Waḷḷāhi (‘by God’) as a marker of commitment and involvement in Egyptian Arabic conversation

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Abstract

This paper explores the interactional uses of the oath-expression waḷḷāhi ‘by God’ in Egyptian Arabic. Based on everyday conversational data (Arabic CALLHOME), and drawing on conversation-analytic and interactional linguistics methods, the analysis shows that waḷḷāhi rarely introduces a solemn act of swearing; rather, it is conventionally used as a marker expressing or inviting the expression of commitment and certainty. waḷḷāhi can occur in turn-initial and utterance-final position, where it frames or modifies the current speaker's contribution, or as a freestanding response token. In epistemically divergent contexts, waḷḷāhi serves to resist the other party's assumptions or claims about a certain state of affairs by asserting commitment to a different state of affairs, or by questioning the certainty of the prior speaker. Commitment indexed by turn-initial tokens is relativized to the speaker's potentially restricted access and rights to knowledge, and is therefore more reserved; utterance-final tokens do not invoke this subjective reference and serve to express absolute commitment. In epistemically congruent and affiliative contexts, waḷḷāhi undergoes indexical reanalysis and is interpreted as an index of involvement, earnestness, and interest. The analysis aligns with a widely observed path of semantic and pragmatic development of discourse markers whereby markers come to assume more specific relational functions as they extend to new contexts of use.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number103582
JournalLingua
Volume294
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Keywords

  • Commitment
  • Conversation analysis
  • Egyptian Arabic
  • Epistemics
  • Interactional linguistics
  • Newsmarks

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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