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Divine Will and its Extensions: Communicative Functions of maasaallah in Colloquial Jordanian Arabic

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This study examines the communicative functions of the Arabic religious formula maasaallah in light of speech act theory, Gricean maxims, and Brown and Levinson's politeness model. Analysis of 500 instances of this formula in a variety of naturally occurring settings in colloquial Jordanian Arabic shows that the expression, as an extension of its semantic value of expressing divine will, is used as an invocation, a compliment, an expression of gladness, an expression of modesty, a marker of sarcasm, and as a conversational backchannel. The data suggest that this formula is also used as a mitigating device, whereby it is used to soften face threatening acts such as refusal, complaint and criticism. It is concluded that this formula serves as a membership marker whose use marks the speaker as a social insider who avoids acting in a way that would invite the “evil eye.”

Keywords: Face Threatening Acts; Gricean Maxims; Politeness; Religious Formulas; Speech Acts; The Evil Eye

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010


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