Tunisian Arabic

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Tunisian Arabic
تونسي Tounsi   
Native to Tunisia, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Libya, Algeria
Native speakers
11 million  (2014)[1]
Arabic alphabet, Latin script
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aeb
Glottolog tuni1259[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tunisian Arabic, or Tunisian (written in Tunisian as تونسي or Tounsi[3] local pronunciation: [ˈtuːnsi][4]‏), is a Maghrebi dialect of the Arabic language or Derja, spoken by some 11 million people in coastal Tunisia. That is why it is usually known by its own speakers as Derja, which means dialect, to distinguish it from Standard Arabic, or as Tounsi, which means "Tunisian". In the interior of the country it merges, as part of a dialect continuum, into Algerian Arabic and Libyan Arabic. Its morphology, syntax, pronunciation and vocabulary are quite different from Standard or Classical Arabic.[4] Tunisian Arabic, like other Maghrebi dialects, has a vocabulary mostly Arabic, with significant Berber substrates,[5] and many words and loanwords borrowed from Berber,[5] French,[6] Turkish,[6] Italian[6] and Spanish.[6] As a Derja, Tunisian Arabic is intelligible to the speakers of Maghrebi Arabic, but it is hard to understand for middle eastern Arabic speakers.[5]

Due to multilingualism within Tunisia and due to all the different linguistic influences present in Tunisian Arabic as well as the Tunisian diaspora, it is not uncommon for Tunisian people to code-switch, mixing Tunisian, French, English, Arabic, and other languages into their daily speech.[7] Within some circles therefore Tunisian Arabic has integrated new French or English words, notably in technical fields, or replaced old French and Spanish ones with Standard Arabic words; more educated and upper-class people who make code-switching between Maghrebi Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic also have more French and Spanish loanwords.[7]

Moreover, Tunisian Arabic is also closely related to Maltese,[8] which is not considered to be a dialect of Arabic for sociolinguistic reasons.[9]


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[5]), 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.[10]
  • The lack of an indicative prefix in the verbal system, resulting in no distinction between indicative and subjunctive moods.[10]
  • 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.[10]
  • The distinctive usage of future tense by using the prefix باش /baːʃ/ [bɛːʃ] + verb which is nearly equivalent to "will" + verb.[10]
  • 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")[10]
  • 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].[10]
  • The passive derivation of verbs is similar to Berber and does not exist in Classical Arabic.[5] It is obtained by prefixing the verb with /t-/, /tt-/, /tn-/ or /n-/ (ex: /ʃrab/ "to drink" → /ttaʃrab/ "to be drunk").[10]
  • Nearly all educated Tunisians can communicate in French, which is widely used in business and as the main means of communication with foreigners. That is why code switching into French expressions and vocabulary is common in Tunisian.[11][12]


The major distinction within Tunisian Arabic is that between sedentary (mainly urban) and Nomadic-origin (rural) dialects (see Sedentary vs. Nomadic). Most speakers of the 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[edit]


Tunisian Arabic is the mother tongue of the Arabic-speaking population in Tunisia.[13] It is also the second language of the Berber minority living in the country, particularly in Djerba.[1] However, only Standard Arabic and French are taught at school.[13] Tunisian Arabic has the role of the low variety in an example of classic diglossia, where Standard Arabic is the high variety.[7] As such, the use of Tunisian Arabic is restricted to spoken domains[1] even if it can be used for different purposes like political ones.[14]

From the 1990s, Tunisians began to write in Tunisian Arabic when communicating on the Internet, especially on social networking sites, and in text messages.[15] This trend accelerated during the 2011 street protests that brought down the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in which text messaging and social networking played a major role.[16]

In religion, the use of Tunisian Arabic in promoting Islam is limited, although there are some trial efforts.[17] In Christianity, the use of Tunisian Arabic is significant, beginning with a 1903 New Testament translation.[1] Nowadays, a full version of the new testament is available online.[18]


Before Tunisian independence, there was a large body of folk tales and folk poems in Tunisian Arabic. This was mainly an oral tradition, told by wandering storytellers and bards at marketplaces and festivals.[3][19] The most important of these folktales are "Il-Jēzye il-hlēlīye" and "Hkēyet Ummī Sīsī w Iđ-Đīb".[20] A few years after independence, the most famous of them had been recorded for ERTT broadcast, in Tunisian Arabic by Abdelaziz El Aroui,[21] or translated mainly to French and Standard Arabic by other authors.[20] These recorded Tunisian folktales had been transcribed in Tunisian Arabic using Arabic Script only in the 2010s thanks to the work of the Kelemti Association of the promotion of Tunisian Arabic in 2013[22] and the work of Karen McNeil of 2014.[23]

As for novels and short stories, most authors who fluently know Tunisian Arabic prefer to write in standard Arabic or in French. In some cases and since the initiative by the Taht Essour in the period between 1929 and 1959 to use Tunisian Arabic in various purposes like transcribing dialogues in novels and writing some newspapers, the dialogue in a novel or roman can be written in Tunisian Arabic using the Arabic Script, with the main narrative in Standard Arabic.[24][25]

However, since the early 1990s, Hedi Balegh had lead a new trend in Tunisian Literature.[14] He was the first to translate a Novel in Tunisian Arabic in 1997[26][27] and to make some collections of Tunisian idioms and proverbs in 1994 using Arabic Script[28]. Some authors and more particularly Tahar Fazaa (mainly in Tcancīnēt Tūnsīye)[29][30] and Taoufik Ben Brik (mainly when writing Kelb Bin Kelb[31][32] and Kawāzākī[33][34]) followed him and used Tunisian Arabic in order to write romans, novels, plays and books in Tunisian Arabic.

Plays are almost always written in Tunisian Arabic, except when they are placed in a historical setting.


Before 1700, lyrics of songs were not written in Tunisian Arabic.[35] However, Sheykh Karray, who died in 1693 in the medina quarter of Sfax, had written a poem in Tunisian Arabic during his youth:[36]

عديت في الصغر عديت
يا حسرتي على زماني
بالطار و الدف غنيت
و زهيت بحسن المعاني
للرب مولاي وليت
توبة نصوحة عطاني

Ģaddīt f- is-suğr ģaddīt,
Yē ḩasrtī ģlā zmēnī,
B- iţ-ţār w id-duff ğannīt,
W zhīt b- husn il-maģānī,
L- ir-rabb mewlēyē wellīt,
Tewbe neşūḩe ģţānī.

Moreover, another Tunisian Arabic poem was written later in the 17th century to cite the qualities of Karray:[35]

خموسي يا كراي قاصد ليك بنية
جيتك يا مولى الراي تبري سقمان بيا
شيلة مولى البرهان و البركة وصايا
يا شيخ يا سلطان بالله كون معايا
يكفي من ذل الهجران وصلك يبري دايا
لأني فاني عاشق، حبك زاد عليا
خموسي يا كراي قاصد ليك بنية

Xmūsī yē Karrāy qāşid līk b- niyye
Jeytik yē mewlā ir-rāy tubrī suqmēn biyyē
Cyilet mewlâ il-burhēn w il-berke weşşāyē
Yē ceyx yē sulţān b- il-Lēh kūn mģāyē
Yekfī min đē il-hijrān weşlik yubrī dēyē
Li- 'annī fēnī ģāciq, hubbik zēd ģlaya
Xmūsī yē Karrāy qāşid līk b- niyye

But the effective beginning of Tunisian Arabic song came in the early 19th century, when Tunisian Jews in the Beylik of Tunis began writing songs in Tunisian Arabic about love, betrayal and other libertine subjects.[35][37] This current strengthened in the beginning of the 20th century and affected the Tunisian ma'luf and folklore.[35] Judeo-Tunisian song flowered in the 1930s, with such Jewish artists as Cheikh El Afrit and Habiba Msika.[37][38]

This tendency was promoted by the creation of Radio Tunis in 1938.,[38] which allowed many musicians to better disseminate their works and helped spread the use of Tunisian Arabic in songs.[38] The pioneers of Tunisian Arabic song between 1930 and 1950 drew most of their inspiration from traditional Tunisian music, oriental or to occidental colors were Kaddour Srarfi, Hedi Jouini, Salah El Mahdi, Hassiba Rochdi, Fethia Khaïri, Hassiba Rochdi. Mohamed Triki, Mohamed Jamoussi, Sadok Thraya and Ali Riahi.[38]

Following the creation of the ERTT broadcasting organization in 1966,[39] there emerged a generation of composers and interpreters, mostly working in the ERTT orchestra.[39] In this wave, the range occupies a prominent place. Kalaï Ridha, Salah El Mahdi (regarded as a disciple of Tarnane), Kaddour Srarfi, Ali Shalgham, Chedly Anwar, Abdelhamid Sassi and others helped to train several singers, including Naâma, Oulaya, Zouheïra Salem, Soulef, Safia Chamia, Youssef Temimi, Mustapha Charfi, Hana Rached, Choubeila Rached, Ezzeddine Idir and many others.[39] Tahar Gharsa (another disciple of Tarnane) worked to promote the characteristically modal and rhythmic traditional music written with Tunisian Arabic lyrics.[39] The director Raoul Journo, in the same line,[39] is a Judeo-Tunisian singer, distinguished by his interpretation of taâlila (traditional songs associated with birth, circumcision, marriage and other rites).[39] This kind of music developed under the National Troupe of Music, created in the early 1980s.[40]

At the same time, popular music had developed in the early 19th century, using Tunisian Arabic poems accompanied by Tunisian musical instruments like the mizwad.[37][41] This kind of music was promoted by the National Troupe of the Popular Arts, created in 1962.[42] Later adaptation and promotion of popular songs, especially by Ahmed Hamza and later Kacem Kefi, further developed Tunisian music.[39] Natives of Sfax, they were both influenced by Mohamed Ennouri, a master of popular music in that city.[39] Nowadays, this kind of music is very popular.[43]

In 1993, underground music entered Tunisia.[44] This consisted of rap in the 1990s, and was not successful because of the lack of media coverage.[44] Tunisian Underground music became successful in the 2000s thanks to its spread over the Internet, and came to involve other alternative genres like reggae and rock.[44][45] Underground music reached a height of popularity during and just after the Tunisian Revolution of 2011, as it spoke to the dire social matters faced by people in Tunisia.[44][46]

Nowadays, Tunisian Arabic is the main variety used in writing lyrics of songs in Tunisia and even the main technical words in Music have their synonyms in Tunisian Arabic[35].

Cinema and mass media[edit]

Of the few domestic movies produced since 1966, many tried to reflect new social dynamics, development, identity research and modernity shock,[47][48] and were done in Tunisian Arabic.[49][50] Some of them achieved relative success outside Tunisia, such as La Goulette (Halq El-Wadi, 1996), Halfaouine: Child of the Terraces (Asfour Stah, 1990), and The Ambassadors (As-Soufraa, 1975).[50]

Television and radio programmes in Tunisian Arabic began officially in 1966 with the creation of the Établissement de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Tunisienne has been created.[51][52] Tunisian Arabic is now used in all television and radio programmes, excepting news, religious programmes and historical dramas.[53][54][55][56] Some Tunisian Arabic works acquired some honours in the broader Arab world like the ASBU Festival First Prize in 2015.[57] and the Festival of Arab Media Creation Prize in 2008.[58]

Moreover, since the 1990s, advertisements published in mass media increasingly use Tunisian Arabic and many advertising boards have their slogans and the original or alternative company name written in Tunisian.[7]

However, the main and important journals in Tunisia are not written in Tunisian Arabic. They are still written either in Modern Standard Arabic or in Standard French, even if cartoons in most of them can be written in Tunisian.[7][59]


Arabic script[edit]

Latin script[edit]

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 the numeral 9 to represent the letter "qaf" or the numeral 3 to represent the letter "‘ayn").



The most immediately apparent difference between Tunisian and standard Arabic is the extensive use of words borrowed from Italian, Spanish, French, Berber, Turkish and possibly Punic. For example: Electricity is /kahrabaːʔ/ in standard Arabic. It is /trisiti/ in Tunisian Arabic (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 Arabic, from the Italian cucina. Shoe is /ħiðaːʔ/ in standard Arabic and is /sˤabbaːtˤ/ in Tunisian Arabic, 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
ببور /babuːr/ سفينة /safiːna/ ship Turkish: vapur meaning "steamboat"
برشا /barʃa/ or ياسر /jaːsir/ كثيرا /kaθiːran/ many, a lot
بلقدا /bilɡdaː/ جيدا /ʒajjidan/ well, good
دبّوزة /dabbuːza/ زجاجة /zuʒaːʒa/ bottle
داكردو /daːkurdu/ حسنا /ħasanan/ okay Italian: d'accordo
بتّو /battu/ قارب /qaːrib/ boat French: bateau
فريب /friːp/ second-hand clothes/second-hand clothes shop French: fripe
جرانة /ʒraːna/ ضفدعة /dˤafdaʕa/ frog Spanish or Italian: rana
سلصة /ːsalsˤa/ sauce Spanish or Italian: salsa
كرّيطة /karriːtˤa/ cart Italian: carretta
كرّوسة /karruːsa/ carriage Italian: carrozza
كواترو /kwaːtru/ picture frame Italian: quadro
مزيرية /miziːrja/ misery, poverty Italian: miseria
رتسة /ratsa/ race (of a person) Italian: razza
بلاصة /blaːsˤa/ مكان /makaːn/ place Spanish: plaza
بستة /busta/ بريد /bariːd/ mail Italian: posta
فتشتّة /fatʃatta/ واجهة /waːʒaha/ façade Italian: facciata
فيشتة /fiːʃta/ عيد /ʕiːd/ holiday Italian: festa
فلسو /falsu/ unoriginal Italian: falso
فرقيطة /furɡiːtˤa/ or فرشيطة /furʃiːtˤa/ شوكة /ʃawka/ fork Italian: forchetta
كار /kaːr/ حافلة /ħaːfila/ bus French: car
كرهبة /karhba/ سيارة /sajjaːra/ car
كرجينة /kuʒiːna/ مطبخ /matˤbax/ kitchen Italian: cucina
منقالة /munɡaːla/ ساعة /saːʕa/ watch
صبّاط /sˤabbaːtˤ/ حذاء /ħiðaːʔ/ shoes Spanish: zapatos
ترينو /triːnu/ قطار /qitˤaːr/ train Italian: treno
ترمة /terma/ مؤخرة rear-end (also ass)
بسكلات /bisklaːt/ دراجة /darraːʒa/ bicycle French: bicyclette
بنين /bniːn/ لذيذ /laðiːð/ delicious
بركيّة /brikijja/ ولاعة /walaːʕa/ lighter French: briquet
شاركة /ʃaːrka/ collar
سقارو /siɡaːru/ سيجارة /siːɡaːra/ cigarette Italian: sigaro meaning "cigar"
قنريّة /ɡanarijja/ خرشوف /xarʃuːf/ artichoke
كيّاس /kajjaːs/ أسفلت /ʔasfalt/ asphalt French: caillasse
مكينة /makiːna/ آلة /ʔaːla/ machine Italian: machina
قطّوس /qatˤːuːs/ قط /qitˤː/ cat Latin: cattus
تلفزة /talvza/ تلفاز /tilfaːz/ television French: télévision or Italian "televisione"
متور /mutuːr/ محرك /muħarrik/ engine Italian: motore
ككويّة /kakawijja/ فول سوداني /fuːl suːdaːni/ peanut
رزتة /ruzata/ orgeat syrup Italian: rozata

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[edit]

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[citation needed], as well as some neologisms[citation needed]. Almost all question words fall into the latter category. The question words are noticeable by their beginning or ending with the sound or eːʃ, not to be confused with the negation mark, that is as well "eʃ" or "eːʃ" and accords the verbs, as in ma mʃit-eʃ (I didn't go).

The table below shows a comparison of various question words in Tunisian, Standard Arabic and English:

Tunisian Arabic Construction Standard Arabic English
/eʃkuːn/ /eːʃ/ + /kuːn/ من /man/ who
/eʃnuwwa/ (masc.)
/eʃnijja/ (fem.)
/eːʃ/ + /nuwwa/
/eːʃ/ + /nijja/
ماذا /maːða/ what
/waqteːʃ/ /waqt/+/eːʃ/ متى /mata/ when
/eloueːʃ/ /elou/+/eːʃ/ لمذا /limaːða/ for what reason
/aʕleːʃ/ /aʕlː/+/eːʃ/ لمذا /limaːða/ why
/kifeːʃ/ /kif/+/eːʃ/ كيف /kajfa/ how
/qaddeːʃ/ /qadd/+/eːʃ/ كم /kam/ how much
/mneːʃ/ /men/+/eːʃ من أين /man ʔajna/ from what
/feːʃ/ /f/+/eːʃ في من /fi man/ in what, what
/wajn/ / /wiːn/ (depending on the region) /wa ʔajn/ أين /ʔajna/ where

Some of these question words, accord according to the subject, as "who are you", becomes eʃkun-ek inti or simply eʃkun-ek and "how much is this" becomes eb-qaddech.

Shifts in meaning are demonstrated by roots such as /x-d-m/ which means "serve" in Standard Arabic but "work" in Tunisian Arabic, as opposed to /ʕ-m-l/ which means "work" in Standard Arabic but was narrowed to "do" in Tunisian Arabic; and /m-ʃ-j/ which in Tunisian Arabic has broadened to "go" from "walk".

Beyond some differences in the pronunciation for numbers, the numbers 11 to 19 are radically different in Tunisian Arabic as compared with classical Arabic. These numbers are (in order): eħdeʃ, thnaʃ, thleṭaʃ, arbʔˤaṭaʃ, xomsṭaʃ, setṭaʃ, sbaʔˤṭaʃ, thmonṭaʃ and tesʔˤaṭaʃ.

Common words and phrases[edit]

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 Amazigh (Berber) words in Tunisian Derja[edit]

A number of Amazigh words as well as a number of linguistic characteristics can be found in Tunisian Arabic.[60] The list below presents some.

  • /naʒʒem/, ('to be able to do')
  • /lawweʒ/, ('to search')
  • /luz/, /luza/ ('brother in law', 'sister in law')
  • /ʃlaʁem/ ('mustache')
  • /fertas/ ('bold')
  • /fakruːn/ ('turtle')
  • /babbuːʃ/ ('snail')
  • /balekːʃi/ ('maybe')
  • /sfenneria/ ('carrot')
  • /kruːma/ (neck')
  • /memmi/ ('child')
  • /karmuːs/ ('fig')
  • /daʃra/ ('small village')


There are several differences in pronunciation between Standard and Tunisian Arabic. 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][61] and I study [naqra]. Interdental fricatives are also maintained, except in the traditional dialect of Mahdia. Classical Arabic // has merged with /ðˤ/.

Tunisian Arabic consonant phonemes
Bilabial Interdental Dental Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
 plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic
Plosive voiceless (p) t k q (ʔ)
voiced b () d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ χ ħ h
voiced (v) ð ðˤ z () ʒ ʁ ʕ
Nasal m () n ()
Lateral l ɫ
Trill r
Approximant w j

See Arabic alphabet for explanations on the IPA phonetic symbols found in this chart. Pharyngealisation in Arabic can also be represented with a dot below the letter, e.g. .

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,[5] 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 Arabic commonly has two consonants in the onset. For example Standard Arabic book is /kitaːb/, while in Tunisian Arabic 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[edit]

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 urban dialects, regular verbs are conjugated according to the following pattern:

k-t-b "to write"
perfective imperfective
singular plural singular plural
1st person ktibt ktibna niktib niktbu
2nd person ktibt ktibtu tiktib tiktbu
3rd masculine ktib kitbu jiktib jiktbu
feminine kitbit tiktib

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 /tiktbi/ (imperfective).

Weak verbs[edit]

Verbs with a final semivowel, known as "weak" verbs, have a different pattern:

m-ʃ-j "to go"
perfective imperfective
singular plural singular plural
1st person iːt iːna nii niiːu
2nd person iːt iːtu tii tiiːu
3rd masculine a aːu jii jiiːu
feminine aːt tii

Most rural dialects have a different third-person singular feminine perfective form: mʃit.

Dialects with the phoneme // tend to use it in place of // in the perfective conjugation.

Rural dialects delete the stem vowel in the plural imperfective forms, giving forms such as nimʃu. Probably encouraged by the berber substrat.

Verb derivation[edit]

Verb derivation is done by adding suffixes or by doubling consonants, there are two types of derivation forms : Causative, Passive.

  • 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[edit]

The future tense in Tunisian Arabic is also similar to Berber, more precisely Zenata Berber[5] that was spoken by the majority of Tunisians ancestors:

/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[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Tunisian Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tunisian Arabic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Sayahi, Lotfi (2014-04-24). Diglossia and Language Contact: Language Variation and Change in North Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139867078. 
  4. ^ a b (English) Gibson, M. (2009). Tunis Arabic. Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, 4, 563-71.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g (French) Tilmatine Mohand, Substrat et convergences: Le berbére et l'arabe nord-africain (1999), in Estudios de dialectologia norteafricana y andalusi 4, pp 99-119
  6. ^ a b c d (French) Zribi, I., Boujelbane, R., Masmoudi, A., Ellouze, M., Belguith, L., & Habash, N. (2014). A Conventional Orthography for Tunisian Arabic. In Proceedings of the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC), Reykjavik, Iceland.‏
  7. ^ a b c d e (English) Daoud, M. (2001). The language situation in Tunisia. Current Issues in Language Planning, 2(1), 1-52.‏
  8. ^ 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".
  9. ^ (English) Borg, Albert J.; Azzopardi-Alexander, Marie (1997). Maltese. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-02243-6.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g (English) Ben Abdelkader, R. (1977). Peace Corps English-Tunisian Arabic Dictionary.‏
  11. ^ (English) Belazi, H. M. (1992). Multilingualism in Tunisia and French/Arabic code switching among educated Tunisian bilinguals. Cornell University, Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics.‏
  12. ^ (English) Lawson, S., & Sachdev, I. (2000). Codeswitching in Tunisia: Attitudinal and behavioural dimensions. Journal of Pragmatics, 32(9), 1343-1361.
  13. ^ a b (English) Sayahi, L. (2011). Introduction. Current perspectives on Tunisian sociolinguistics. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2011(211), 1-8.‏
  14. ^ a b (French) Auffray, E. (2014). Tunisian, written language of the street. Libération, 14 April 2015
  15. ^ (English) Younes, J., & Souissi, E. (2014). A quantitative view of Tunisian dialect electronic writing. 5th International Conference on Arabic Language Processing, CITALA 2014
  16. ^ (English) Volk, L. (Ed.). (2015). The Middle East in the World: An Introduction. Routledge.
  17. ^ (English) Soliman, A. (2008). The changing role of Arabic in religious discourse: A sociolinguistic study of Egyptian Arabic. ProQuest.‏
  18. ^ (Tunisian Arabic) La Voix de Carthage (2014). New Testament in Tunisian
  19. ^ (French) Marçais, W., & Guîga, A. (1925). Textes arabes de Takroûna: Textes, transcription et traduction annotée (Vol. 8). Imprimerie nationale‏
  20. ^ a b (French) Takamtikou BNF (2015). Contes du monde arabe. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF 2015
  21. ^ (French) Bouamoud, M. (2012). Where did the authors of drama disappear. La Presse de Tunisie, 20 September 2012
  22. ^ (French) Despiney, E. (2013). Colloquial Arabic in honour. Al Huffington Post, 23 October 2013
  23. ^ (English) McNeil, K., Faiza, M. (2014). The Tunisian Arabic Corpus. University of Virginia, tunisiya.org
  24. ^ (Arabic) Tunisian Front (2014). Ali Douagi. Artistic and Literary Personalities, 23 February 2014
  25. ^ (Arabic) Yousfi, M.L. (2008). The Grapes. Al Ittihad, 31 January 2008
  26. ^ (French) Miller, C. (2013). Du passeur individuel au" mouvement linguistique": figures de traducteurs vers l'arabe marocain. In 2ème rencontre d'anthropologie linguistique," des passeurs au quotidien", (pp. 29-page).‏
  27. ^ (Tunisian Arabic) Hédi Balegh, Le Petit Prince, avec des dessins de l'auteur. Traduit en arabe tunisien par Hédi Balegh, éd. Maison tunisienne de l'édition, Tunis, 1997
  28. ^ (French) Hédi Balegh, Proverbes tunisiens (tomes I et II), éd. La Presse de Tunisie, Tunis, 1994
  29. ^ (French) Ben Gamra, M. (2008). «Tunisian Tricks» : If the tricks were narrated to me. LeQuotidien, 2008
  30. ^ (French) éditions CERES (2008). Presentation of Tcancīnēt Tūnsīye
  31. ^ (Tunisian Arabic) Ben Brik, T. (2013). Kalb Ben Kalb. Tunis: ed. Apollonia
  32. ^ (French) Tanit, S. (2013). The Kalb Ben Kalb Book has a full video version in Youtube signed by User Z. Tekiano, 08 November 2013
  33. ^ (Tunisian Arabic) Ben Brik, T. (2014). Kawazaki, Tunis: ed. Sud Editions
  34. ^ (French) Tanit, S. (2015). Kawazaki, the new book of the author and journalist Taoufik Ben Brik. Tekiano, 14 January 2015
  35. ^ a b c d e (French) Fakhfakh, N. (2007). Le répertoire musical de la confrérie religieuse" al-Karrâriyya" de Sfax (Tunisie) (Doctoral dissertation, Paris8).‏
  36. ^ (Arabic) KARRÂY, Abû-l-Hassan al-. "Dîwân Abi-l-Hassan al-KARRÂY" in Fakhfakh, N. (2007). Le répertoire musical de la confrérie religieuse" al-Karrâriyya" de Sfax (Tunisie) (Doctoral dissertation, Paris8).‏
  37. ^ a b c (French) Manoubi Snoussi, Initiation à la musique tunisienne, vol. I « Musique classique », Tunis, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, 2004
  38. ^ a b c d (French) Hamadi Abassi, Tunis chante et danse. 1900-1950, Tunis/Paris, Alif/Du Layeur, 2001
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h (French) Tahar Melligi, Les immortels de la chanson tunisienne, Carthage Dermech, MediaCom, 2000 (ISBN 978-9-973-8071-68)
  40. ^ (Arabic) Alchourouk Team (2005). National Troupe of Music: Means of realization. However,... alchourouk, 18 June 2005
  41. ^ (French) MuCEM (2005). Cornemuse Mezwed. Cornemuses de l'Europe et la Méditerranée, Version 2005
  42. ^ (Arabic) Ben Nhila, A. (2011). Recruitment needed: National Troupe of the Popular Arts. alchourouk, 22 March 2011
  43. ^ (English) Barone, S. (2015). Metal Identities in Tunisia: Locality, Islam, Revolution. International Academic Conference, IAC 2015
  44. ^ a b c d (English) Neil Curry, « Tunisia's rappers provide soundtrack to a revolution », CNN, 2 mars 2011
  45. ^ (French) Almi, H. (2009). «The Rock Scene in Tunisia». Réalités, 21 avril 2009
  46. ^ (English) Dallaji, I. (2015). Tunisian Rap Music and the Arab Spring: Revolutionary Anthems and Post-Revolutionary Tendencies. Orient-Institut Studies 2, pp. 1-13
  47. ^ (French) Un cinéma dynamique (Tangka Guide)
  48. ^ (English) Florence Martin, "Cinema and State in Tunisia" in: Josef Gugler (ed.) Film in the Middle East and North Africa: Creative Dissidence, University of Texas Press and American University in Cairo Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-292-72327-6, ISBN 978-9-774-16424-8, pp 271-283
  49. ^ (English) Armes, R. (2006). African filmmaking: North and South of the Sahara. Indiana University Press.
  50. ^ a b (English) Robert Lang, New Tunisian Cinema: Allegories of Resistance, Columbia University Press, 2014, ISBN 978-0-231-16507-5.
  51. ^ (English) Perkins, K. (2014). A history of modern Tunisia. Cambridge University Press.‏
  52. ^ (English) Khalil, J., & Kraidy, M. M. (2009). Arab television industries. Palgrave Macmillan.‏
  53. ^ (English) Boujelbane, R., Khemekhem, M. E., & Belguith, L. H. (2013). Mapping rules for building a tunisian dialect lexicon and generating corpora. In Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing.‏
  54. ^ (English) Ennaji, M. (1991). Aspects of multilingualism in the Maghreb. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 87(1), 7-26.‏
  55. ^ (English) I., Khemakhem, M. E., & Belguith, L. H. (2013). Morphological Analysis of Tunisian Dialect. In proceeding of the International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing, Nagoya, Japan (pp. 992-996).‏
  56. ^ (English) Baoueb, L. B. (2009). Social factors for code-switching in Tunisian business companies: A case study.‏
  57. ^ (French) TAP (2015). Tunisian Television series "Naaouret El Hwa" received the first prize in ASBU Festival. La Presse de Tunisie, 17 May 2015
  58. ^ (French) Ouertani, N. (2008). «Sayd Errim», A recognition at least! Mosaique FM, 17 November 2008
  59. ^ (English) Daoud, M. (1991). Arabization in Tunisia: The tug of war. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 2(1).‏
  60. ^ Jihëd G. Mejrissi. 2013. "Tunisian Words of Amazigh Origin" SelectedWorks of Jihëd Mejrissi, Available at: http://works.bepress.com/mejrissi/6
  61. ^ An extensive list of such words is given by Baccouche (1972)


  • 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.

External links[edit]