What Language Is Spoken In Tunisia?

Asma Wahba

Author

Asma Wahba

If you want to know what language is spoken in Tunisia, then it might surprise you to discover that "Arabic" isn't the only answer. In fact, like other Arabic-speaking countries, the official language of Tunisia is not actually a native language to its inhabitants at all (see below). Tunisia has a rich cultural and linguistic history stretching back thousands of years to groups like the Romans, Carthaginians and Vandals before the arrival of the Arabs.

What language is spoken in Tunisia?

Arabic (Tunisian Dialect and Modern Standard Arabic)

Tunisian Arabic is the dominant spoken language of Tunisia. This is a colloquial dialect (darja) that is very close to Maltese (in fact, many argue it's the same language). There are also many similarities to neighboring dialects like Algerian and Moroccan (Maghrebi), Libyan and Egyptian.

It's important to note that the official Arabic of Tunisia is, in fact, Modern Standard Arabic and not spoken Tunisian. MSA is the literary language that is derived from its ancestor, Classical Arabic (the language of the Quran). Although the entire country is able to read, write and speak MSA, it is not used in day-to-day spoken discourse outside of professional contexts (media, academia, politics, etc.).

Tunisian Arabic is heavily influenced not only by MSA, but also Berber and French.

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Berber (Amazigh)

Berber (Amazigh / Tamazight) refers to a cluster of languages or dialects that have been spoken continuously in Tunisia and other parts of North Africa since antiquity (going right back to the Numidian pre-Carthage/Phoenician era).

Often referred to as shelha in Tunisia, Amazigh languages do not have official language status in Tunisia yet. These languages (Chenini, Matmata, Douiret, and Tamezrett) are spoken primarily in small pockets in the southern desert areas of Tunisia.

Berber is written using Tifinagh, an abjad that is derived from its ancient ancestor.

French

The French colonial past of Tunisia has left its mark on Tunisia's linguistic landscape, as French is still widely used (though there are signs that it is in decline).

Tunisian Arabic also contains many loanwords from French.

French is increasingly considered to be a prestige language in Tunisia, used more frequently in academia and professional settings.

Other languages in Tunisia

Tunisian Arabic, Berber and French are the not the only languages spoken in Tunisia.

English, like most places in North Africa, is a popular language that many people - especially youths - have at least a functional proficiency in.

Tunisian Sign Language is also used by the Tunisian deaf community.


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