Rules of Standard Maghrebi. Towards a Pan-Dialectal Orthography

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2016

27 Pages

Emad Adel (Author)

Free online reading

Table of Contents



Latin script
Writing rules
Grammar rules
Vocabulary rules

Arabic script
General writing rules


Rules of Standard Maghrebi

Emad Adela, Houcemeddine Turkib

a Sbikha 1979 High School, Sbikha, Kairouan, Tunisia

b B.Sc. Student, Faculty of Medicine of Sfax, University of Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia


Maghrebi is a dialect continuum extending from Tunisia to Morocco with millions of native speakers. However, no standard dialect has been created for this variety and there are limited trials to create a pan-dialectal orthography for it. This booklet is just a trial to solve this problem through the adoption of the excellent aspects of the created orthographies for the main variants of Maghrebi Arabic and the consideration of the morphology and the phonology of each of the Maghrebi Arabic dialects.


Maghrebi is a dialect continuum extending from Tunisia to Morocco with millions of native speakers (Caubet, 1999; Tilmatine, 1999). However, no standard dialect has been created for it (Canamas, Neyreneuf, & Villet, 2009) and even Maghrebi variants are rarely used in literature works (Caubet, 1999).

Different writing systems were suggested for Moroccan (Daouda & Regragui, 2012; Caubet, 1999; Benjelloun, 2002), Algerian (Marçais, 1902; Saadane & Habash, 2015), and Tunisian (Stumme, 1896; Jourdan, 1913; Younes & Souissi, 2014; Zribi, Boujelbane, Masmoudi, Ellouze, Belguith, & Habash, 2014). However, limited trials are done to create a pan-dialectal writing system (Canamas, Neyreneuf, & Villet, 2009; Turki, Daouda, Adel, Regragui, Zribi, & Kerbouche, 2015).

Here, we will review these writing systems about Maghrebi and create another one that takes into consideration the advantages of each of the orthographies (Differentiation of proclitics and determinants from word beginning letters, Rules that ameliorated the convertibility of Latin Script to Arabic Script) and try to avoid their deficiencies (Representation of useless consonants, Lack of convertibility of the Latin Script to Arabic Script, Several Rules causing confusion, Lack of representation of the morphology of Maghrebi Arabic, Lack of significance in the choice of several Latin Letters).

We will also try to compare the morphology of Tunisian Arabic (Singer, 1984; Talmoudi, 1979), Algerian Arabic (Souag, 2005; Marçais, 1902) and Moroccan Arabic(Harrell, 1962; Youssi, 1992) in order to define the basics of a Standard Maghrebi language which can be used by all Maghrebis regardless of their dialect.

Latin script

Writing rules

The Maghrebi alphabet is the same as Berber Latin alphabet.

Ř is never used.

Č and Ǧ are rarely used (usually for borrowed words).

O is used instead of U for the vowel /u/.

‹ʷ› is not used. ‹°› is used instead.

Ö is used for French eu and U is used for French u.

‹’› apostrophe is used to indicate a glottal stop in words borrowed from Arabic.

e› is used to clarify the meaning or the pronunciation of a given word. It usually represents the sound [ə]. It can be pronounced [ŭ] in the presence of ‹°›, and it can be pronounced [ă] in the presence of an emphatic consonant. Most of the times, it is not written and it is only used when three consonants of a syllable have a Schwa between the first and second consonant rather than the second and the third: C1C2C3 > C1eC2C3

Some words might be pronounced C1eC2C3 or C1C2eC3, they are written C1C2C3 if this would not cause a confusion with another word. Eg. ḥenc and ḥnec are written ḥnc.

When two identical consonants are next to each other but there is no germination between them: C1C2C2 > C1C2eC2

Next to prepositions composed of one letter: le “to”, be “with”

Next to the suffix of the 2nd Sing. in the past.

°› represents labio-velarization. This latter might be dropped in some dialects, or in the speech of younger generations.

‹°› is only written to avoid confusing a word with another one:

- An adjective and a verb. Eg. kbar “he has grown up” and k°bar “big (pl.)”

The imperative form of a verb. Eg. skt “he shut up” and sk°t “shut up!”

qtl “he killed” and q°tl “kill!”

- A noun and an adjective. Eg. xḍra “green” and x°ḍra “vegetables”

- ‹°› is not written if not writing it doesn’t result in confusion for the reader. Hence, we say ɣ°zal but we write ɣzal. We also say [mɔxː] but wr write mxx.

- [fˤʷː] and [mˤʷː] are written ‹fw› and ‹mw›.

Ṛ represents [rˤ] which is usually an allophone of /r/ in the presence of emphatic consonants or /q/, /ɣ/, and /x/.

- Ṛ is only used if no other emphatic letter is present near /r/ and it is not next to a Schwa, /u/ or /i/. Or, if not writing it results in a confusion for the reader. Eg. ṛayb, ṭriq, raṣ, faṛ, fkrun, terbya.

If a word can be pronounced with and without emphatic consonant (ṭbsi and tbsi) and dropping the emphatic consonant doesn’t change the word, then, we use the non-emphatic consonant (tbsi)

- If there is a known root for the word (i.e. the word is not borrowed for example), then all the words derived from that root shall contain the same consonants, even if the pronunciation change.

- The only exception here is emphatic Ṛ.

Diphthongs do not exist, and they are replaced with /i/ and /u/. Hence, we write ‹zit›, ‹ḍo› and ‹xof›.

- If ‹ew› or ‹ey› occur in a doubled syllable, then, they are not replaced with ‹o› and ‹i›. Eg. xwwf, zyyt, zyyn.

- If the word doesn’t represent a verb and doesn’t have a common noun structure, then, the doubled diphthongs are dropped. Eg. huwa and hiya.

- The suffix of gender in words such as Tonsiya is always written -iya and note -yya.

A noun/verb/preposition and an affix are always separated with a hyphen. Eg. daṛ-i “my house”

- If two affixes or more are added to a noun/verb/preposition, a hyphen separates between the different affixes. Eg. ma ɛṭit-ha-l-o-ci or ma ɛṭit-ha-ci li-h “I did not give it to him”

- Composed prepositions can be attached with a hyphen. Eg. kll-mn

The articles and nouns are always separated by a hyphen. Eg. l-bab “the door”, c-cems “the sun”.

- ‹j› is always considered as a lunar consonant, hence, we use ‹l-› with it.

- Indefinite articles are not recommended. However, if written, they should follow the form waḥed (definite article)-noun. Eg. waḥd n-nhaṛ “a day”

Consonant assimilations are never written.

First letter of proper nouns and first letter of a sentence are always written in uppercase.

Proper nouns doesn’t follow the rules of hyphens and ignoring assimilation described above. Eg. Lɛrbi (a given name), Dzayr “Algeria”

All letters of last names are written in uppercase.

Punctuation rules are the same as French.

- A dot after a digit denotes an ordinal number. Eg. 1. means the first.

Grammar rules


There are only two aspects, the past and the present.

Affixes of the past (the accomplished):

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Affixes of the present (unaccomplished):

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Affixes of the imperative:

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An imperative sentence is always followed by an exclamation mark ‹!›

The conjugation of the verb depends on the type of its root

Triliteral verbs (composed of three radicals) can be:

“Strong”; composed of three strong consonants. Eg. qtl “to kill”

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New verbs can be derived from existing ones

For triliteral verbs:

Doubling the medial radical

Inserting ‹a› between the first and the second radicals

Inserting ‹a› between the second and the last radicals

Prefixing ‹t› to the original verb, the theme i, or the theme ii

Prefixing ‹n›

Prefixing ‹st›

Infixing ‹t› after the first radical.

For quadriliteral and quinqueliteral verbs

- Prefixing ‹t› to the verb. ttrjm, tkonnkta.

The use of ‹ka› and ‹taw› is not recommended, however, they can be used if they are needed to clarify the meaning of a text.

The future is formed by adding mac or mec before the verb in the present: mc nji “I’ll come”.

- ɣadi can also be used. The short form ɣa- is not used.


The dual is expressed following by zoj + noun in the plural. The suffix -in is never used.

The plural can be expressed by suffixing -in, at and a, called regular plural, or by changing the structure of the word (infixing), called broken plural. The rules of regular plural are simple and unchangeable, therefore, in Standard Maghrebi exclusively, it is possible to use the regular plural with every noun. Eg. mdrsa: Reg. Pl. mdrsat, Broken Pl. mdars kaɣṭ: Reg. Pl. kaɣtin, Brk. Pl. kwaɣṭ

Since limiting the plural to the regular one only, makes the language very unnatural, broken plurals can be used too, but with a limited number of structures.

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The elative form of an adjective doesn’t start with ‹e›. Eg. kbr, xff, ḍɛf.

The definite article is l-

- If l- is followed by a solar consonant, then it is assimilated to it.
- The solar consonants are: L, R, Ṛ, N, S, Ṣ, Ẓ, T, Ṭ, D, Ḍ, C, Č, and J.

The indefinite article waḥed l- is not used, except in expressions such as waḥed n-nhaṛ (the expression nhaṛ me n-nhaṛat has the same meaning).

The construct state is achieved by suffixing -t to the noun. Eg. mdrst Milod.

It is recommended to use a preposition rather than the construct state. Eg. l-mdrsa taɛ Milod.

The prepositions used for genitive construction are (m)taɛ and dyal.


Cardinal numbers

If a number from 11 to 19 is followed by a noun, then, -n is suffixed to the number. Eg. ḥdacn ṛajl Ordinal numbers

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The personal pronouns are: ana, nti, howa, hiya, ḥna, ntoma, homa.

Object pronouns are:

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The demonstratives are hada, hadi, and hadu (final vowel is dropped before the definite article) for near and hadak, hadik, and haduk for far.

Vocabulary rules

Pan-dialectal words are prefered over the words which are limited to one koiné. Regional words should not be used.

Words like tagẓẓart or taḥddat must not be used. Instead, morphologically correct words such as jẓara and ḥdada must be used.

If no common word can be found, the writer can borrow a word from Arabic or French after respelling it.

Some words are borrowed twice, from two different sources. If there is an older one, then it should be used. Otherwise, both can be used interchangeably. Eg. we use makina and not macina, we use kimya and not cimi, however, we can use both kojina and kozina, with the latter being more prefered, since it is more common.

New words can be created and borrowing from French, Spanish/Italian (if the same word exists in both languages), and English is recommended when no native word exists.

- It is possible to add borrowed affixes to native Maghrebi word to create words with new meanings.

- Words borrowed from any language must follow Maghrebi spelling rules.

In order to avoid regional differences, the French months are used, but respelled following Maghrebi writing rules.

- Janvi, Fivri, Mars, Avril, May, Jwan, Jwilya, Ot, Sptombr, Oktobr, Novombr, Disombr


W ma tdiro-c kif-ma ydiro nas had d-dnya, w lakn, tbddlo w xlliw l-afkar dyal-kom tetjddd, bac teɛrfo mṛad Allah l-mzyan w l-mqbol w l-kaml.

— Roma 12:1, l-Ktab l-Mqdds (From Moroccan and Tunisian translations of the Bible)

1 Ida kent ntkllm be loɣat n-nas w l-mlayka w ma ɛend-i-c l-mḥbba, ṛani nḥas yṭnṭn w naqos yẓnẓn. 2 W ida kant ɛend-i l-mohba dyal n-nbowa, w nɛrf gaɛ l-asṛaṛ w l-ɛelm kll-o, w ida kan ɛend-i iman kaml bac nḥwwl j-jbal w ma ɛend-i-c l-mḥbba, ṛani ma nswa walo. 3 W ida tṣddeqt be kll-ma nmlk, w ida ɛṭit bdn-i bac ytḥrq, w lakn ma ɛend-i-c l-mḥbba, ṛah had c-ci moc mc ynfɛ-ni be ḥaja. 4 L-mḥbba tṣbr w tḥnn, l-mḥbba ma tḥsd-c, l-mḥbba ma tetfaxr-c w ma tetkbbr-c. 5 L-mḥbba ma tetṣrrf-c blac terbya, w ma tqllb-c ɛla l-meṣlḥa taɛ-ha, w ma tetqllq-c be shola, w ma tɛql-c ɛla c-crr. 6 L-mḥbba ma tfrḥ-c be ḍ-ḍelm , w lakn tfrḥ be l-ḥqq. 7 Tsamḥ ɛla kll-ci, w tatq be kll-ci, w tetrjja kll-ci, w tṣbr ɛla kll-ci. 8 L-mḥbba ɛmr-ha ma mc tfcl [...]

— Korntos l-owla 13:1-8 (From Moroccan and Tunisian translations of the Bible)

Si Pontellier kan labs mrayat. W kan ṛajl taɛ ḥkayt ṛbɛin sna, ṭol-o mtwṣṣṭ w bdn-o rhyyf, w ḍɛif; kant ɛend-o ḥdba ṣɣira zada. Cɛr-o kan bnni w rṭb ḥrir, mmcoṭ ɛla jnb. Lḥyt-o kant mḥjjma be l-bahi. [...]

— Tani ṣfḥa, owl capiṭro, “The Awakening, Kate Chopin” (From La langue tunisienne “derja”, Facebook)

Almanya (/alˤˈmˤanya/; Be l-Almaniya: Deutschland [ˈdɔʏtʃlant]), be l-forma ṭ-ṭwila j-Jmhoriya l-Fdraliya taɛ Almanya (Be l-Almaniya: Bundesrepublik Deutschland), hiya jmhoriya fdraliya brlamaniya fe weṣṭ Oropa, mdwwra be bḥr c-Camal, d-Danmaṛk, w bḥr l-Blṭiq me c-camal, be Polonya w č-Čak me c-cerq, be Oṣṭriya w Swisra me l-janob, w be Fṛanṣa, Loksmborg, Bljika, w Holanda me l-ɣerb. Almanya blad moc merkaziya (mdisonṭralizya) w fdraliya, fi-ha 4 miṭropolat be ktr mnn mlyon sakn: l-ɛaṣma Berlin, zyada ɛla Hamborg, München, w Köln. Qṣr l-ḥkoma mojod fe l-mdina taɛ Berlin w fe l-mdina l-fdraliya taɛ Bonn. L-mdina taɛ Frankfurt yɛtbro-ha l-ɛaṣma l-qtiṣadiya taɛ Almanya.

— Wikipedya, l-mosoɛa l-ḥorra (Translated from the French-language article about Germany)

Arabic script

General writing rules

The alphabet is the same as Arabic

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‹ة› is used at the end of feminine singular nouns ending with /a/, unless the word is borrowed or is a proper noun. Eg. سوريا

‹ڔ› is pronounced /rˤ/. It is used to avoid confusion. If the meaning can be understood from the context, then, normal ‹ر› can be used.

‹ژ› is pronounced /zˤ/. It is also used to avoid confusion and it can be replaced by the normal ‹ز› is the meaning can be understood without confusion from the context.

‹ڨ› and ‹ڭ› are pronounced /g/.

‹ڨ› is used in Tunisian and Algerian names. It is also used when a consonant is originally pronounced /q/.

‹ڭ› is used for Moroccan names. It is also used when a consonant is originally pronounced /k/.

To reduce regional differences, words with the sound /g/ can be spelled with ‹ق› or ‹غ› (for borrowed words especially) if this doesn’t result in any confusion. However, if there any confusion, the user is free to use whatever variant of /g/ he prefers.

The vowel sign sukun is used only when a Schwa, in a three consonants syllable, falls between the first and second consonant instead of the second and the third ones. Though, marking the Schwa is not necessary if the meaning of the word can be known by the context.

The glottal stop is always written ‹ئ›.

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Words can be spelled following Modern Standard Arabic if they are recently borrowed from it. Short unstressed vowels of Arabic words are reduced in Maghrebi, hence a word like ṭabiiɛa would be pronounced ṭbiɛa, therefore ṭabiiɛiyya should be pronounced ṭbiɛiya in Maghrebi, however, it is not usually pronounced like that since it is a recent borrowing from Arabic. Hence, it is written following the Arabic spelling.

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The plural C1C2aC3i/a is written with an Alif Maqsura or a Persian Ye at the end in order to minimize regional dialectal differences.

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Scientific and technical terms ones are rarely or never borrowed from Arabic and they are usually borrowed from French. They are always written in Latin script to avoid ambiguity.?

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Sometimes a Maghrebi name might exist, therefore, it should be used.

/θ/ and /ð/ can be written following Arabic spelling but dropping them is also possible.

The article is the same as Arabic.

Prepositions are always disconnected from the noun.

Some words might have different dialectal pronunciations, in this case, it is recommended to follow the original Arabic spelling rather than the phonetic spelling of the word.

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The use of Arabic script doesn’t mean borrowing every missing word from Arabic. New words should be created, if not possible, then we borrow the most usual words for the speaker.

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An Arabic proper name is spelled the same way as in Arabic if it wasn’t completely adopted in Maghrebi. Otherwise, the same rules described above are applied.

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و ما تديروش كيفما يديرو ناس هاد الدّنيا و لاكن تبدّلو و خلّيو الأفكار ديالكم تتجدّد، باش تعرفو مڔاد الله المزيان و المقبول و الكامل.

— ڔوما 12:1، الكتاب المقدّس

1 ايذا كنْت نتكلّم ب لوغات النّاس و الملايكة و ما عنديش المحبّة، ڔاني نحاس يطنطن و ناقوس يژنژن. 2 و ايذا كانت عندي الموهبة ديال النبوّة، و نعرف ڨاع الأسڔاڔ و العلم كلّو، و ايذا كان عندي ايمان كامل باش نحوّل جبل وما عنديش المحبّة، ڔاني ما نسوا والو. 3 و ايذا فصدّقت ب كلّما نملك، و ايذا عطيت بدني باش يتحرق، و لاكن ما عنديش المحبّة، ڔاه هاذ الشّي موش ماش ينفعني ب حاجة. 4 المحبّة تصبر و تحنّ، المحبّة، المحبّة ما تحسدش، المحبّة ما تتفاخرش و ما تتكبّرش. 5 المحبّة ما تتصرّفش بلاش تربية، وما تقلّبش ع المصْلحة تاعها، وما تتقلّقش ب سهولة، وما تعقلش ع الشرّ. 6 المحبّة ما تفرحش ب الضّلم، ولاكن تفرح ب الحقّ. 7 تسامح على كلّشي، وتاثق ب كلّشي، وتترجّا كلّشي، و تصبر على كلّشي. 8 المحبّة عمرها ما مش تفشل [..]

— كورنتوس الاوّلة، الكتاب المقدّس

سي پونتلياي كان لابس مرايات. وكان ڔاجل تاع حكاية اڔبعين سنة، طولو متوسّط و بدنو رهيّف و ضعيف، كانت عندو حدبة صغيرة زادة. شعرو كان بنّي و ارطب حرير، ممشوط على جنب. لحيتو كانت محجّمة ب الباهي [...]

— ثاني صفحة، اوّل شاپيطرو، «The Awakening, Kate Chopin»

ألمانيا (/alˤˈmˤanya/، ب الألمانيّة:Deutschland)، ب الفورمة الطّويلة الجّمهوريّة الفدراليّة تاع ألمانيا (ب الألمانيّة:Bundesrepublik Deutschland)، هيّا جمهوريّة فدراليّة برلامانيّة ف وسط اوروبا، مدوّرة ب بحر الشّمال، الدّنمارك، و بحر البلطيق م الشّمال، ب پولونيا و التّشاك م الشّرق، ب اوصتريا و سويسرا م الجنوب، و ب فڔانسا، لوكسمبورغ، بلجيكا، و هولندا م الغرب. ألمانيا بلاد موش مركزيّة (مديصونتراليزيا) و فدراليّة، فيها 4 ميطروپولات ب اكثر من مليون ساكن: العاصمة برلين، زيادة على هامبورغ، ميونخ، و كولن. قصر الحكومة موجود ف المدينة تاع برلين و ف المدينة الفدراليّة تاع بونّ. المدينة تاع فرانكفورت يعتبروها العاصمة الاقتصاديّة تاع ألمانيا.

— ويكيپديا، الموسوعة الحرّة


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Translation to Standard Maghrebi

Emad Adel

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Rules of Standard Maghrebi. Towards a Pan-Dialectal Orthography
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Emad Adel (Author)Houcemeddine Turki (Author), 2016, Rules of Standard Maghrebi. Towards a Pan-Dialectal Orthography, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • Houcemeddine Turki on 2/18/2016

    Explanation Details in French:
    On a vu l'existence que les transcriptions latines des dialectes arabes sont essentiellement phonologiques. Cela signifie que les transcriptions ne considèrent pas la morphologie des dialectes et ils sont surtout influencés par le phénomène de la simplification phonologie. Par exemple, les voyelles notées a ou e à la fin d'un mot peut signifier Alif Maqsura, Alif Mad ou Ta Magluqa. Un autre exemple est l'écriture du déterminant "il-" qui peut être considéré comme "il-", "ill-" ou "le-" selon sa prononciation.
    C'est pour cela que Mr. Mohamed Maâmouri a proposé en 2003 et 2004 une orthographe basée sur celle de l'arabe moderne standard pour les dialectes arabes. Ceci était efficace pour éliminer ces simplifications phonologiques. Néanmoins, cette nouvelle orthographe ne considère pas les particularités phonologiques des dialectes arabes car elle est basée seulement sur les lettres arabes de base. Il ne transcrit pas certaines lettres emphatiques. Il ne différencie pas entre q et g qui sont transcrits comme q alors que Taieb Baccouche avait prouvé que /g/ n’est pas un équivalent systématique de /q/. Par exemple, grip (grippe) et qrib (proche) sont transcrits comme qriyb.
    Ce travail travaille sur la création d'une orthographe basée sur celui de l'arabe moderne standard avec la considération des particularités de l'arabe tunisien, l'arabe algérien et marocain.
    Les modifications de base sont la séparation de certaines prépositions des mots qui les suivent pour faciliter l'analyse morphologique du dialecte, la considération de p, v et g, l'ajout d'une Ta Magluqa pour tous les noms finissant par une a brève...
    Les modifications avancées sont surtout celles qui essaient de faciliter la transcription nouvellement créée des dialectes arabes maghrébins et la rendre plus facile aux utilisateurs.
    Ce travail est fait surtout pour être utilisé pour transcrire l'arabe tunisien, algérien et marocain d'une façon facile par les utilisateurs étrangers et confirmés et pour être utilisé par la suite pour la création d'un dialecte hybride marocain.
    Ce papier ne fournit qu’un aperçu de ce que cette orthographe supposée pratique devait être.

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