Some Aspects of Verbal Politeness in Maghrebi Arabic Dialects

  • Luca D'Anna Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale"
Keywords: verbal politeness, Maghrebi Arabic dialects, sociolinguistics


The study of verbal politeness has been one of the most interesting fields of research for sociolinguists over the past few decades. The publication of Brown and Levinson’s seminal work Politeness, Some universals in language usage (1978), in particular, gave to field researchers and theorists a general framework able to account for the outer manifestations of verbal politeness in different languages and cultures. The two scholars borrowed the anthropological concepts of face and face-wants from Erving Goffman and successfully employed them to explain the principle that triggers all verbal politeness phenomena. Their theory and methodological tools it provided have been employed by field researchers to describe the code of politeness of ancient and contemporary societies.

Despite the undeniable progress of sociolinguistic studies during the last three decades, few studies have so fare tackled the description of the verbal code of politeness employed in Maghrebi Arabic dialects as a whole, even though it has always been a constant source of fascination for both scholars and travellers. The first and most peculiar trait of this code is represented by the marked preference of its speakers for positive politeness, i.e. for all those strategies aiming to make the addressee know that his wants are shared and conveying in-group solidarity in different ways. From this perspective, the code greatly differs from its Western counterparts, usually founded upon negative politeness and rituals of avoidance. The massive employment of positive politeness led, over the centuries, to a high degree of refinement in the correlated strategies, as evidenced by the so-called situation-bound expressions, standardised formulae used to perform requests, thanks and other speech acts with a specific attention to the collocutor’s perceived face-wants.

The marked preference for positive politeness, however, is always linked to the rank of imposition assigned to a specific speech act within a given culture. This means that whenever a speech act is perceived as particularly imposing, speakers will safely resort to negative redress.

Positive politeness, on the other hand, seems to be frequently employed, without the occurrence of any FTA, in standardised and predictable ways, thus questioning Brown and Levinson’s theory to a certain extent. The two scholars, in facts, considered the necessity to redress a FTA as the primary reason for the existence of verbal politeness, leaving all the phenomena that contradicted this tenet to the vague domain of the speakers’ spontaneous verbal inventiveness. The expressions observed in Maghrebi dialects, on the contrary, are not spontaneous, but part of the competence of all mature native speakers, who are usually expected to perform them. This independent existence of verbal politeness, thus, represents one of the most interesting features of Maghrebi Arabic dialects and a field that still calls for further research and investigation.

Author Biography

Luca D'Anna, Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale"
Dottore di Ricerca in Dialettologia Araba


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