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Lebanese Arabic Conversational

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1869 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Question 1: Describe a “conversational routine” from a language other than English (but not a greeting). Include some detail on how it may vary and the situations in which it is appropriate. Then discuss in some depth how this routine reflects cultural assumptions or values.

Language: the Mirror of Cultural Values


Having a deep faith that culture is the way of life of people or in other words what crafts their “lifestyle,” beliefs, customs and practices, a person attains that the language articulated by the people possess culture embedded traits learnt since childhood. That is why language is a very essential component in culture because it reflects the important cultural assumptions and values of a society. Lebanese is a language with a rich vocabulary that includes a large number of cultural keywords; these key words are words that reflect cultural values, beliefs and even history.

Therefore this paper will be focusing and accessing a particular Lebanese Arabic conversational routine, where one can learn about a particular culture by studying its language, moreover clearly noticing the presence of cultural assumptions and values in it.

Culture’s Impression on Language

Language is highly influenced by the culture of the speaker and they seem inseparable. Language is what Kramsch and Widdowson (????) say “expresses cultural reality…. made up of signs that in them have cultural value …. Speakers view their language as a symbol of their social identity.” Thus I depend on their quote that “language symbolizes cultural reality”

Being aware that culture is a very complex issue, with many different definitions. Defining culture is far beyond the aim of this paper, but for this purpose it will suffice to quote a few definitions to point to the main elements of the relevant senses of the word here in this essay.

Culture is defined by Frow and Morris (1993 cited in June 2002 Center for cultural research) as the “the whole way of life of a social group ….. it is a network of representations – texts, images, talk, codes of behavior and narrative structures …. shaping every aspect of social life.”

Another usage in the Merriam – Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary stressing the social aspect of culture and defines it as 5 a/b:“the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations b:the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time.”

Considering the above, culture’s language reflects the things that are important in that culture and judging on Sapir’s (1956 cited in wikepedia) hypothesis that culture is “to a large extent built upon the language habits of the group,” below I will give a simple introduction to the Lebanese culture in order to explain the culture embedded language .

Lebanese Background

Lebanon has accumulated thousands of years of culture in its 1042 m2 of land because of hundreds of empires having passed by its lands and with each passing the people grasped the essence of their knowledge. Also its people were migrating to western countries because of political upheavals and the Civil War. Affirming this Dr Mora (??????) declares that cultural values are formed from “environmental adaptations, historical factors, social and economic evolutions and contact with other cultural groups.”

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It would need a more in depth study of the Lebanese culture. Nevertheless, here is a rough and ready introduction to some of there customs/cultural norms. As indicated in Khalidi and Mcllory’s Culture Dictionary (2003), Lebanon is a small country that has its basis on religion. It is made up of Christians, Muslims, and Armenian and their various factions. Hence it is made up of many communities and all in all has 18 recognized dominant religions and despite 4000 years of occupation we aren’t wiped of the map (Medley 2007). Depending on experience and Medley (2007), Lebanese people are extremely sociable people in streets and at home. Also, they are identified as a “collectivistic culture” (based on Triandas’ definition cited in Neuliep 2000a) due to religious facets (Ayyash 2001) and because you are never alone in your burdens. Emphasizing that every one knows everyone, we convey closeness, respect and conciliation through physical touching unlike the West (Ronowiez 1995 and Wierzbicka 2003) and we tend to treat all unrelated people as family because to us family is the “nucleus of culture.” So you can be addressed by the strange taxi man at the airport as “uncle.” Proclaiming the sensibility of warmth and kindness are the most striking features in our country and especially in our language because our vocabulary is ample with thanks and blessings reflecting the blessings of God. Looking at it from this religious angle, the Lebanese tend to be like this because they are to be judged on their behaviors later in the Afterlife.

Looking into another matter, it should be noted that the Arabic language Fos ha is used in legal matters, parliamentary issues, news reports, biblical references and the Q’uran and official speeches etc. because the language was closely linked with Islam in the past. This supports and is based on what Bessley (1998) stated, “many language communities adopt their standard orthography more or less by historical accident.” On the contrary, most Lebanese use a modern Lebanese dialect in daily conversations, bulletin boards, shop titles, internet chatting etc. and don’t speak the language they write, which dramatically differs from Fos ha (Medley 2007). Below I will demonstrate in the conversational routine per se this modern spoken Lebanese vernacular.

Conversational Routines

In the field of linguistics the term routine refers to a “formulaic utterance” used in certain ordinary situations (greetings, parting, thanks, apologizes etc.) that can be as short as an utterance to as long as a phrase (UNE Course notes). Upon this definition, then one can state that a conversational routine is when a certain word or phrase is commonly used and soon becomes a habit. And as time goes, more and more of these routines are thought up and applied. In every culture, there are several, but the actual number is too great to be counted. The Lebanese culture has allowed the use of many conversational routines.

Some examples are: Yaani = I mean

Ya aami = Uncle or hey

Yii ya allah = Oh! My God

Mashi = ok or walking

Ya zalameh = Yo! Man

Yalla = coming or ok!

Inshallah = hopefully

Habiibii = lover or my beloved

Shoo = what

These are all words and phrases used in people’s daily lives and on a regular basis. Integrating conversational routines such as these and others helps reveal the Lebanese “ethnic and hybrid” identity stated by Tabar (2007).

Succeeding this, I will exemplify the conversational routine “Walla” in its different contexts/meanings in five different dialogues and uncover its impinging religious and cultural elements. Other conversational routines are also used here, but I will stress on one to be concise.

Note that I have attempted to Romanize the Lebanese Arabic into English phonetics instead of Arabic scripts to represent the Lebanese vernacular of Arabic and the abbreviations below imply the following: First Speaker (S1) and Second Speaker (S2).

1st usage:

S1: “Laykee habiib sheftee shou sar la Hilda? Ya haram, rahet aala al mestashfa.”

(Honey, Did you see what happened to Hilda? Poor Hilda, She was hospitalized.)

S2: “Shoo, Walla! Leish? shou sar?”

(What? Really! Why? What happened?)

2nd usage:

S1: “Khalast darssak, ya sabii?”

(Did you finish your studies boy?

S2: “Walla, drasset kolou.”

(I swear by God, I finished all my studies.)

3rd usage:

An incident where a child accidentally falls and the observer says: “Wa-allah yehmeek”

meaning ‘And God protect you.’

4th usage:

S1: “Btekhidinee aala al souk?”

(Will you take me shopping or to the mall?)

S2: “Walla, inshallah aaboukra.”

(I promise, hopefully tomorrow.)

5th usage:

When someone is hosting you with a drink or appetizer and you refuse shyly by saying:

“La wallah” meaning “No thank you.”

I have demonstrated from personal experience the usages of “Walla” as: ‘Really’, ‘I swear’, ‘I promise’, ‘God protect’, and ‘No thanks’ and there are many more functions.

Equally interesting and stimulating, Peeters (2002) reviewed Traverso’s (2002) analysis of the word ‘Walla’ in the spoken Arabic. In her line of research, she examines how it “underscores the complexity of the relationship between language and cultures” and shows not only what Arabic grammarians see as a “corroboration device i.e. emphatic marker meaning ‘by God’ but “operating as a grammaticalized discourse particle comparable to the English particle such as ‘really’ and ‘truly’ (Wierzbecka cited in Peeters 2002.)

Peeter’s (2002) adds that it is a “key word” like Wierzbecka’s ‘a la`’ “because of it frequent use and its cultural specificity” (cited in Peeters 2002.)

Similarly to Tabar’s (2007) study of the word ‘Habiib’ it has a common core with ‘Walla’ that is they both refer to a form of bonding between the speakers “on a basis of ethnicity or religion.” This theory also applies that when Arab origins use these terms they reveal a sense of “closeness” illustrating the ethnical element and friendship/family nature of the Lebanese Arab cultures.

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Overall, a conversational routine can be used everywhere. It doesn’t exactly have a specific place to be put in, but a clue on how to use them according to the Lebanese would be that most express exclamations, surprises, frustrations, anger etc. and if not, then their second most common use would be to fill up a place where you have nothing to say or when you are trying to think of something to say. Rationalizing on what Thorton (1988:26 cited in Language and Cultures) proposed then we should not ask “what culture is but what culture does” to our language.

In conclusion, this paper bought to light that the cultural norms of the interlocutor’s language are exposed through it. And that this intertwined relationship between language and culture aimed to point that they largely depend on each other to reflect and determine the cultural assumptions and values of a specific social culture in order to address and build a better understanding world for all.


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