Tunisian Arabic phonology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

There are several differences in pronunciation between Standard Arabic and Tunisian Arabic. Nunation does not exist in Tunisian Arabic, and short vowels are frequently omitted, especially if they would occur as the final element of an open syllable, which was probably encouraged by the Berber substratum.[1][2]

However, there are some more specific characteristics related to Tunisian Arabic like the phenomenon of metathesis.[2]


Metathesis is the shift of the position of the first vowel of the word.[2][3] It occurs when the unconjugated verb or unsuffixed noun begins with CCVC, where C is an ungeminated consonant and V is a short vowel.[2][3][4] 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 or noun begins with CVCC.[2][3][4]

For example:

  • (he) wrote in Tunisian Arabic becomes كتب ktib and (she) wrote in Tunisian Arabic becomes كتبت kitbit.[2]
  • some stuff in Tunisian Arabic becomes دبش dbaš and my stuff in Tunisian Arabic becomes دبشي dabšī.[2]


Stress is not phonologically distinctive[3] and is determined by the word's syllable structure. Hence,

  • it falls on the ultimate syllable if it is doubly closed:[3] سروال sirwāl (trousers).
  • Stress falls on all the word if there is only one syllable within it:[3] مرا mṛa (woman).
  • Affixes are treated as part of the word:[3] نكتبولكم niktlkum (we write to you).

For example:

  • جابت bit (She brought).[3]
  • ما جابتش mā jābitš (She did not bring).[3]


Assimilation is a phonological process in Tunisian Arabic.[3] The possible assimilations are:

/ttˤ/ تْط > /tˤː/ طْط /tˤt/ طْت > /tˤː/ طْط /χh/ خْه > /χː/ خْخ /χʁ/ خْغ > /χː/ خْخ
/tɡ/ > /dɡ/ /fd/ > /vd/ /ħh/ > /ħː/ /nl/ > /lː/
/sd/ > /zd/ /td/ > /dː/ /dt/ > /tː/ /ln/ > /nː/
/hʕ/ > /ħː/ /tð/ > /dð/ /hħ/ > /ħː/ /nr/ > /rː/
/nf/ > /mf/ /qk/ > /qː/ /kq/ > /qː/ /lr/ > /rː/
/ndn/ > /nː/ /ħʕ/ > /ħː/ /ʁh/ > /χː/ /ʕh/ > /ħː/
/ʃd/ > /ʒd/ /fC/1 > /vC/1 /bC/2 > /pC/2 /nb/ > /mb/
/ʕħ/ > /ħː/ /tz/ > /d͡z/ /tʒ/ > /d͡ʒ/
  • ^1 Only if C is a voiced consonant.[3]
  • ^2 Only if C is a voiceless consonant.[3]



Tunisian Arabic qāf has [q] and [ɡ] as reflexes in respectively sedentary and nomadic varieties: he said is [qɑːl] instead of [ɡɑːl]). However, some words have the same form [ɡ] whatever the dialect: cow is always [baɡra][5] (the /g/ deriving from an originally Arabic [q]), and a specific species of date is always [digla][6] (the /g/ deriving from an originally Semitic [q] - e.g. Aramaic: /diqla/: date tree).

Interdental fricatives are also maintained for several situations, except in the Sahil dialect.[7]

Furthermore, Tunisian Arabic merged //ض⟩ with /ðˤ/ظ⟩.[8]

Consonant phonemes of Tunisian Arabic
Labial Interdental Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic plain emphatic  plain  emphatic
Nasal m m () n n ()
stop voiceless (p) p t t k k q q (ʔ)
voiced b b () d d ɡ g
Affricate voiceless (t͡s) ts (t͡ʃ)
voiced (d͡z) dz
Fricative voiceless f f θ s s ʃ š χ x ħ h h
voiced (v) v ð ð ðˤ z z () ʒ j ʁ ġ ʕ ʿ
Trill r r
Approximant l l ɫ j y w w

Phonetic notes:

  • /p/ and /v/ are found in borrowed words and are usually replaced by /b/, like in ḅāḅūr and ḅāla. However, they are preserved in some words, like pīsīn and talvza.[3]
  • /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡z/ are rarely used, for example tšīša, dzīṛa and dzāyir.[9]
  • Like in Standard Arabic, shadda "gemination" is very likely to occur in Tunisian. For example, haddad هدد meaning to threaten.[3]


Tunisian Arabic vowels. It is unclear if the vowels written a are allophones or phonemic.
Front Back
unrounded rounded
short long long short long
Close ɪ i ī () ü u u ū
Open-mid oral ā (œː) ë (ʊː) ʊ () o
nasal (ɛ̃) (ɔ̃)
Open (ɑ̃)
oral æ a ɐ a ɐː ā
  • Unlike other Maghrebi dialects,[citation needed] short u and i are reduced to [o] and [e] when written between two consonants unless when they are in stressed syllables.[10][11]

Syllables and pronunciation simplification[edit]

As well as those characteristics, Tunisian Arabic is also known for differently pronouncing words according to their orthography and position within a text.[12][13] This phenomenon is known as pronunciation simplification[14] and has four rules:

  • [iː] and [ɪ], at the end of a word, are pronounced [i] and [uː]. Also, [u] is pronounced [u] and [aː]. [ɛː], [a] and [æ] are pronounced [æ].[15][16] For example, yībdā is practically pronounced as [jiːbdæ][17][18]
  • If a word finishes with a vowel and the next word begins with a short vowel, the short vowel and the space between the two words are not pronounced (Elision).[2][19]
  • If a word begins with two successive consonants, an epenthetic [ɪ] is added at the beginning.[17]


  1. ^ Jabeur, M. (1987). A sociolinguistic study in Rades, Tunisia. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Reading: University of Reading.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Wise, H. (1983). Some functionally motivated rules in Tunisian phonology. Journal of Linguistics, 19(01), 165-181.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Chekili, F. (1982). The morphology of the Arabic dialect of Tunis (Doctoral dissertation, University of London).
  4. ^ a b Yun, S. (2013). To Metathesize or Not to Metathesize: Phonological and Morphological Constraints. XXVIIth Annual Arabic Linguistics Symposium. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  5. ^ (in French) Baccouche, T. (1972). Le phonème 'g' dans les parlers arabes citadins de Tunisie. Revue tunisienne de sciences sociales, 9(30-31), 103-137.
  6. ^ Abdellatif, K. (2010). Dictionnaire «le Karmous» du Tunisien
  7. ^ (in Italian) DURAND, O. (2007). L'arabo di Tunisi: note di dialettologia comparata. Dirāsāt Aryūliyya. Studi in onore di Angelo Arioli, 241-272.
  8. ^ Boussofara-Omar, H. (1999). Arabic Diglossic Switching in Tunisia: An Application of Myers-Scotton's MLF Model (̂Matrix Language Frame Model). (Doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin).
  9. ^ (in French) Ben Farah, A. (2008). Les affriquées en dialectal tunisien. In Atlas linguistique de Tunisie.
  10. ^ Abou Haidar, L. (1994). Norme linguistique et variabilité dialectale: analyse formantique du système vocalique de la langue arabe. Revue de Phonétique Appliquée, 110, 1-15.
  11. ^ Belkaid, Y. (1984). Arabic vowels, modern literature, spectrographic analysis. Phonetic Works Strasbourg Institution, 16, 217-240.
  12. ^ Ghazali, S., Hamdi, R., & Barkat, M. (2002). Speech rhythm variation in Arabic dialects. In Speech Prosody 2002 International Conference.
  13. ^ Newman, D., & Verhoeven, J. (2002). Frequency analysis of Arabic vowels in connected speech. Antwerp papers in linguistics., 100, 77-86.
  14. ^ Hudson, R. A. (1977). Arguments for a Non-transformational Grammar. University of Chicago Press.
  15. ^ (in French) Barkat, M. (2000). Détermination d'indices acoustiques robustes pour l'identification automatique des parlers arabes. De la caractérisation…… à l'identification des langues, 95.
  16. ^ Barkat-Defradas, M., Vasilescu, I., & Pellegrino, F. (2003). Stratégies perceptuelles et identification automatique des langues. Revue PArole, 25(26), 1-37.
  17. ^ a b (in German) Ritt-Benmimoun, V. (2005). Phonologie und Morphologie des arabi-sehen Dialekts der Marazig (Südtunesien) (Doctoral dissertation, Dissertation, Wien).
  18. ^ (in French) Angoujard, J. P. (1978). Le cycle en phonologie? L'accentuation en Arabe Tunisien. Analyses, Théorie, 3, 1-39.
  19. ^ Heath, J. (1997). Moroccan Arabic phonology. Phonologies of Asia and Africa (including the Caucasus), 1, 205-217.