The Arabic script: A Dictatorship of the Writer

The Arabic script has always favored the writer: you can write a whole multi-volume encyclopedia without ever having to worry about representing a single ċakl (vowel). It’s usually up to the readers to figure out where a fatħa, a kasra or a đamma should go. And if they can’t… well, let them eat consonant soup. Convenient, isn’t it? Doubly convenient when the writer him/herself doesn’t know what ċakl should go where. What better script is there to hide grammatical ignorance than the Arabic script.

This is what we, at the TUNI1259 Institute, call the “Dictatorship of the Writer”. And we set out to revolutionize this. We are for “writing of the reader, by the reader, for the reader”.

There are two ways we could go about this:

  1. Make sure that all texts written in the Arabic script contain ċakl; or
  2. Write Tunisian language texts in a script that forces the writer to represent vowels.

For option 1, writers have had about 14 centuries to make an effort and comply. The best they could come up with is to make ċakl mandatory for religious texts, as if religious texts were the only texts worthy of being read correctly. Dr Mohamed Maamouri delves deeper into the problem of vocalization of the Arabic script in his 1998 report entitled Language Education and Human Development: Arabic Diglossia and Its Impact on the Quality of Education in the Arab Region.

That said, whenever the Institute has to produce texts in the Arabic script, we will produce them fully vocalized. That’s our promise to our readers.

However, TUNI1259 is actively promoting option 2: a Latin script for the Tunisian language. It has been done in the 1920’s for Maltese (a neo-Arabic language), we see no reason why it couldn’t be done for the Tunisian language (or, for that matter, any other neo-Arabic language). The Latin script has many advantages, especially in the 21st century, least of all is that it puts the onus on the writer to represent the vowels, otherwise their precious text is unintelligible.

This leave us with a dilemma: which vowels should be represented? When is /a/ an [a] or an [e]? And when is /u/ an [o]? Stay posted.

Il-Xażra, le yixlìhe w le yġìn żàlim ġlìhe

I found this inspiring quote in the first pages of Hans Singer’s “Grammatik der Arabischen Mundart der Medina von Tunis” (1984).

Il-Xażra, le yixlìhe w le yġìn żàlim ġlìhe

اِلْخٓضْرٓاء لٓا يِخْلِيهٓا و لٓا يِعِينْ ظَالِمْ عْلِيهَا AEB-ARAB
(Tunis[ie]) la Verte, que Dieu ni la dépeuple ni aide contre elle un oppresseur FRA-LATN
(Tunis[ia]) the Green, may God neither depopulate her nor help  an oppressor against her ENG-LATN
(Tunis[ia]) la Verde, che Dio non la spopuli né aiuti un oppressore contro di lei ITA-LATN