/, /ʃnaħwaːlik/, ça va?
- Response: /labaːs/, /ħamdulla/
- Thank you: merci, /mersi ʕaliːk/, /ʕajʃak/, /barak allaːhu fiːk/, /ʃukran/
- A lot: /barʃa/
- Nothing: /ħatta ʃaj/
- French: /suːri/
- Who: /ʃkuːn/
- What: /ʃnuwwa/ (masc.), /ʃnijja/ (fem.)
- When: /waqtaːʃ/, /waqtaːh/
- Why: /ʕalaːʃ/
- How: /kifaːʃ/
- How much: /qaddaːʃ/, /qaddaːh/
- Goodbye: /bislaːma/, bye, ciao
- Maybe: /mumkin/
- Did you understand me?: /fhimtni/
- Sorted: /mriɡla/
Some Berber words in Tunisian Derja 
- /luz/, /luza/ (brother in law, sister in law)
- /ʃlaʁem/ ('mustache')
- /fertas/ ('bold')
- /fakruːn/ ('turtle')
- /babbuːʃ/ ('snail')
- /hadra/ ('talk')
- /kruːma/ (neck')
- /memmi/ ('child')
- /karmuːs/ ('fig')
- /daʃra/ ('small village')
- /naggez/ ('to jump')
There are several differences in pronunciation between Standard Arabic and Tunisian. Short vowels are frequently omitted, especially where they would occur as the final element of an open syllable. This was probably encouraged by the Berber substratum. For example, /kataba/ he wrote in standard Arabic becomes /ktib/. /katabat/ she wrote in standard Arabic becomes /kitbit/. Regular verbs exhibit this shifting of the vowel in their conjugation, and it also occurs in nouns: /dbiʃ/ stuff /dibʃi/ my stuff
Standard Arabic qāf has both [q] and [ɡ] as reflexes in both urban and rural varieties, with [q] predominating in urban varieties and [ɡ] in rural ones (e.g. He said is [qɑːl] vs. [ɡɑːl]). But some words have the same form whatever the dialect: cow is always [baɡra] and I study [naqra]. Interdental fricatives are also maintained, except in the traditional dialect of Mahdia. Classical Arabic /dˤ/ has merged with /ðˤ/.
Some consonants are bracketed in the table above because they are not universally considered to be separate phonemes, but there is strong evidence indicating they are. There are two sources for these bracketed consonants: the pharyngealised forms are internal developments while /p/ and /v/ are due to borrowing from French, and /ʔ/ from Standard Arabic. Minimal pairs are not always easy to find for these contrasts, but there are nonetheless examples showing that these marginal forms do not represent allophones of other phonemes, e.g.
- /baːb/ [bɛːb] "door"
- /bˤaːbˤa/ [ˈbˤɑːbˤɑ] "Father"
alongside a minimal pair:
- /ɡaːz/ [ɡɛːz] "petrol"
- /ɡaːzˤ/ [ɡɑːzˤ] "gas"
The realisation of the vowels within each pair is dramatically different. Pharyngealiastion on the consonants themselves is relatively weak, the main realisation being on adjacent vowels, and is being lost amongst some speakers, such as in /sˤbaːħ/ "morning", with there being no vowel to carry any pharyngealisation on the first consonant. There are other words such as /nˤaːnˤa/ "old lady", whose form, while not having any minimal or analogous pairs, cannot be attributed to conditioned variation, and which justify an (admittedly rare) phoneme /nˤ/. Minimal pairs for the more commonly admitted phonemes /rˤ/ and /ɫ/ can be given, as in
- /ʒra/ [ʒrɛ] "he ran"
- /ʒrˤa/ [ʒrˤɑ] "it happened"
- /walla/ [ˈwɛllæ] "or"
- /waɫɫa/ [ˈwɑɫɫɑ] "by God!"
Singer (1984:37-60) gives a full list of oppositions for each phoneme. Tunisian Arabic has substantial borrowing from French, and many words and expressions used by those who do not speak French maintain /p/ and /v/, e.g.
- /pisiːn/ "swimming pool"
- /mɡarrap/ "suffering from influenza" (derived from French grippe)
- /jnarvizni/ "he annoys me" (from French énerver)
- /ɡaːriv/ "on strike" (derived from French grève).
/ʔ/ tends to occur in the learnèd register, in loans from Standard Arabic, often in maṣdar (verbal noun) forms at the onset of the word, but also in other words like /biːʔa/ "environment" and /jisʔal/ "he asks", though many (mainly less educated) speakers substitute /h/ for /ʔ/ in the latter word.
Given that pharyngealisation is a property of consonants, most dialects have three vowel qualities /i, a, u/, all also distinguished for length, as in Standard Arabic. The length distinction is suspended word finally. A final vowel is realised long in accent-bearing words of one syllable (e.g. /ʒa/ [ʒɛ] he came), otherwise short. Some dialects, for example those of Monastir and Gabès, also have long vowels /eː/ and /oː/, derived from Old Arabic /aj/ and /aw/. These latter forms are maintained in Sfax, and in the more traditional, but receding, women's dialect of Tunis, but are merged with /iː/ and /uː/ in most dialects. Tunisian maintains a robust distinction between all short vowels, unlike Moroccan and Algerian: e.g. /qimt/ I resided vs. /qumt/ I rose. Except in varieties where Old Arabic forms are maintained, there are no diphthongs. In non-pharyngealised environments the open vowel /a/, is [ɛ] in stressed syllables, while [æ] in unstressed syllables.
Tunisian Arabic, like many other North African varieties due to their Berber substrates, has a very different syllable structure from Standard Arabic. While Standard Arabic can have only one consonant at the beginning of a syllable, after which a vowel must follow, Tunisian commonly has two consonants in the onset. For example Standard Arabic book is /kitaːb/, while in Tunisian it is /ktaːb/. The nucleus may contain a short or long vowel, and at the end of the syllable, in the coda, it may have up to three consonants, e.g. /ma dxaltʃ/ I did not enter; Standard Arabic can have no more than two consonants in this position. Word-internal syllables are generally heavy in that they either have a long vowel in the nucleus or consonant in the coda. Non-final syllables composed of just a consonant and a short vowel (i.e. light syllables) are very rare, and are generally loans from Standard Arabic: short vowels in this position have generally been lost, resulting in the many initial CC clusters. For example /ʒawaːb/ reply is a loan from Standard Arabic, but the same word has the natural development /ʒwaːb/, which is the usual word for letter.
Verb conjugation 
There are significant differences in morphology between Tunisian and Standard Arabic. Standard Arabic marks 13 person/number/gender distinctions in the verbal paradigm, whereas the dialect of Tunis marks only seven (the gender distinction is found only in the third person singular). Rural or Bedouin-origin dialects in the interior also mark gender in the second person singular, in common with most spoken varieties of Arabic elsewhere in the Arabic world.
In most rural dialects, the second-person singular has distinct masculine and feminine forms, with the masculine forms being as above (/ktibt/ and /tiktib/), and the feminine forms being /ktibti/ (perfective) and /tiktibi/ (imperfective).
Weak verbs 
Verbs with a final semivowel, known as "weak" verbs, have a different pattern:
Most rural dialects have a different third-person singular feminine perfective form: mʃit.
Rural dialects delete the stem vowel in the plural imperfective forms, giving forms such as nimʃu. Probably encouraged by the berber substrat.
Verb derivation 
- Causative: is obtained by doubling consonants :
- /χraʒ/ "to go out" → /χarraʒ/ "to take out"
- /dχal/ "to enter" → /daχχal/ "to bring in, to introduce"
- Passive: This derivation is similar to Berber and does not exist in Classical Arabic (the passive voice in classical Arabic uses vowel changes and not verb derivation), it is obtained by prefixing the verb with /t-/, /tt-/, /tn-/ or /n-/ :
- /qtal/ "to kill" → /taqtal/ "to be killed"
- /ʃrab/ "to drink" → /ttaʃrab/ "to be drunk".
Future tense 
- /baːʃ/ + verb → "will" + verb (ex: /baːʃ titkassir/ → it will break)
Marking of the dual for nouns is only used for quantity measures and things often occurring in twos (e.g. eyes, hands, parents).
See also 
- Ethnologue: Tunisian Spoken Arabic
- Tilmatine Mohand, Substrat et convergences: Le berbére et l'arabe nord-africain (1999), in Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99-119
- Borg and Azzopardi-Alexander Maltese (1997:xiii) "The immediate source for the Arabic vernacular spoken in Malta was Muslim Sicily, but its ultimate origin appears to have been Tunisia. In fact Maltese displays some areal traits typical of Maghrebine Arabic, although during the past eight hundred years of independent evolution it has drifted apart from Tunisian Arabic".
- An extensive list of such words is given by Baccouche (1972)
- Ethnologue entry for Tunisian Arabic
- Baccouche, Taieb (1972) “Le phonème “ g “ dans les parlers arabes citadins de Tunisie” Revue Tunisienne de Sciences Sociales 9 (30/31) pp. 103–137
- Baccouche, Taieb, Hichem Skik and Abdelmajid Attia (1969) Travaux de Phonologie, parlers de Djemmal, Gabès et Mahdia. Tunis: Cahiers du CERES.
- Cantineau, Jean-Pierre. (1951) “Analyse du parler arabe d’El-Hâmma de Gabès” Bulletin de la Société Linguistique de Paris 47, pp. 64–105
- Gibson, Michael (1998) “Dialect Contact in Tunisian Arabic: sociolinguistic and structural aspects” Ph.D. Thesis, University of Reading
- Jabeur, Mohamed (1987) “A Sociolinguistic Study in Rades: Tunisia”. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Reading
- Marçais, W. (1950) “Les Parlers Arabes” in Basset et al. Initiation à la Tunisie. Paris: Adrien-Maissonneuve 195-219.
- Mion, Giuliano (2004) “Osservazioni sul sistema verbale dell'arabo di Tunisi” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 78, pp. 243–255.
- Saada, Lucienne (1984) Elements de description du parler arabe de Tozeur. Paris: Geuthner Diff.
- Singer, Hans-Rudolf (1984) Grammatik der arabischen Mundart der Medina von Tunis. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
- Stumme, H. (1896) Grammatik des tunisischen Arabisch, nebst Glossar Leipzig.
- Talmoudi, Fathi (1980) The Arabic Dialect of Sûsa (Tunisia). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
- Tilmatine, Mohand(1999) Substrat et convergences: Le berbére et l'arabe nord-africain. Estudios de dialectologia norteaafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99–119
- Tunisian Arabic at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
- Tunisian Arabic Swadesh list of basic vocabulary words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
- Entry for Tunisian Arabic at Rosetta Project
- Linguistics expert Tayeb Bacouche discusses the value of dialect