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Expressiveness and evaluation in Arabic

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Old Arabic had many expressive derived forms: firstly, the forms with radical repetition, consonant reduplication and/or vowel lengthening; secondly, the forms with prefixes, suffixes or infixes. Most of these formatives survived in the Arabic dialects, but Arabic scholars generally focus on diminutive noun forms (nominal and adjectival forms) named taġīr in Arabic. This article presents the rules of formation of the diminutive in the assāniyya Arabic dialect, in which this derivation applies to the whole lexicon, including verbal forms. The derivational morphology of the diminutive constitutes a kind of double derivation, characterized mainly by the infixation of -(a)y- – the position of which varies depending on the patterns and on the nature of the base lexeme. The article then analyzes the use and meaning of diminutives in context, studied within two corpora: a corpus of traditional tales and a corpus of courteous poems. The study of these corpora shows that in assāniyya, pejorative uses of the diminutive are as prominent as meliorative ones. Finally, the article discusses the “root-and-pattern” mode of formation in Arabic and the diverse derivations attested in Arabic dialects, comparing their values with those reported for other languages in the world. Evaluative morphology is shown to be particularly prevalent in assāniyya, and it is hypothesized that this correlates with the pragmatic function endorsed by the diminutive in this language. This function allows for both positive or negative interpretations of diminutive forms, depending on the context, so that diminutives can express a broad range of emotions.
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Keywords: Arabic; diminutive; evaluative morphology; pragmatic; semantic

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 19, 2018

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