The fight to get my country’s language back

published on Oct 20, 2015

Have you ever tried to read that masterpiece — you keep quoting at every dinner party — in a language you can barely read? Idioms would mean nothing to you. Jokes wouldn’t make you laugh, let alone knowing they’re jokes in the first place. The book becomes nothing but a cold collection of pointless events and names — of persons and places — you can’t relate to.

Beauty is lost, hidden behind an opaque curtain of ink and paper. Of language.

We all know that the true meanings of books, at least great ones, are elegantly hidden between the thin lines, rather than vulgarly exposed on them. And not everyone is capable of navigating the dense jungles of letters and words and phrases, to get deep enough to the El Dorado. To get there, we need native navigators, not foreign explorers.

Exploring is definitely great. Everybody wants to wander in previously unseen lands from time to time, before getting back to their neighbourhood and familiar paysages. Things get different though, if everywhere you try to go is nothing more than impenetrable hostile terra incognita. That’s hell.

And that’s what we call home.

A little history. Because of course.

For more than 12 centuries — since the Arab invasion — we learned to call Arabic our language.

12 centuries is a very long period of time and no one can deny the influence Arabic had in shaping our language.


Arabic wasn’t alone. Not only many of the words we use in day-to-day communication are from Amazigh, Punic, Latin, Turkish, French, Italian, Spanish and/or English origins (to name a few) but a lot of the language’s basic constructs are totally different from those of Arabic. That’s a vibrant language. And to be honest, it looks and sounds more like Maltese than any other language.

No matter what, we still claim we are speaking Arabic. Even dubbing it the official language of the country. And all the paperwork that ensues.

We are learning our “mother tongue” in the school. The irony.

Then came the French. And French followed them, naturally.

After a 75-year long occupation, the French left. Though, French didn’t follow them this time. Sixty years later, our high-schools and universities are still teaching almost everything, from math to computer science, physics and medicine, in French.

As one might expect, not everyone becomes a fluent French speaker (or reader, for that matter), even after long years of (forced) learning. And because of the deteriorating quality of the educational system, those who aren’t largely outnumber those who are. Language became a barrier. The envelope adds its own thick layer of complexity to that of the information. People are struggling just to get the basics.

Arabic wasn’t in a better shape, neither.

Because of that, we are, today, buried under an ocean of shallow content written in a used and overused mold-made language with absolutely no style — or life. Just a monotonous continuous stream of mechanical words as if produced by automatas or poorly written algorithms.

It’s like eating pizza for life. Cold. Plastic pizza. Chain-made in some obscure Chinese factory. By overworking labor.

That’s hell.

That’s hell because even the simplest paperwork is a challenge.

That’s hell because finding, not to mention writing, good quality content is a challenge.

That’s hell because whole generations are lost, unable to navigate— and for most of the cases, aren’t even aware of — the immense Human heritage and the infinite universal knowledge.

That’s hell because we aren’t able to express ourselves properly because they taught us that self-expression is a luxury, only those who manage to learn a foreign language can afford.

That’s hell because the whole World is a terra incognita.

We are our own terra incognita. And we need to change that. Now.

Because we can’t go far with a society producing a handefull of books and where people read, in average, half a page. All of it, in a whole year!

STUNdard, the standard

STUNdard is a project initiated by people who, just like me, think that standardizing the way Tunisian is written is the right first step. Without such a stanrdad, sharing the slightest information would be chaotic and inefficient.

And even though the project is still in its infancy, we were able to write draft proposals for standard writing and grammar rules, a fully fledged dictionary and several other documents.

We know that this is a long, hard road out of Hell. This might take 20 years. Or maybe a 100. But one thing’s for sure : one day, we’ll get there. But for the time being, we’re still working on it.