|Native to||Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem District, Israel|
Houmt Souk, Djerba, Tunisia
Judeo-Tunisian Arabic, also known as Djerbian Arabic, is a variety of Tunisian Arabic mainly spoken by Jews living or formerly living in Tunisia. Speakers are older adults, and the younger generation has only a passive knowledge of the language.
The vast majority of Tunisian Jews have relocated to Israel and have shifted to Hebrew as their home language. Those in France typically use French as their primary language, while the few still left in Tunisia tend to use either French or Tunisian Arabic in their everyday lives.
A Jewish community existed in what is today Tunisia even prior to Roman rule in Africa. After the Arabic conquest of North Africa, this community began to use Arabic for their daily communication. They had adopted the pre-Hilalian dialect of Tunisian Arabic as their own dialect. As Jewish communities tend to be close-knit and isolated from the other ethnic and religious communities of their countries, their dialect spread to their coreligionists all over the country and had not been in contact with the languages of the communities that invaded Tunisia in the middle age. The primary language contact with regard to Judeo-Tunisian Arabic came from the languages of Jewish communities that fled to Tunisia as a result of persecution like Judeo-Spanish. This explains why Judeo-Tunisian Arabic lacks influence from the dialects of the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, and has developed several phonological and lexical particularities that distinguish it from Tunisian Arabic. This also explains why Judeo-Tunisian words are generally less removed from their etymological origin than Tunisian words.
In 1901, Judeo-Tunisian became one of the main spoken Arabic dialects of Tunisia, with thousands of speakers. Linguists noted the unique character of this dialect, and subjected it to study. Among the people studying Judeo-Tunisian Arabic, Daniel Hagege listed a significant amount of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic newspapers from the early 1900s in his essay The Circulation of Tunisian Judeo-Arabic Books. Educated leaders within the Tunisian Jewish community like ceramic merchant Jacob Chemla translated several works into Judeo-Tunisian, including The Count of Monte Cristo.
However, its emergence has significantly declined since 1948 due to the creation of Israel. In fact, the Jewish community of Tunisia has either chosen to leave or was forced to leave Tunisia and immigrate to France or Israel. Nowadays, the language is largely extinct throughout most of Tunisia, even if it is still used by the small Jewish communities in Tunis, Gabes and Djerba, and most of the Jewish communities that have left Tunisia have chosen to change their language of communication to the main language of their current country.
Language variations: In Tunisia, geography plays a huge role in how Judeo-Tunisian Arabic varies between speakers. In fact, Tunisian Judeo-Arabic can vary depending on the region in which it is spoken. Accordingly, the main dialects of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic are:
- The dialect of the North of Tunisia (Mainly spoken in Tunis)
- The dialect of the South of Tunisia (Mainly Spoken in Gabes)
- The dialect of the islands off the coast of the country (Mainly spoken in Djerba)
In addition, Judeo-Tunisian can vary within the same region based on the town in which it is spoken.
Distinctives from Tunisian Arabic
- Phonology: There are three main differences between Tunisian Arabic phonology and Judeo-Tunisian Arabic phonology:
- Substitution of phonemes: Mostly unlike Tunisian Arabic dialects, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic has merged Tunisian Arabic's glottal [ʔ] and [h] into [ø], Interdental [ð] and [θ] have respectively been merged with [d] and [t], Ḍah and Ḍād have been merged as [dˤ] and not as [ðˤ], Prehilalian /aw/ and /ay/ diphthongs have been kept (except in Gabes), and [χ] and [ʁ] have been respectively substituted by [x] and [ɣ]. This is mainly explained by the difference between the language contact submitted by Jewish communities in Tunisia and the one submitted by Tunisian people.
- Sibilant conversion:
- [ʃ] and [ʒ] are realized as [sˤ] and [zˤ] if there is an emphatic consonant or [q] later in the word (however in Gabes this change takes effect if [ʃ] and [ʒ] are either before or after an emphatic consonant or [q]). For example, راجل rājil (meaning man) is pronounced in Gabes dialect of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic as /rˤa:zˤel/ and حجرة ḥajra (meaning stone) is pronounced in all Judeo-Tunisian dialects as /ħazˤrˤa/.
- [ʃ] and [ʒ] are realized as [s] and [z] if there is an [r] later in the word (Not applicable to the dialect of Gabes). For example, جربة jirba (meaning Djerba) is pronounced in all Judeo-Tunisian dialects except the one of Gabes as /zerba/.
- Chibilant conversion: Unlike in the other Judeo-Arabic languages of the Maghreb, [sˤ], [s] and [z] are realized as [ʃ], [ʃ] and [ʒ] in several situations.
- [sˤ] is realized as [ʃ] if there is not another emphatic consonant or a [q] within the word (only applicable to Gabes dialect) or if this [sˤ] is directly followed by a [d]. For example, صدر ṣdir (meaning chest) is pronounced as /ʃder/ and صف ṣaff (meaning queue) is pronounced in Gabes dialect of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic as /ʃaff/.
- [s] and [z] are respectively realized as [ʃ] and [ʒ] if there is no emphatic consonant, no [q] and no [r] later in the word (In Gabes, this change takes effect if there is no [q] and no emphatic consonant within the word). For example, زبدة zibda (meaning butter) is pronounced as /ʒebda/.
- Emphasis of [s] and [z]: Further than the possible conversion of [s] and [z] by [sˤ] and [zˤ] due to the phenomenon of the assimilation of adjacent consonants (also existing in Tunisian Arabic), [s] and [z] are also realized as [sˤ] and [zˤ] if there is an emphatic consonant or [q] later in the word (however in Gabes this change takes effect if [ʃ] and [ʒ] are either before or after an emphatic consonant or [q]). For example, سوق sūq (meaning market) is pronounced in Judeo-Tunisian Arabic as /sˤu:q/.
- [q] and [g] phonemes: Unlike the Northwestern, Southeastern and Southwestern dialects of Tunisian Arabic, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic does not systematically substitute Classical Arabic [q] by [g]. Also, the [g] phoneme existing in Tunis, Sahil and Sfax dialects of Tunisian Arabic is rarely maintained and is mostly substituted by a [q] in Judeo-Tunisian. For example, بقرة (cow) is pronounced as /bagra/ in Tunis, Sahil and Sfax dialects of Tunisian Arabic and as /baqra/ in Judeo-Tunisian.
- Morphology: The morphology is quite the same as the one of Tunisian Arabic. However:
- Judeo-Tunisian Arabic sometimes uses some particular morphological structures such as typical clitics like qa- that is used to denote the progressivity of a given action. For example, qayākil means he is eating.
- Unlike Tunisian Arabic, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic is characterized by its overuse of the passive form.
- The informal lack of subject-verb agreement found in Tunisian and in Modern Standard Arabic does not exist in Judeo-Tunisian Arabic. For example, we say ed-dyār tebnēu الديار تبناوا and not ed-dyār tebnēt الديار تبنات (The houses were built).
- Vocabulary: There are some differences between the vocabulary of Tunisian Arabic and the one of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic. Effectively:
- Unlike Tunisian Arabic, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic has a Hebrew adstratum. In fact, Cohen said that almost 5 percent of the Judeo-Tunisian words are from Hebrew origin. Furthermore, Judeo-Tunisian has acquired several specific words that do not exist in Tunisian like Ladino from language contact with Judaeo-Romance languages.
- Unlike most of the Tunisian Arabic dialect and as it is Pre-Hilalian, Judeo-Tunisian kept Pre-Hilalian vocabulary usage patterns. For example rā را is used instead of šūf شوف (commonly used in Tunisian) to mean "to see".
- Unlike the Tunis dialect of Tunisian Arabic, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic is also known for the profusion of diminutives. For example:
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