Tunisian Arabic

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Tunisian Arabic
تونسي Tūnsī   
Pronunciation [tu:nsi]
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
Recognised minority
language in
 France as a variety of Maghrebi Arabic in 7 May 1999 (Not ratified due to several Constitutional Matters) [2][3]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aeb
Glottolog tuni1259[4]
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 (Arabic Script) or Tounsi (Tunisian Arabizi)[5] local pronunciation: [ˈtuːnsi][6]), is a Maghrebi dialect of the Arabic language or Derja, spoken by some 11 million people in all 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.[6] Tunisian Arabic, like other Maghrebi dialects, has a vocabulary mostly Arabic, with significant Berber and Punic substrates,[7][8] as well as many words and loanwords borrowed from Berber,[7] French,[9] Turkish,[9] Italian[9] and Spanish.[9] As a Derja, Tunisian Arabic is intelligible to the speakers of Maghrebi Arabic, but it is hard to understand for middle eastern Arabic speakers.[7]

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.[10] 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.[10]

Moreover, Tunisian Arabic is also closely related to Maltese,[11] which is not considered to be a dialect of Arabic for sociolinguistic reasons.[12]


Before 1901[edit]

Linguistic Situation of Pre-Islamic Tunisia[edit]

During the Antiquity, Tunisia's population spoke an old form of Tamazight language, close to Numidian.[13][14] However, these languages progressively lost their function as main languages of Tunisia since the 12th century BC and their usage became restricted mainly to the western regions of the country until their disappearance or evolution into other languages.[13][14]

Indeed, migrants from Phoenicia settled Tunisia between the 12th and 2th century BC and progressively mixed with the local population. These migrants brought with them their culture and language which progressively spread from Tunisia's coastal areas to the rest of the coastal areas of North Africa, Hispania and Mediterranean Islands along the Carthaginian Empire. From the 8th century BC most of Tunisia's inhabitants spoke the Punic language, a variant of the Phoenician language, influenced by the local Numidian language.[15] At the beginning Punic, was not different from Phoenician, but as the population urbanized, Punic became less influenced by Phoenician and more by the local Numidian language. This period was characterized by an important literature production written in Punic, in artistic, legal, historic, geographic, engineering, military and agronomic fields.[16] Along this period to the 3rd century BC, the Tifinagh alphabet is created in inland Punic Tunisia from the Phoenician alphabet by nomadic Berber tribes.[17][18] These tribes uses then the Tifinagh alphabet and spread it to Berber territories[19] [20] At the arrival of Romans, following the fall of Carthage in 146 BC,[21][22] the population spoke mainly Punic, however this influence decreased as we moved away from the coasts.[15] From this period, until the Arabic conquests, Latin, Ancient Greek and Numidian further influenced the language spoken by the inhabitants, which was then called Neo-Punic to differentiate it from its older version[23] Neo-Punic differentiate itself from the ancient Punic by its pronunciation of words that was more phonetic, as well as the usage of berber words and names due to its extension and adoption by the North African people. Punic probably survived the Arabic conquest of the Maghreb: the geographer al-Bakrī describes people speaking a language that was not Berber, Latin or Coptic in Ifriqiya, a region where spoken Punic survived well past written use.[24] However, it is likely that the existence of Punic language has facilitated the spread of Classical Arabic in the region,[25] since Punic and Arabic are both Semitic languages that share common roots.[26]

The development of Tunisian Arabic[edit]

Classical Arabic began to be installed as a governmental and administrative language in Tunisia which had been called then as Ifriqiya when it became an Umayyad territory in 673 .[27][28] The people of several urban cities had been progressively influenced by Arabic.[28] By the XIth Century, some urban dialects had appeared in the main cities of coastal Tunisia.[29][30] These dialects were slightly and characteristically influenced by several common Berber structures and vocabulary like negation because Tamazight was the language of contact for the citizens of that period.[5][7][14][31][32] It had also been significantly influenced by other historical languages like Punic language.[14][32][33][34][35] These dialects were called later Pre-Hilalian Dialects.[35][36] Separately, another dialect has been created in the Xth Century through the dialect contact of Classical Arabic with several European Languages which is Sicilian Arabic.[37][38] This dialect was spoken in several islands near Tunisia like Sicily and has entered in contact with the Pre-Hilalian Arabic Dialects of Tunisia.‏[37][39] Consequently, this had ameliorated the divergence in grammar and structures of these dialects from Classical Arabic.[30][40] By the mid XIth Century, the Banu Hilal had immigrated to Northern and Central Tunisia and Banu Sulaym had immigrated to Southern Tunisia.[34][40][41] These immigrants had a main role in spread the use of Tunisian Arabic in an important part of the country.[34][36][40] However, they had brought to it some of the characteristics of their local Arabic dialects.[34][41] In fact, Central Tunisian Arabic speakers became using the voiced velar plosive [ɡ] instead of the voiceless uvular plosive [q] in words such as qāl "he said".[36][41] Some linguists supposed that even such as the replacement of the diphthongs ew and ey respectively by /uː/ and /iː/ vowels was a Hilalian influence.[35][36][40][41] Furthermore, the phonologies brought to the new towns speaking Tunisian Arabic is the one of the immigrants and not the Tunisian one.[41] The Sulaym had even spread a new dialect in Southern Tunisia which will be called later Libyan Arabic.[36][41][42] The unique dialects which had avoided the Hilalian influenced were Judeo-Tunisian Arabic which is a vernacular spoken by Tunisian Jews and which use Hebrew Phonology instead of Tunisian Phonology,[43][44][45] Sfax dialect[46] and Tunisian Urban Woman Dialect.[47] By the XVth Century and after the decline of Arabic Andalusia, many andalusian people immigrated to the Tunisian main coastal cities and brought some of the characteristics of their dialect to the sedentary Urban dialects spoken there like Speech simplification and the use of the voiceless uvular plosive [q] letting the use of the voiced velar plosive [ɡ] a characteristic for the nomadic Bedouin dialects of Tunisian Arabic only.[40][42][48][49] This had made of Tunisian Arabic a set of dialects which are significantly different from Standard Arabic and not a unique dialect.[42][48] This had been recognized by the Hafsid scholar Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah in 1377 when saying that Language contact between Classical Arabic and local languages caused the creation of many Arabic varieties which are very distinct from Formal Arabic[50][51][52] In the XVIIth and XVIII Century, Tunisia had been occupied by Spain and Ottoman Empire and had hosted Moriscos immigrants since 1609 and later several Italian immigrants.[34][51] This had made a language contact between Tunisian Arabic and respectively Spanish, Italian and Turkish languages.[51] During this language contact, Tunisian had acquired many new loanwords from Spanish and Turkish[34][51] and even some structures like the Turkish -jī suffix added to several nouns to mean professions like kawwāṛji, qahwēji...[48][51] During the mid XIXth Century, Tunisian Arabic had been described by several European scientists.[53] In 1893, the first linguistic work had been made by the German Linguist Hans Stumme notifying of the beginning of the research trends about Tunisian which are still existing.[6][54]

After 1901[edit]

During the French protectorate of Tunisia, Tunisia became in contact with Standard French Language.[32][48][55] This contact had affected a lot its structure as new loanwords, meanings and structures were inspired from French.[32][48][55][56] These changes had worsened a lot the intelligibility of Tunisian to Arabic speakers of the Middle East.[32][55][57]

Tunisian Leader Habib Bourguiba had usually delivered his speeches in Tunisian even in religious celebrations[58][59]
Geographic disposition of Tunisian Arabic as of 1960 (in Blue). The fields in dark blue and light blue are respectively the geographic dispositions of Algerian and Libyan Arabic[54][60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68]

The same period was characterized by the rise of interest in Tunisian Arabic through the beginning of its common use for various purposes mainly by Taht Essour[69] and the research about it mainly by French and German Linguists.[62][68] Tunisian Arabic had even been taught in High Schools as an optional language.[70]

By the Tunisian independence, Tunisian Arabic is spoken only in coastal Tunisia while the other regions were speaking Algerian Arabic, Libyan Arabic and several Berber dialects and even that Tunisian Arabic was a series of intelligible but different dialects.[32][71][72][73][74][75] That is why Tunisian Leader Habib Bourguiba had begun a trial of Arabization and Tunisification in Tunisia and had spread free Basic Education all over Tunisia.[32][76][77] This had contributed to the progressive minimization of code-switching in Tunisian.[32][52][75][76][77] Furthermore, The establishment of ERTT in 1966 and the nationwide spread of Television as well the dialect contact in Tunisia resulted in the establishment of a dialect levelling by the 1980s.[6][10][32][76][78][79][80][81] Tunisian Arabic became spoken in all Tunisia and became composed of six slightly different dialects: Tunis Dialect which is considered as the reference Tunisian dialect, Sahil Dialect, Sfax Dialect, Southwestern Dialect, Southeastern Dialect and Northwestern dialect.[6][9][79][80][81][82] Consequently, it became the main and prestige language of communication and interaction within the Tunisian Community[82][83] and Berber dialects and Libyan and Algerian Arabic and even several Tunisian dialects like the traditional Urban Woman Dialect and the Judeo-Tunisian Arabic and several Tunisian structures like lā noun+c had quite disappeared from Tunisia.[6][79][80][1][84]

This period of after the Tunisian independence was also known by a rise in the consideration of the value and the importance of Tunisian Arabic in Literature and Education. In fact, Tunisian Arabic was taught by Peace Corps from 1966 until 1993[85][86] and more researches on it which are using new methods like Computing operations and the creation of several automatic Corpus[87][88][89][90][91][92] had been done by several linguists from Tunisia and abroad about its morphology, its morphology, its pragmatics and its semantics.[6][48] The language was also used to write several romans since 1990s[69] and even a Swadesh list in 2012[93] and it is taught now by many institutions like the INALCO (located in Paris and giving courses in Tunisian Arabic since 1916)[94] and the IBLV (located in Tunis and giving courses in Tunisian Arabic since 1990).[3][95][96] As well, Tunisian Arabic is also taught in High Schools of France as an optional language.[97] In fact, 1878 students had sat for the Tunisian Arabic examination in the 1999 French Baccalaureate.[97] Nowadays, the tendency in France is to implement Maghrebi Arabic dialects and mainly Tunisian Arabic more in Basic Education and mainly in its third, fourth and fifth years.[3]

But, this is not the only trials of Tunisian Arabic in Education. More effectively, a project to teach Basic Education for the elderly people using Tunisian Arabic had been proposed in 1977 by Tunisian Linguist Mohamed Maamouri in order to better the literacy rate of Tunisia by ameliorating the quality and intelligibility of Basic courses for the elderly people who cannot understand very well Standard Arabic as they did not learn it before. But, it was not recognized and adopted.[98][99][100][101][102]

Nowadays, the linguistic classification of Tunisian Arabic causes controversies between interested people.[69][103] This problem is caused due to the fact that Tunisian Arabic exists in the Arabic dialect continuum.[104][105] Several people consider it as an independent language[34][69][82] and several others consider it as a divergent dialect of Arabic which is still dependent of Arabic morphology and structures.[36]

Moreover, its recognition is still limited as it is only recognized in France as a minority language and one of the varieties of Maghrebi Arabic according to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages edited in 7 May 1999 and even this charter has not been agreed by the Constitutional Council of France due to its inadaptability to the Article 2 of French Constitution of 1958.[2][3] As well, no official recognition and standardization in Tunisia was provided for Tunisian Arabic until 2015.[82]

Distinctive features[edit]

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 distinctive (from other Arabic dialects) are listed here.

  • A conservative consonantal phonology (due to Berber substrates[7]), with the pre-hilalian /q/ and interdental fricatives maintained.
  • The use of إنتِي [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 إنتَا /ʔinta/ for male and إنتِي /ʔinti/ for female.[106]
  • The lack of an indicative prefix in the verbal system, resulting in no distinction between indicative and subjunctive moods.[106]
  • The innovation of a progressive aspect by means of the participle قاعد [ˈqɛːʕɪd], originally meaning "sitting"; and the preposition في ['fi] "in" in transitive clauses.[106]
  • The distinctive usage of future tense by using the prefixes ماش [mɛːʃ] or باش [bɛːʃ] + verb which is nearly equivalent to "will" + verb.[106]
  • Some vocabulary such as فيسع [ˈfiːsɑʕ] "fast", باهي [ˈbɛːhi] "good" and برشه [ˈbɛrʃæ] "very much". (e.g.: [ˈbɛːhi ˈbɛrʃæ]="very good")[106]
  • 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 عسلامه [ʕæsˈlɛːmæ] (formal) or أهلا [ˈʔɛhlæ] (informal) for greeting. Also, بسلامه [bɪsˈlɛːmæ] (formal) or the Italian ciao (informal) are used as the Tunisian "goodbye" expression.[6] يعيشك [jʕɛjʃik] is used as "thank you", in lieu of شكرا [ˈʃʊkræn].[106] However, Tunisian people still used some expressions from Standard Arabic such as بارك الله فيك [ˈbɑːræk ɑɫˈɫɑːhu ˈfiːk] and أحسنت [ʔæħˈsɛnt] for thank you. But, these expressions are used only as loan structures from Standard Arabic and are not used as they are used in Standard Arabic.[6][76][106]
  • The passive derivation of verbs is similar to Berber and does not exist in Classical Arabic.[7][107] It is obtained by prefixing the verb with /t-/, /tt-/, /tn-/ or /n-/ and the choice of one of the four prefixes depends on the used verb (ex: /ʃrab/ "to drink" → /ttaʃrab/ "to be drunk").[6][106][107][108]
  • 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.[109][110]
  • Tunisian Arabic is an SVO language and it is most of the time a Null-subject language.[106][111] In fact, the subject is only written in order to avoid meaning ambiguity.[106]


Geographic disposition of the Tunisian Arabic dialects as of 2015. The fields in blue, light blue, dark gray, light gray, green and yellow are respectively the geographic dispositions of Soutwestern Tunisian, Southeastern Tunisian, Northwestern Tunisian, Sahil Dialect, Sfax Dialect and Tunis Dialect[6][46][48][79][80][108][112][113][114][115][116][117][118]

The dialects of Tunisian are Northwestern Tunisian, Southwestern Tunisian, Tunis Dialect, Sahil Dialect, Sfax Dialect and Southeastern Tunisian.[6][46][48][79][80][108][112][113][114][115][116][117][118] Furthermore, Tunis, Sousse and Sfax dialects (considered as sedentary dialects) use the voiceless uvular plosive [q] in words such as [qaːl] "he said", while Southeastern, Northwestern and Southwestern varieties (considered as nomadic dialects) substitute it by the voiced velar plosive [ɡ] as in [ɡaːl].[6][46][48][79][80][108][112][113][114][116][117][115][118] Moreover, only Tunis, Sfax and Sousse dialects do use the Tunisian phonology. However, Northwestern and Southwestern Tunisian speak Tunisian with the Algerian Arabic phonology which tends to simplify short vowels as short schwas and Southeastern Tunisian speak Tunisian with the Libyan Arabic phonology.[6][46][48][79][80][108][112][113][114][116][117][64][115][118][119] As well, Tunis, Sfax and Sahil varieties are known for not marking gender in the second person. The otherwise feminine /ʔinti/ is used to address men and women, while in the verb no feminine marking is used (intī mcīt). However, Northwestern, Southeastern and Soutwestern dialects maintain the usual distinctions found in Arabic, whether standard or spoken (intā mcīt, intī mcītī).[6][46][48][79][80][108][112][113][114][116][117][64][115][118]

Tunis Dialect[edit]

Tunis Dialect is considered by several scientists as the standard form of Tunisian Arabic.[6][48] However, it has some unique characteristics which are not shared in the other dialects of Tunisian Arabic.[6][46][48][79][80][108][112][113][114][115][116][117] In fact, Tunisian tend to pronounced e as ɛ and use wḩūd instead of wḩīd to mean some people.[6][48][85][86][106][117][118]

Sahil Dialect[edit]

Sahil dilect is known for the use of the singular first person ēnī instead of ēnē.‏[108][115] It is also known for the pronunciation of wē as [wɑː] and the pronunciation ū and ī as respectively [ɔ:] and [ɛː] when it is a substitution of the common Classical Arabic diphthongs ew and ey.‏[108][114][115] For example, jwēb is pronounced as [ʒwɑːb] and lūn is pronounced as [lɔ:n].[108][114][115] Furthermore, when ē is in the end of the indefinite or "il-" definite word, this final ē is pronounced as [i:].[108][114][115] For example, smē is pronounced as [smi:]. Moroever, If a work begins with ŧ or đ, these letters are pronounced respectively as [t] and [d].[108][120] For example, ŧlēŧe is pronounced as [tlɛːθæ].[108][114] As well, Sahil Dialect is known for using mic instead of mūc to mean the negation of future predicted action.[108] Similarly, the conjugation of mic as a modal verb uses micnī instead of mēnīc, mick instead of mēkc, miccū instead of mūc and mēhūc, michē instead of mēhīc, micnē instead of mēnēc, mickum instead of mēkumc and michum instead of mēhumc.[108]

Sfax Dialect[edit]

Sfax dialect is mostly known for its conservation of the pre-hilalian diphthongs ey and ew and of the short ɑ or æ between two consonants.[46] Other dialects have substituted them respectively by ī and ū and drop the short ɑ or æ when it comes between the first letter and the third letter of the word which are both consonants.[48][120][121] It is also known by the substitution of short u by short i when it comes in the beginning of the word or just after the first letter when this first letter is a consonant.[46] For example, xubz is pronounced as [χibz].[46] It is also known for the use of specific words like barmaqnī meaning Window.[46] Furthermore, it is known for the substitution of [ʒ] by [z] when it comes in the beginning of a word and when that word contains [s] or [z] in its middle or end.[46][113] For example, jezzār is pronounced as [zæzzɑ:r] and Jerjīs is pronounced as [zærzi:s].[46] Unlike other Tunisian dialects, Sfax dialect does not simplify the last long vowel in a word end.[46][48] It is also known, for some specific verbs like "arā" meaning "to see" and the use of the demonstrative articles hēkume for those and hēke for that respectively instead of hēđēkum and hēđēke determinants.[46] Finally, the conjugation of mūc as a modal verb uses mēhuwēc instead of mēhūc, mēhiyēc instead of mēhīc, mēhnēc instead of mēnēc and mēhumēc instead of mēhumc.[9][122]

Northwestern Dialect[edit]

Northwestern Dialect is known by pronouncing r as [rˤ] when it is written before an or ū.[113] Furthermore, it is known for the substitution of [ʒ] by [z] when it comes in the beginning of a word and when that word contains [s] or [z] in its middle or end.[113] As well, Northwestern Dialect is known for using mic which is pronounced as [məʃ] instead of mānīsh to mean the negation of future predicted action.[113] imilarly, the conjugation of mic as a modal verb uses micnī instead of mēnīc, mick instead of mēkc, miccū instead of mūc and mēhūc, michē instead of mēhīc, micnē instead of mēnēc, mickum instead of mēkumc and michum instead of mēhumc.[113] Moreover, Northwestern dialect is known for the use of neḩnē instead of aḩnē as a plural second person personal pronoun.[113]

Southeastern Dialect[edit]

Southeastern dialect is known for a different conjugation of verbs ending with ā in the third person in plural. In fact, people who are speaking this variety of Tunisian Arabic do not add the regular ū suffix after the vowel ā but they used to drop the ā and then add the ū.[118] For example, mcā is conjugated as humm mcū in the third person in plural.[118] Furthermore, it is known for the substitution of [ʒ] by [z] when it comes in the beginning of a word and when that word contains [s] or [z] in its middle or end.[65][114][118] Moreover, it is known like the Sahil dialect for the pronunciation ū and ī as respectively [ɔ:] and [ɛː] when it is a substitution of the common Classical Arabic diphthongs ew and ey.[6][65][114] Furthermore, this dialect is also known for the use of anē instead of ēnē (meaning I), the use intumm (masc.) and intinn (fem.) instead of intūme (meaning you in plural) and the use of humm (masc.) and hinn (fem.) instead of hūme (meaning they).[65][71][118][123]

Southwestern Dialect[edit]

Southwestern dialect is known like the Southeastern dialect for a different conjugation of verbs ending with ā in the third person in plural. In fact, people who are speaking this variety of Tunisian Arabic do not add the regular ū suffix after the vowel ā but they used to drop the ā and then add the ū.[112][116] For example, mcā is conjugated as humm mcū in the third person in plural.[112][116] Furthermore, this dialect is also known for the use of nē instead of ēnē (meaning I), the use of ḩnī instead of aḩnē (meaning we), the use intumm (masc.) and intinn (fem.) instead of intūme (meaning you in plural) and the use of humm (masc.) and hinn (fem.) instead of hūme (meaning they).[112][116]

Domains of use[edit]


Tunisian Arabic is the mother tongue of the Arabic-speaking population in Tunisia.[124] 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.[124] Tunisian Arabic has the role of the low variety in an example of classic diglossia, where Standard Arabic is the high variety.[10] 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.[69]

From the 1990s, Tunisians began to write in Tunisian Arabic when communicating on the Internet, especially on social networking sites, and in text messages.[125] 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.[126]

In religion, the use of Tunisian Arabic in promoting Islam is limited, although there are some trial efforts.[127] 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.[128]


Before Tunisian independence, there was a large body of folk tales and folk poems in Tunisian Arabic.[129] This was mainly an oral tradition, told by wandering storytellers and bards at marketplaces and festivals.[5][130] The most important of these folktales are "Il-Jēzye il-hlēlīye" and "Hkēyet Ummī Sīsī w Il-Đīb".[131] A few years after independence, the most famous of them had been recorded for ERTT broadcast, in Tunisian Arabic by Abdelaziz El Aroui,[132] or translated mainly to French and Standard Arabic by other authors.[131] 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[133] and the work of Karen McNeil of 2014.[134]

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 and particularly Ali Douagi[135] 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.[136][137][138]

However, since the early 1990s, Hedi Balegh had lead a new trend in Tunisian Literature.[69] He was the first to translate a Novel in Tunisian Arabic in 1997[103][139] and to make some collections of Tunisian idioms and proverbs in 1994 using Arabic Script.[140] Some authors and more particularly Tahar Fazaa (mainly in Tcancīnēt Tūnsīye)[141][142] and Taoufik Ben Brik (mainly when writing Kelb Bin Kelb[143][144] and Kawāzākī[145][146]) followed him and used Tunisian Arabic in order to write romans, novels, plays and books in Tunisian Arabic.

As for plays in Tunisian Arabic, the first ones were made by the Tunisian – Egyptian Company just after World War I.[147] At that period, they had faced several objections.[147] However, it acquired general recognition in Tunisia by the end of World War II.[147] After the Tunisian independence, the government had encouraged the development of theater in Tunisian Arabic through the creation of supporting institutions.[147][148] This resulted in the creation of notable plays in Tunisian Arabic that followed the trends of world literature during the period between 1965 and 2005.[147][148] The main authors of these plays were Jalila Baccar and Fadhel Jaibi and some members of the National Theature Troupes of the Medina of Tunis, El Kef and Gafsa.[147][148]

Nowadays, plays are almost always written in Tunisian Arabic, except when they are placed in a historical setting[147] and these plays written in Tunisian Arabic are widely considered as meaningful and valuable ones.[147]


Before 1700, lyrics of songs were not written in Tunisian Arabic.[149] However, Sheykh Abu al-Hassan al-Karray, who died in 1693 in the medina quarter of Sfax, had written a poem in Tunisian Arabic during his youth:[150]

عديت في الصغر عديت
يا حسرتي على زماني
بـ الطار و الدف غنيت
و زهيت بـ حسن المعاني
لـ الرب مولاي وليت
توبة نصوحة عطاني

Ģaddīt fī il-suğr ģaddīt,
Yē ḩasrtī ģlā zmēnī,
B- il-ţār w il-duff ğannīt,
W zhīt b- ḩusn il-maģānī,
L- il-rabb mewlēyē wellīt,
Tewbe neşūḩe ģţānī.

Moreover, another Tunisian Arabic poem was written later in the 17th century to cite the qualities of Karray:[149]

خموسي يا كراي قاصد ليك بـ نية
جيتك يا مولى الراي تبري سقمان بيا
شيلة مولى البرهان و البركة وصايا
يا شيخ يا سلطان بـ الله كون معايا
يكفي من ذا الهجران وصلك يبري دايا
لـ أني فاني عاشق، حبك زاد عليا
خموسي يا كراي قاصد ليك بـ نية

Xmūsī yē Karrāy qāşid līk b- niyye
Jītik yē mūlā il-rāy tubrī suqmēn biyyē
Cyileħ mūlā il-burhēn w il-berke weşşāyē
Yē ceyx yē sulţān b- il-Lēh kūn mģāyē
Yekfī min đē il-hijrān weşlik yubrī dēyē
L- annī fēnī ģāciq, ḩubbik zēd ģlayē
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.[149][151] This current strengthened in the beginning of the 20th century and affected the Tunisian ma'luf and folklore.[149] Judeo-Tunisian song flowered in the 1930s, with such Jewish artists as Cheikh El Afrit and Habiba Msika.[151][152]

Yē lēymī ģlā il-zīn of Saliha

This tendency was promoted by the creation of Radio Tunis in 1938.,[152] which allowed many musicians to better disseminate their works and helped spread the use of Tunisian Arabic in songs.[152] 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, Saliha, Salah El Mahdi, Hassiba Rochdi, Fethia Khaïri, Hassiba Rochdi, Mohamed Triki, Mohamed Jamoussi, Sadok Thraya and Ali Riahi.[152]

Following the creation of the ERTT broadcasting organization in 1966,[28] there emerged a generation of composers and interpreters, mostly working in the ERTT orchestra.[28] 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.[28] Tahar Gharsa (another disciple of Tarnane) worked to promote the characteristically modal and rhythmic traditional music written with Tunisian Arabic lyrics.[28] The director Raoul Journo, in the same line,[28] is a Judeo-Tunisian singer, distinguished by his interpretation of taâlila (traditional songs associated with birth, circumcision, marriage and other rites).[28] This kind of music developed under the National Troupe of Music, created in the early 1980s.[153]

Band of popular music of the period 1900–1950
Mizwad player in Tozeur

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.[151][154] This kind of music was promoted by the National Troupe of the Popular Arts, created in 1962.[155] Later adaptation and promotion of popular songs, especially by Ahmed Hamza and later Kacem Kefi, further developed Tunisian music.[28] Natives of Sfax, they were both influenced by Mohamed Ennouri and Mohamed Boudaya, leading masters of popular music in that city.[28][149] Nowadays, this kind of music is very popular.[156]

In 1993, underground music entered Tunisia.[157] This consisted of rap in the 1990s, and was not successful because of the lack of media coverage.[157] 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.[157][158] 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.[157][159]

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.[149]

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,[160][161] and were done in Tunisian Arabic.[162][163] Some of them achieved relative success outside Tunisia, such as La Goulette (Ḩalq il-wēdī, 1996), Halfaouine: Child of the Terraces (Ģasfūr il-sţaḩ, 1990), and The Ambassadors (Il-Suferā', 1975).[163]

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.[164][165] Tunisian Arabic is now used in all television and radio programmes, excepting news, religious programmes and historical dramas.[58][166][167][168] Some Tunisian Arabic works acquired some honors in the broader Arab world like the ASBU Festival First Prize in 2015.[169] and the Festival of Arab Media Creation Prize in 2008.[170]

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.[10]

However, the main and important journals in Tunisia are not written in Tunisian Arabic[10] even if there were a journal in Tunisian Arabic entitled Kul Cay Bil-Makcūf that was directed by Hedi Saidi and Hechmi Bouaziz and mainly lead by Ali Douagi and that was issued quite regularly from 23 April 1937 to 22 October 1959.[136] The leading journals are still written either in Modern Standard Arabic or in Standard French, even if cartoons in most of them can be written in Tunisian.[10][76]


Arabic script[edit]

See also: Arabic script

The Arabic script used for Tunisian is largely the same as for Arabic. However, it includes additional letters in order to support /g/ (ڨ), /v/ (ڥ) and /p/ (پ).[9][171]

The first known use of Arabic script for Tunisian was recorded in the 17th century when Sheykh Karray wrote several poems in Tunisian Arabic for mystic purposes.[149] However, the transcription of Tunisian Arabic was not common until 1903 when the Gospel of John was transcribed in Tunisian Arabic using Arabic script.[1][128] After the World War I, the use of Arabic script to Tunisian Arabic became very common with the works of Taht Essour.[136][138] Nowadays, it has become the main script used for Tunisian Arabic, even in published books,[139][145] even though the writing method doesn't follow a single convention and is subject to change from a book to another.[9][139][145]

Latin script[edit]

Method of the phonemic transcription of Tunisian Arabic and Algerian Arabic into Latin script used by William Marçais in 1908[64]

In 1845, the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft had been created in Leipzig, Germany as a scientific association dedicated to the studies and the languages of the Orient.[172] After that, the organization had begun to develop its system of transcription of Arabic in Latin script.[173] This system is based on a phonemic transcription of Arabic using an Extended Latin alphabet such as the use of a macron on a given vowel means that this vowel is long...[173] It is just after the establishment of the French Protectorate of Tunisia when the Latin script was used for the first time for Tunisian for linguistic purposes using Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft Transcription or rather DMG Transcription.[48] In fact, the first linguistic study about Tunisian Arabic which had been done by German Linguist Hans Stumme from 1893 to 1896 was transcribing Tunisian Arabic using DMG Transcription.[54][60][61][64][174][175] Since 1897 till 1935, a series of linguistics works were conducted mainly by several French members of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft like William Marçais,[64][176][177][178] Philippe Marçais,[63][179] David Cohen[62] and Alfred Nicolas.[180] These works invclved Corpuses,[176][177] Grammar Books,[63] Studies,[62] Dictionaries...[180] In 1935, the DMG transcription involves many letters and diacritics that are not mainly used in Arabic and main Arabic dialects[181] For example, à, è, ù are used for accentuated and short vowels.[64] However, it seems that these letters are the unique vowels used in the end of a word in Standard Arabic and Arabic dialects and that they do not exist in the middle or the beginning of a word.[54][181] So, they can be transcribed as short vowels...[181] That is why the XIXth International Congress of Orientalists held in Rome, Italy from 23 to 29 September 1935 created a modified version of the DMG transcription which is accurate to Arabic dialects and which had been adopted later.[181] Purely phonemic, this transcription had been used and supported by quite all the linguists working on Tunisian Arabic during the period between 1935 to 1985 like Gilbert Boris,[182] Hans Rudolf Singer,[48][183] Lucienne Saada[184][185][186] and other interested linguists[6] and is used right now in writing corpuses and several linguistic books in Tunisian Arabic by some institutions like SIL International[6] and the University of Vienna.[187][188][189]

Even if DMG transcription was used in linguistic research about Tunisian,[6][54][64][187] some trials had been made in order to create some alternative writing methods in Latin script for Tunisian Arabic for linguistic use and even for some other purposes like communication[125] and education.[190] All these alternative systems tried to solve the problem of the lack of inter convertibility of scripts due to the fact that the transcription of Tunisian Arabic using the DMG method is phonemic and not syntactic[9][171] and even the problem of the existence of additional Latin letters within DMG layout.[70]

The first trial to create a specific Latin script writing method for Tunisian, Practical Orthography of Tunisian Arabic, was created by Joseph Jourdan in 1913.[191][192] The principle is to use French consonant and vowel digraphs and phonology to transcribe non-Latin sounds.[191] In fact, kh is used to transcribe /χ/, ch to transcribe /ʃ/, th to transcribe /θ/, gh to transcribe /ʁ/, dh to transcribe /ð/ or /ðˤ/ and ou to transcribe /u:/, a to transcribe /a:/ and /ɛː/, i to transcribe /i:/ and e to transcribe the short vowels.[193] This layout was successful because it does not involve some additional Latin letters and can be transcribed efficiently. It was used in the later linguistic works of Joseph Jourdan about Tunisian Arabic until 1956.[70][194][195] Moreover, it is commonly used till now in French books in order to transcribe Tunisian Arabic.[193] This method had been used in 1995 to create Tunisian Arabizi by converting consonant digraphs into digits.[5][124][196] In fact, it uses 2 in order to transcribe a glottal stop, 3 to transcribe /ʕ/, 5 to transcribe /χ/, 6 to transcribe /tˤ/, 7 to transcribe /ħ/, 8 to transcribe /θ/ and 9 to transcribe /q/.[196] The ch, dh and gh digraphs are kept in Tunisian Arabizi.[196] Like all other Arabic Chat Alphabets, it had spread a lot in the 1990s and was used mainly by Tunisian young people[5][124][197] and it is used by users mainly in the Social Networks and Mobile Phones as a Chat Alphabet right now...[125][196] The Tunisian Arabizi was the most important script used in transcribing messages in Social Networks during the Tunisian Revolution of 2011.[198][199][200][201][202] After 2011, more interest had been given to Tunisian Arabizi[203][204] and in 2013, a concise grammar book about Tunisian that was written with Tunisian Arabizi had been issued.[205] However, this chat alphabet is widely seen as informal as the Arabic digits are transcribed as numbers and letters in the same time and as it is purely phonemic and unfortunately not standardized.[203][206]

Although this first trial had became successful, the Practical Transcription involves some problems like the possibility of ambiguity between digraphs,[207] the absolute certainty of having a rate of graphs per phoneme which is significantly superior to the conventional value of 1 and independent consonants having the same transliteration as the digraphs[207] and the lack of disambiguation between /ð/ and /ðˤ/.[193] Moroever, the use of digits as numerals and letters in the same time made transcribing Tunisian difficult to users and did not linguistically solve the matters that had been faced by the Practical Transcription.[208]

Logo of Peace Corps

That is why a new Latin script transcription method was created by the Robert J. Scholes and his team constituted of several linguists from Peace Corps Tunisia and Indiana University in 1966.[190] Letters in this method can be written in small letters only and even T and S are not equivalent to t and s as T is used to transcribe /tˤ/ and S is used to transcribe /sˤ/.[190] Moreover, three Additional Latin Letters are used in this writing method which are 3 (/ʕ/), ø (/ð/) and ħ (/ħ/).[190] Four common English digraphs are used which are dh (/ðˤ/), gh (/ʁ/), th (/tˤ/) and sh (/ʃ/).[190] In order to distinguish the digraphs from the independent letters written like the digraphs, the digraphs are underlined.[190] As for the vowels, they are written as å (glottal stop or /ʔ/), ā (/æ/), ā: (/ɛ:/), a (Short an or /a/), a: (long an or /a:/), i (short i or /i/), i: (long i or /i:/), u (short u or /u/), u: (Long u or /u:/).[190] This method had been used in the Peace Corps books about Tunisian Arabic until 1993 when Peace Corps Tunisia had become inactive.[85][86][209][210][211][212] After years of works on a phonemic transliteration of Tunisian, linguists had decided that the transliteration should be mainly syntactic.[213] In fact, Timothy Buckwalter had created an orthography-based transcription of Arabic texts during his work for Xerox.[214] Buckwalter transcription was made in order to avoid the effect of Phoneme simplification while daily speaking Arabic on the morphological analysis of the language.[213] In 2004, Tunisian linguist Mohamed Maamouri had proposed to use the same transliteration for Arabic dialects and mainly Tunisian.[215] In 2013, a complete work about the regulations of the use of the Buckwalter transliteration for Tunisian was issued by Ines Zribi and his team from the University of Sfax[216] A morphological analysis and a conventional orthography of Tunisian using this method were posted by 2014[9][217] as a development of the generalized work of Columbia University Professor Nizar Habash about the use of Buckwalter transcription for analyzing and standardizing the orthography of main Arabic dialects.[218][219] However, this method is currently used for computer operations only[9] and it is unfortunately not used by people as it involves some ASCII non-alphanumeric graphs as letters and as S, D and T does not correspond respectively to the same phonemes as s, d and t.[220][221] Furthermore, p does not correspond to /p/ but to ﺓ.[222] That is why this method has not been adapted for daily use in writing Arabic dialects and mainly for Tunisian.[221] Although the Latin Script is widely used in Tunisia, it had been not widely recognized as an official script for Tunisian because of the lack of standardization of Tunisian Orthography as many writing methods using the Latin Letters are currently used for Tunisian.[1] However, the situation had ameliorated since 2015 as Crúbadán Project for Minority Languages had recognized the Latin Script as an official script for Tunisian in 21 February 2015.[223]



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.[48] For example, Electricity is /kahrabaːʔ/ in standard Arabic. It is trīsītī in Tunisian Arabic (a word mainly used by older people), from the French électricité. Other loans from French include burtmēn (flat), and piēse (coin).[48] Furthermore, there are words and structures that come from Turkish, such as bēlik (perhaps), gēwrī (European) (Gavur); as well as the suffix of occupation /-ʒi/ as in būsţājī (Post Officer) and kawwārjī (Football Player).[48] Some more words derived from French, Italian, Turkish, Berber or Spanish are below:[9]

Tunisian Arabic Standard Arabic English Etymology of Tunisian Arabic
بابور bābūr سفينة /safiːna/ ship Turkish: vapur meaning "steamboat"
داكردو dekūrdū حسنا /ħasanan/ okay Italian: d'accordo
كرّوسه kerrūsa عربة /ħasanan/ carriage Italian: carrozza
بلاصه blāşa مكان /makaːn/ place Spanish: plaza
فيشطه ficţa عيد /ʕiːd/ holiday Italian: festa
كوجينه kūjīne مطبخ /matˤbax/ kitchen Italian: cucina
صبّاط şabbāt حذاء /ħiðaːʔ/ shoes Spanish: zapatos
ماكينه mēkīne آلة /ʔaːla/ machine Italian: machina
قلسيطة qalsita جورب /jawrab/ sock Greek: κάλτσα (káltsa)
قطّوس qattūs قط /qitˤː/ cat Latin: cattus
بانكه bānke بنك /bank/ bank Italian: banca
كسكسي kusksī كسكسي /kuskusi/ couscous Berber: kuskūs
بطانيه biţţāniye غطاء /ʁiţa:ʔ/ blanket Turkish: battaniye
سفناريه sfinērye جزر /jazar/ carrot Berber: sfinēriye
بوسطه būsţa مكتب البريد /maktab albari:d/ post office French: poste
باكو bakū صندوق /sˤundu:q/ package French: paquet
سبيطار sbīţār مستشفى /mustaʃfa/ hospital French: hôpital

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].[224] For example, many Tunisians, when asking "How are you?" will use the French "ça va?" instead of, and in addition to the Tunisian cnīye eḩwēlik. It is difficult in this case to establish whether this is an example of using French or borrowing.[224]

In general, the loanwords are adapted to Tunisian phonology for years until they become pronounced with Basic Tunisian Arabic Sounds only.[48][225] For example, The French Word apartement became burtmēn and the French word hôpital had become sbīţār.[48][226]

Shift in meanings[edit]

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.[79] For example, /x-d-m/ means "serve" in Standard Arabic but "work" in Tunisian Arabic, as opposed to /ʕ-m-l/ means "work" in Standard Arabic but was narrowed to "do" in Tunisian Arabic; and /m-ʃ-j/ means in Tunisian Arabic has broadened to "go" from "walk".[6]

In general, meaning shift happens when there is a lexical implication of the society speaking the language. This means that the Social situation and thoughts of the speakers of the languages had obliged them to change the meaning of some words so that their language could be adapted to their situation[227][228] and this is just what happened in Tunisia.[79] In fact, the borrowing of rhetoric and semantic structures from other languages of contact like French helped the meaning shift in Tunisian.[55][79]

Word Fusion[edit]

In Tunisian, some new words and structures had been created through the fusion of two words or more.[6] Almost all question words fall into the latter category.[6] The question words are noticeable by their beginning or ending with the sound c or ēc and are not to be confused with the negation mark, that is c and accords the verbs as in mē mcītc (I didn't go).[6]

The table below shows a comparison of various question words in Tunisian, Standard Arabic and English:[6][48][106][108]

Tunisian Arabic Construction Standard Arabic English
ckūn ēc + kūn من /man/ who
cnuwwe (masc.)
cniyye (fem.)
ēc + nūwe
ēc + niyye
ماذا /maːða/ what
weqtēc weqt + ēc متى /mata/ when
lwēc l- + ēc لماذا /limaːða/ for what reason
ģlēc ģlā + ēc لماذا /limaːða/ why
Kīfēc kīf + ēc كيف /kajfa/ how
Qaddēc qadd + ēc كم /kam/ how much
mnēc min + ēc من أين /man ʔajna/ from what
fēc fī + ēc في من /fi man/ in what, what
wīn w + eyn أين /ʔajna/ where

Some of these question words, can be merged with other structures such as the prepositions and object pronouns. For example, "who are you" becomes ckūnik intī or simply ckūnik and "how much is this" becomes b- qaddēc.[6]

Another example of word fusion in Tunisian is the spelling of numerals between 11 and 19 which are pronounced as one word composed of the name of the digit obtained by subtracting 10 to the number and the suffix ţāc derived from the Standard Arabic word عَشَرَ /ʕaʃara/, those numbers are in order: eħdeʃ, thnaʃ, thleṭaʃ, arbʔˤaṭaʃ, xomsṭaʃ, setṭaʃ, sbaʔˤṭaʃ, thmonṭaʃ and tesʔˤaṭaʃ.[6]

Pattern and Root based creation of new words[edit]

As in Standard Arabic and other Arabic dialects, the creation of new words is based on Root and Pattern system.[229] This means that new words can be created through the association of a root which is composed most of the time of three letters that have a meaning with a rhythm or pattern that informs about the position of the object in the fact.[229] For example, k-t-b is a root meaning to write and meūl is a pattern meaning that the object has submitted the fact. So, the combination of the root and the given pattern render mektūb which means something that was written.[229]


There are several differences in pronunciation between Standard and Tunisian Arabic. In fact, nunation does not exist in Tunisian Arabic and 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.[6][85][108][117][225][230]

However, there are some more specific characteristics related to Tunisian Arabic like the phenomenon of Metathesis.[230]

Metathesis and Word Stress[edit]

Metathesis is the phenomenon of shift of position of the first vowel of the word.[230][231] It occurs when the unconjugated verb or unsuffixed noun begins with CCVC where C is an unstressed consonant and V is a short vowel.[230][231][232] When a suffix is added to this kind of noun or when the verb is conjugated, the first vowel changes of position and the verb becomes beginning with CVCC.[230][231][232]

For example:

  • (he) wrote in Tunisian Arabic becomes ktib and (she) wrote in Tunisian Arabic becomes kitbit.[106][230]
  • several stuffs in Tunisian Arabic becomes dbec and my stuffs in Tunisian Arabic becomes debcī.[106][230]

As for Word Stress, it is the stress of one syllable within a word.[233]‏ It is done for lexical or orthographic purposes.[233] In general, the lexical purposes are the expression of intentions and feelings.[233] However, the orthographic purposes is to denote the end of the word.[6] In fact, it occurs on the final syllable if it is heavy, with the rime being at least v̄C or vCC such as C is an unstressed consonant, v̄ is a long vowel and v is a short vowel or it occurs on the penultimate syllable of the word for other situations.[6]

For example:

  • bit (She brought some stuffs).[6]
  • Mē jēbitc (She did not bring some stuffs).[6]


Standard Arabic qāf has both [q] and [ɡ] as reflexes in both sedentary and nomadic varieties, with [q] predominating in sedentary varieties and [ɡ] in nomadics 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].[234] Interdental fricatives are also maintained, except in Sahil Dialect for several situations.[108][114][120][225] Furthermore, Tunisian Arabic has merged // ض with /ðˤ/ ظ.[85][212][225][235]

Tunisian Arabic consonant phonemes
Labial Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
 plain  emphatic  plain  emphatic
Nasal m m () m n n () ñ
Plosive voiceless (p) p t t ţ k k q q (ʔ) ‍ '​
voiced b b () b d d ɡ g
Fricative sibilant voiceless s s ş ʃ c
voiced z z () z ʒ j
non-sibilant voiceless f f θ ŧ χ x ħ h h
voiced (v) v ð đ ðˤ ḑ / ź ʁ ğ ʕ ģ
Approximant w w l l ɫ l j y
Trill r r r

Some consonants are bracketed in the table above because they are not universally considered to be separate phonemes,[48][85][108][225] but there is strong evidence indicating they are.[6][48] 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.[6][48]

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.[6][225] For example:

  • /baːb/ [bɛːb] "door" and /bˤaːbˤa/ [ˈbˤɑːbˤɑ] "Father"[6][225]
  • /ɡaːz/ [ɡɛːz] "petrol" and /ɡaːzˤ/ [ɡɑːzˤ] "gas"[6][225]

The realisation of the vowels within each pair is dramatically different.[6][48]

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.[6][48][108][225] 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/.[6][48][108][225] Minimal pairs for the more commonly admitted phonemes /rˤ/ and /ɫ/ can be given, as in

Tunisian Arabic has substantial borrowing from French, and many words and expressions used by those who do not speak French maintain /p/ and /v/.[6][48] For example:

  • pīsīn "swimming pool"[6][48]
  • mgerrep "suffering from influenza" (derived from French grippe)[6][48]
  • ynarviznī "he annoys me" (from French énerver)[6][48]
  • gerriv "on strike" (derived from French grève).[6][48]

As for glottal stop, it tends to occur in the learned 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.[6][48]


Given that pharyngealisation is a property of consonants, most dialects have three vowel qualities /ɑ, i, u/, all also distinguished for length, as in Standard Arabic.[48][117] The length distinction is suspended word finally.[6][48] A final vowel is realised long in accent-bearing words of one syllable (For example, jē [ʒɛː] he came), otherwise short.[6][48] In non-pharyngealised environments the open vowel [ɑ], is [ɛ] in stressed syllables, and [æ] in unstressed syllables.[6][48]

Tunisian Arabic vowel phonemes
Front Back
unrounded rounded
short long long short long
Close ɪ i ī () ü u u ū
Open-mid oral ɛː ē (œː) ë (ɔː) o
nasal (ɛ̃) (ɔ̃)
Open (ɑ̃)
oral æ e ɑ a ɑː ā

Syllables and Pronounciation Simplification[edit]

Tunisian Arabic has a very different syllable structure from Standard Arabic like many other North African varieties due to their Berber substrates.[7] 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.[6][48][85][225] For example, Standard Arabic book is /kitaːb/, while in Tunisian Arabic it is ktēb.[6][48]

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.[6][48]

Word-internal syllables are generally heavy in that they either have a long vowel in the nucleus or consonant in the coda.[6][48]

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.[6][48]

Further than these characteristics, Tunisian Arabic is also known for a different pronunciation of words according to their orthography and position within a text.[70][85][106][190][225][236][237] This phenomenon is known as Pronunciation simplification[238] and is constituted of four rules:

  • If they are in the end of a word, [i:] and [ɪ] are pronounced as [i], [u:] and [u] are pronounced as [u], and [a:], [ɛː], [a] and [æ] are pronounced as [æ].[239][240] For example, yibdē is practically pronounced as /yibdæ/...[48][70][106][236][237]
  • If a word finishes with a vowel and the next word begins with a short vowel, this short vowel and the space between the two words are not pronounced.[225][230][241][242] This phenomenon is seen clearly when comparing Arabic texts to their Latin phonemic transliteration in several works.[106]
  • If a word begins with two successive consonants, an [ɪ] is pronounced in its beginning.[48][70][106][236]
  • If there is a CCC within a word, it is pronounced as CCiC.[85][190]


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[7] 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).

Semantics and Pragmatics[edit]

Discourses in Tunisian Arabic are likely to use some rhetorical styles like Metaphors.[243] Furthermore, Tunisian Arabic styles and tenses hold several figurative meaning.[244] For example, the use of past tense can mean that the situation is uncontrollable.[245] As well, the use of the third person pronouns can be figurative to mean saints and subhuman creatures[246] and the use of demonstrative can have figurative meanings like underestimation.[247] Moreover, the name of some parts of the body can be used in several expressions in order to get figurative meanings.[245][248][249] This phenomenon is entitled the embodiment.[248] Furthermore, some nouns and verbs have their figurative meanings[106] and the use of these figurative meanings depends of the circumstances of the dealt discourse like the political situation of the country and the ages of the people participating in the discussion.[250][251]


Several Tunisian words had been used in the lyrics of some famous Arabic songs and poems like ģe- il-slēme of Majda Al Roumi.[252] Furthermore, some famous Arabic singers had been known of singing several old Tunisian Arabic songs like Hussain Al Jassmi[253] and Dina Hayek.[254] Tunisian Arabic had even influenced several Berber dialects by transferring to them several Arabic structures and words.[255] It was as well the origin of Maltese[12][256] and some of its words like Brīk and frīkasēy had been inspired by French as loanwords.[257] The Il-Ţalyēnī Tunisian Arabic word meaning "the Italian" had even been used as a title of a roman in Standard Arabic which had received the Booker Prize for Arabic Literature in 2015.[258]

See also[edit]


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  • Mion, Giuliano (2004) "Osservazioni sul sistema verbale dell'arabo di Tunisi" Rivista degli Studi Orientali 78, pp. 243–255.

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