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This article is about a general description of the language. For the grammatical cases and conjugation, see Tunisian Arabic morphology. Tunisian Arabic, or Tunisian, is a set of dialects of Maghrebi Arabic spoken in Tunisia. As part of a dialect continuum, Tunisian merges into Algerian Arabic and Libyan Arabic at the borders of the country. Tunisian Arabic is mostly intelligible to speakers of other Maghrebi dialects but is hard to understand or is unintelligible for speakers of Middle Eastern Arabic.
However, code-switching between Tunisian Arabic and modern standard Arabic is mainly done by more educated and upper-class people and has not negatively affected the use of more recent French and English loanwords in Tunisian. Moreover, Tunisian Arabic is closely related to Maltese, which is a separate language that descended from Tunisian and Siculo-Arabic. Tunisian Arabic is one of the Arabic languages within the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. During classical antiquity, Tunisia’s population spoke Berber languages related to the Numidian language. Indeed, migrants from Phoenicia settled Tunisia during the 12th to the 2nd century BC, founded ancient Carthage and progressively mixed with the local population. After the arrival of Romans, following the fall of Carthage in 146 BC, the coastal population spoke mainly Punic, but that influence decreased away from the coast.
Classical Arabic began to be installed as a governmental and administrative language in Tunisia that was called then Ifriqiya from its older name Africa during the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb in 673. Many Tunisian and Maghrebi words, like qarnīṭ, have a Latin etymology. The dialects were later called Pre-Hilalian Arabic dialects and were used along Classical Arabic for communication in Tunisia. By the mid-11th century, the Banu Hilal immigrated to rural northern and central Tunisia and Banu Sulaym immigrated to southern Tunisia. By the 15th century, after the Reconquista and subsequent decline of the formerly Arabic-speaking al-Andalus, many Andalusians immigrated to the Tunisian main coastal cities.
During the 17th to the 19th centuries, Tunisia came under Spanish, then Ottoman rule and hosted Morisco then Italian immigrants from 1609. During the French protectorate of Tunisia, the country encountered the Standard French language. However, the same period was characterized by the rise of interest toward Tunisian Arabic. Indeed, this period was the beginning of the spread of the formal use of Tunisian Arabic as by Taht Essour. Also, more research about Tunisian was produced, mainly by French and German linguists. By the Tunisian independence in 1956, Tunisian Arabic was spoken only in coastal Tunisia while the other regions spoke Algerian Arabic, Libyan Arabic or several Berber dialects. That is why Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba began a trial of Arabization and Tunisification of Tunisia and spread free basic education for all Tunisians.