Judeo-Tunisian Arabic

Judeo-Tunisian Arabic
Native to Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem District, Israel[1]
Houmt Souk, Djerba, Tunisia[2]
Tunis, Tunisia[3]
Gabes, Tunisia[4]
Native speakers
46,000 (1995)[5]
Arabic script[1]
Hebrew alphabet[1][6]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ajt
Glottolog jude1263[7]

Judeo-Tunisian Arabic is a variety of Tunisian Arabic mainly spoken by Jews living or formerly living in Tunisia.[6] Speakers are older adults, and the younger generation has only a passive knowledge of the language.[1]

The vast majority of Tunisian Jews have relocated to Israel and have shifted to Hebrew as their home language.[3][8] Those in France typically use French as their primary language, while the few still left in Tunisia tend to use either French or Tunisian Arabic in their everyday lives.[3][8]

Judeo-Tunisian Arabic is one of the Judeo-Arabic languages, a collection of Arabic dialects spoken by Jews living or formerly living in the Arab world.[6]


Before 1901

A Jewish community existed in what is today Tunisia even prior to Roman rule in Africa.[9] After the Arabic conquest of North Africa, this community began to use Arabic for their daily communication.[3] They had adopted the pre-Hilalian dialect of Tunisian Arabic as their own dialect.[3] As Jewish communities tend to be close-knit and isolated from the other ethnic and religious communities of their countries,[6] their dialect spread to their coreligionists all over the country[2][10] had not been in contact with the languages of the communities that invaded Tunisia in the middle age.[3][11] The primary language contact with regard to Judeo-Tunisian Arabic came from the languages of Jewish communities that fled to Tunisia as a result of persecution.[9] This explains why Judeo-Tunisian Arabic lacks influence from the dialects of the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, and has developed several phonological and lexical particularities that distinguish it from Tunisian Arabic.[11][12][13] This also explains why Judeo-Tunisian words are generally less removed from their ethymological origin than Tunisian words.[14]

After 1901

In 1901, Judeo-Tunisian became one of the main spoken Arabic dialects of Tunisia, with thousands of speakers.[9] Linguists noted the unique character of this dialect, and subjected it to study.[9] Among the people studying Judeo-Tunisian Arabic, Daniel Hagege listed a significant amount of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic newspapers from the early 1900s in his essay The Circulation of Tunisian Judeo-Arabic Books.[15] However, its emergence has significantly declined since 1948 due to the creation of Israel.[9] In fact, the Jewish community of Tunisia has either chosen to leave or was forced to leave Tunisia and immigrate to France or Israel.[3][8] Nowadays, the language is largely extinct throughout most of Tunisia, even if it is still used by the small Jewish communities in Tunis, Gabes and Djerba,[2][3][4] and most of the Jewish communities that have left Tunisia have chosen to change their language of communication to the main language of their current country.[3]

Language vitality

Judeo-Tunisian Arabic is believed to be vulnerable with only 500 speakers in Tunisia [16] and with about 45,000 speakers in Israel[17]

Variations of Judeo-Tunisian Arabic

In Tunisia, geography plays a huge role in how Judeo-Tunisian Arabic varies between speakers.[18] Yehudit Henshke found that these variations of Tunisian Judeo-Arabic can be divided by certain regions such as the North and South of Tunisia as well as the islands off the coast of the country. In addition, Judeo-Tunisian can vary based on the town in which it is spoken.[18]

Distinctives from Tunisian Arabic

Like all other Judeo-Arabic languages, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic does not seem to be very different from the Arabic dialect from which it derives, Tunisian Arabic.[3][6][19][20][21]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Raymond G. Gordon, Jr, ed. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 15th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  2. 1 2 3 4 (Hebrew) Henschke, J. (1991). Hebrew elements in the Spoken Arabic of Djerba. Massorot, 5-6, 77-118.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 (French) Cohen, D. (1975). Le parler arabe des Juifs de Tunis. La Haye: Mouton.
  4. 1 2 3 Sumikazu, Yoda. ""Sifflant" and "Chuitant" in the Arabic Dialect of the Jews of Gabes (south Tunisia)". Jounal of Arabic Linguistics. 46: 21. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  5. Judeo-Tunisian Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (French) Bar-Asher, M. (1996). La recherche sur les parlers judéo-arabes modernes du Maghreb: état de la question. Histoire épistémologie langage, 18(1), 167-177.
  7. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Judeo-Tunisian Arabic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  8. 1 2 3 Bassiouney, R. (2009). Arabic sociolinguistics. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 104.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Leddy-Cecere, T. A. (2010). Contact, Restructuring, and Decreolization: The Case of Tunisian Arabic. University of Pennsylvania, pp. 47-71.
  10. (French) Saada, L. (1956). Introduction à l'étude du parler arabe des juifs de Sousse.
  11. 1 2 3 (French) Vanhove, M. (1998). De quelques traits préhilaliens en maltais. Aguade et al., ed, 97-108.
  12. 1 2 3 4 (French) Cohen, D. (1970). Les deux parlers arabes de Tunis. Notes de phonologie comparee. In his Etudes de linguistique semitique et arabe, 150(7).
  13. (French) Caubet, D. (2000). Questionnaire de dialectologie du Maghreb (d'après les travaux de W. Marçais, M. Cohen, GS Colin, J. Cantineau, D. Cohen, Ph. Marçais, S. Lévy, etc.). Estudios de dialectología norteafricana y andalusí, EDNA, (5), 73-90.
  14. Aslanov, C. (2016). Remnants of Maghrebi Judeo-Arabic among French-born Jews of North-African Descent. Journal of Jewish Languages, 4(1), 69-84.
  15. Tobi, Joseph (2014). Judeo-Arabic Literature In Tunisia, 1850-1950. Detroit,Michigan: Wayne State University Press. pp. 241–320. ISBN 978-0-8143-2871-2.
  16. "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger". Unesco.org. UNESCO. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  17. "Arabic, Judeo-Tunisian". Ethologue Languages of the World. Ethnologue. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  18. 1 2 Henshke, Yehudit (2010). "Different Hebrew Traditions: Mapping Regional Distinctions in the Hebrew Component of Spoken Tunisian Judeo-Arabic". Studies in the History and Culture of North African Jewry: 109. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  19. 1 2 Talmoudi, Fathi (1979) The Arabic Dialect of Sûsa (Tunisia). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
  20. Hammet, Sandra (2014). "Irregular verbs in Maltese and Their Counterparts in The Tunisian and Moroccan Dialects" (PDF). Romano-Arabica. 14: 193–210. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  21. Arevalo, Tania Marica Garcia (2014). "The General Linguistic Features of Modern Judeo-Arabic Dialects in the Maghreb". Zutot. 11: 54–56. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  22. Cuvalay, M. (1991). The expression of durativity in Arabic. The Arabist, Budapest studies in Arabic, 3-4, 146.
  23. Chetrit, J. (2014). Judeo-Arabic Dialects in North Africa as Communal Languages: Lects, Polylects, and Sociolects. Journal of Jewish Languages, 2(2), 202-232.
  24. Cohen, D. (1985). Some historical and sociolinguistic observations on the arabic dialects spoken by north african Jews. Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages. Leiden: Brill, 246-260.

Further reading

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