A Practical Guide for Elyssa Alphabet. A Latin Script to teach Tunisian Arabic for young Diaspora

by Ramzi Hachani Houcemeddine Turki

Elaboration 2016 16 Pages

Orientalism / Sinology - Arabistic



Taken into consideration that Maltese is developed from Tunisian Arabic, it is clearly seen that Maltese Latin Script orthography is the most appropriate one for Tunisian Arabic. It will be not consequently useful to try to create a new Latin Script orthography for Tunisian and forget about the existence of an efficient Latin Script orthography that is issued from 500 years of important linguistic research.

In this practical guide, we adapt the Maltese Latin Script orthography to create our Elyssa writing method in order to be used to teach Tunisian Arabic for young Tunisian Diaspora that is not familiar with common Arabic Script.


Maltese, Tunisian Arabic, Latin Script, Orthography


Nowadays, many children of Tunisian descent are born in Europe and North America each year as over one million Tunisian people are living there (Office of Tunisians abroad, 2012; INSEE, 2011). These children are always using European languages and the Latin Script in Education and daily contact. So, it will be difficult and useless for them to learn Arabic Script as they will only use it for learning Tunisian Arabic, the Arabic dialect of their parents. Consequently, these children will not learn efficiently to communicate in Tunisian Arabic and they will unfortunately never get in touch with their close relatives in Tunisia…

That is why I think that developing a Latin Script for Tunisian would help these children learn to speak this Arabic dialect. This Latin Writing System should be as phonetic as possible and absolutely simplified so that it can be easily used in practice to read books and works in Tunisian Arabic (Karan, 2006; Robinson & Gadelii, 2003). In fact, it is useless to let this Latin orthography get influenced by the Modern Standard Arabic morphology and orthography as these students would not use it to learn the etymology of the dialect (Karan, 2006; Robinson & Gadelii, 2003).

Before 2015, there were several trials to use Latin Script for Tunisian (Stumme, 1896; Jourdan, 1937; Inglefield, 1970; Canamas, Neyreneuf, & Villet, 2009). However, they had not been widely adopted because they did not involve precise orthographic guidelines or because they had confusing ones.

I think that this is intuitive as a Writing System should be adjusted several times so that it can be simpler and practical. However, this is not what happened for these ones.

I also think that they spent their time on doing something useless. In fact, Maltese linguists have spent 500 years to succeed in developing a simple Latin Script for their language that was originally developed from Tunisian Arabic (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997). Nowadays, this developed Latin Script Writing System is practical, has precise orthographic guidelines and made teaching Maltese easier (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997). It will be absurd if we do not use it in writing Tunisian. That is why I decided to adapt it to Tunisian Arabic in order to create an efficient writing system that was entitled Elyssa Alphabet in 2015 after my child who lives abroad since her early childhood, likes to learn the dialect of her father but finds difficulties to learn it with the Arabic Script. What had also encouraged me is the success of Le petit Nicolas en arabe maghrébin in France (Goscinny & Sempé, 2013; Lazaridis, 2013). In fact, Caubet in this book has applied Maltese orthography guidelines on Maghrebi Arabizi and has succeeded to let Arabizi transcription more intelligible and practical for Maghrebi speakers (Goscinny & Sempé, 2013).

In this brief booklet, I will try to give an overview about the guidelines of this new writing system and I will provide practical examples of the application of this method to samples in Tunisian Arabic.

Ramzi Hachani

New York, Saturday 12 March 2016


I have to thank reviewers (Tunisians and non-Tunisians, linguists and non-specialists) for their useful comments. I have also to thank Dr. Ferid Chekili for his useful and precise proposals to adjust the structure of this new writing system


As explained, Elyssa Latin Script writing system is based on Maltese Alphabet and Writing system. It is evident that Elyssa Alphabet will include all the graphemes of the Maltese one. That is why it involves 4 borrowed graphemes (ċ, ġ, ħ, ż) further than the basic Latin Script (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997). As there are some phonemes that have been dropped from Maltese and that still exist in Tunisian Arabic (Borg A. , 1997) and as there are some phonemes that are represented by digraphs (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997) , we have chosen to assign a grapheme with a diacritic for each of them to avoid reading difficulties. The first preference in choosing diacritics of these graphemes will be always given to the stroke diacritic because it is attached to the character and by that it is the most easily recognizable diacritic for readers (Wedekind & Wedekind, 1997) .

1. Consonants

- During over 500 years of development, [ð], [s], [ʔ], [θ] and [t] had disappeared from Maltese (Borg A. , 1997; Fabri, 2010). However, they still exist and are commonly used in Tunisian Arabic (Chekili, 1982). That is why we assigned four graphemes (respectively đ, ṡ, `, c and ŧ) to them.
- Affricates are not very common in Tunisian (Ben Farah, 2008). However, Maltese has borrowed [t-ʃ], [d-ʒ] and [d-z] from Italian and represents them respectively as ċ, ġ and z. So, we decided to use ċ, z and ż (originally used for [z]) to respectively represent [ʃ], [z] and [ð] that are not represented in Maltese (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997; Borg A. , 1997). We had also decided to transcribe [ʕ] as ġ instead of the Maltese għ digraph as there are some words in Tunisian that involve [għ] within them like [għir] (to frown).
- ·We have chosen to represent [ʁ] as ɍ instead of the gh digraph that is commonly used in Tunisian Latin writing systems to avoid its confusion with [gh] that is used as a nomadic pronunciation of [qh] in Tunisian Arabic (Baccouche, Skik, & Attia, 1969).
- As [ʃ] is represented as ċ, x will be used to represent [χ]. We represented [ʒ] as j and We have chosen to represent [j] as y and not j so that the letters would be more intuitive.

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2. Vowels

- As Maltese has developed from Tunisian Arabic, their vowels seem to be significantly similar (Borg A. , 1997; Fabri, 2010; Chekili, 1982) . That is why we adopted the common short Maltese Vowels in the new system without adjustments. We will only represent long vowels as à, è, ì, ò and ù because long vowels in Maltese are represented by digraphs or like short vowels (Borg A. , 1997) and this can cause confusion to readers (UNESCO Organization, 1978).

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Orthographic Guidelines:

As Maltese orthographic guidelines are practical and simple and the morphology of Maltese does not vary a lot from the one of Tunisian Arabic, the orthographic guidelines of Maltese will be adopted for writing Tunisian Arabic using Elyssa Alphabet (Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997) :

- Coordination و is transcribed as u and is always separated from the nouns after them. For example, hezzìt il-kursi u ŧ-ŧàwle
- It is influenced by the main facts of phonological simplification:
- Final vowels are always written as short (Angoujard, 1978) .
- When a word starts with a short vowel and it is written after a vowel finishing word, this word beginning short vowel is dropped (Gibson, 2009; Maamouri M. , 1967; Heath, 1997; Singer, 1984).
- The Elyssa system is not influenced by assimilation: Words are transcribed according to their morphology. For example, متاعها is transcribed as mtèġhe and not mtèħħe.
- Il- determinant meaning The is transcribed as it is pronounced and is separated from the noun after it by a hyphen. In fact, The i of il- is dropped when it is written after a vowel finishing word or in the beginning of the sentence and The l of il- is doubled when before a vowel and is substituted by the next vowel when it is a Sun consonant such as n, t, d, s, z, j, l, r, c, ċ, ṡ, ŧ, ż and đ (Singer, 1984; Borg & Azzopardi-Alexander, 1997).
- Suffixed Proclitics and Prepositions like b’ and f’ are separated from nouns after them by ‘. This ‘ is silent in this particular situation. For example: Ġe’ŧ-ŧàwle
- Geminated Consonant or Shaddah is transcribed as doubled letters. For example, Dexxàl id-dyàr emme kilme twjgħu welle kelb yifjġu.
- In order to avoid reading confusion caused by vowel reduction, short ḍamma is transcribed as u even if it is pronounced as [o] when written between two consonants and short kasra is transcribed as i even if it is pronounced as [e] when written between two consonants (Abou Haidar, 1994).
- The punctuation rules are the same as in Maltese and in several other European languages like Italian.


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Practical Examples:

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practical guide elyssa alphabet latin script tunisian arabic diaspora




Title: A Practical Guide for Elyssa Alphabet. A Latin Script to teach Tunisian Arabic for young Diaspora