wAllah in Arabic

wAllah in Arabic

Discipline: Linguistics

Type of service: Proofreading

Spacing: Double spacing

Paper format: Harvard

Number of pages: 13 pages

Number of sources: 0 source

Paper details:

There are Excerpt 1 and 2 for spoken data please don’t review it. It is about 500 word or more, also please check my refrence list it is not organized at all.

Swearing can be used as a Listener Response in Spoken Arabic

Conversation Analysis methods to investigate common uses of wAllah  in Spoken Arabic                   

Allah expressions overview

Among Arabic language teaching strategies, there is no other way to not introduce Islam that is because, they have been tightened together since the birth of Islam (Sai, 2017).  Allah lexicon is a clear example of this language Islamisation. The invocation of Allah is a cultural phenomenon which is common to Arabic-speaking peoples, and that references to Allah in spoken Arabic do not necessarily contain an inherent religious meaning. Language not only to deliver meanings. It is all about actions (Drew, 2009). To illustrate this, the lexical meaning of Arabic phrase Bismillah is “to start in the name of Allah ‘God’. Gamal (2012) argues, this phrase loses its actual meaning in cultural aspects. For instance, Bismillah is used to express sympathies with another person facing any issue. People pronounce Bismillah when a person falls down just to intimate an expression of association and realization. According to Shora (2009), Inshallah, like Bismillah is a phrase, which is generally used by Arab-speakers –regardless of their religion– and Muslims in the world on different events. The literal meaning and purpose of Inshallah, as denoted by Clift and Helani (2010) is to express the hopes for future, which are dependent on the mercy and decree of Allah. Hence, it is believed that nothing is possible without the will of God. The will of God is considered to supersede all human will and wants that they develop in their lives. It is a cultural term that is widely used amongst the people with a hope to express the dependence on the sovereignty of Allah (God). Rountree (2016) demonstrated that similar expression exists in Maltese (Jekk Alla jrid), which also means that if Allah wills it.

The list of Allah lexicon and its purposes is very long to be presented in an essay. Among all of the expressions I found swearing phrases are very interesting and the best way to present them, is through the communicative strategies found in conversation analysis (CA). The reason behind my interest, is that all other Allah-lexicons have pragmatic meaning so, it is not a hard task for non-native to expect the meaning from the context. However, with swearing expressions there is no pragmatic meaning to relay on. WAllah  are Arabic expression which structured syntactically by combination between a clitic w and the name of Allah that gives ‘by-God’. Arab grammarians explain, it is a clitic not an affix because, linguistically speaking, if a linguistic unit attached to a stem, is parsed, this unit is identified as a clitic (Alotaiby et al., 2010).

WAllah means “I promise or swear by God”. It is used to make an oath in important events and institutional setting like court hall. Moreover, they are considered the highest level of swearing and it is a sin among Muslims to say it while someone is lying (Abdalla, 2018).

Hawever, Wallah/Wallahi (وَٱللّٰه/وَٱللّٰهِ), “By God/my God”, has different uses among Arab. In fact, it is heard many times during daily interaction. Arabic-speakers people hardly complete a turn without using it Gilsenan (1983). One of non-swearing alternative use of wAllah can be identified in CA that it is act like  listener responses (more about this in section two) which I can say, is equal to “Really?”, “Is that so?” in spoken Arabic[1].

The oaths are used by Arabic-speakers falls into three categories: Judiciary, which are declarations for law purposes in the court halls, marriage and national loyalties; Promises, which are used between individuals to give promises, warns to certain action, and conversational oaths which are used routinely as a part of interaction without commitments or promises to do things (Abd el-Jawad , 2000, p.218).


In my essay I am going to investigate two contrast questions as the following:

  • Does the use of swearing by God as purely religious notion have different conversational sequence?
  • Does the use of swearing by God as listener response have different conversational sequence?

To find answer to these question CA tools such as ‘turn-taking’ is used. In CA turn-taking is, the way of organization that participants take their turns to bring down interruptions and awkward silences and pass exchanges smoothly in conversation. Many scholars in CA drew an attention to the importance of the listener role (Schegloff, 1982; Jefferson, 1984; Goodwin, 1981; Heritage, 1984; Sacks, 1992). They studied natural conversations to provide mechanisms of turn taking system and ways of investigation the sequential order rather than searching for linguistic rules.

My data is selected from hours of naturally occurring (or so called mundane conversation) Arabic conversations. The source is U-Now live chat, and it is recorded and uploaded already on YouTube. I transcribed it according to Gail Jefferson’s method.


Section 1: Swearing as a purely religious notion sequence…

According to Cambridge dictionary (2015) swear as a verb mean “to promise or say firmly that you are telling the truth or that you will do something or behave in a particular way”. According to  Andersson & . Following the same sense ‘swearing by God’ is, “the speech act by which a person binds himself to do or not to do a certain specific physical or juridical act, by invoking the name of God or one of the divine attributes” (Abd el-Jawad, 2000, p.218). Halliday & Hasan (1976) state that, according to Arabic grammarians, to swear in Arabic the swearing expression always sentence initially position. Peled (‏2000) comments, it is like a conditional sentence where another sentence should be placed before or after in order to join them to get the meaning, However, swearing expression can stand alone if someone else rather than the speaker asked him/her to swear.

To extend this to my CA investigation, in examine wAllah as purely religious notion. under two conditions. Firstly, it should be in initial poison of the ‘turn-constructional unit’ (TCU) . Both TCUs of wAllah sentence and the conditional sentence can be investigated be recognizing their ‘transition relevance place’ (TRP). To clarify what I mean, TCU can be defined as: the basic speech segment in a conversation. It refers to a piece of conversation which may be understood as an entire turn. Thus, TRP is the end of this unit which marks a point where the floor or the right to speak (called in CA the turn) may give to another speaker, or the same speaker may hold on the floor with another TCU (Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson 1974). There are three criteria in which a TCU can be constituted by: falling intonation, completed pragmatically, and/or completed syntactically.

Secondly, there should be other contextual evidences in the sequence, because there might be other use of wAallh to start the turn with (it is frequently at the beginning of the sentence in the most of uses). So, if the speaker who is swearing, He should explain why or comment on his statement.


In the following excerpt, I as a native speaker can judge the turn and the action in lines (9 and 10) as a pure religion reference, however, I need to apply CA methodologies to test conditions above.

Excerpt 1:[2]

(Ayman (Ay) is from Jordon. He is using U-Now to contact with his fiance Anoud (An). She is half Saudi and half Jordanian, and she is studying in USA. They were talking about how her mother stopped some guys who keeping following here (Best Maram (2018, 00:07:25).)


1  An:      esmaʕ lyoom    rħt    ʕljamʕa

Listen   today   I went  to the university

Listen! Today I went to university

2           ↑esmaʕ <bs     amr>    eshabab tnzel              rashah       eeh

listen Just  I passed the guys   she downs    her head

            Listen the guys look down just as I passed

3   Ay:    =Aha homa mʕ        homa mʕk        bljamʕa= ((biting his nails))

Aha they   with you thay with you  at the university

            Aha they are studying with you

4   An:     =Aah £fee    menhm             mahm kano wagfeen      mʕI           bljamʕa£(.)

Yes   there  some of them, they    were stand-them  with me  at the university

            Yes some of them, they annoyed me in university. 

05  Ay:     Khleehm        ytrbo  ((biting his nails))

Leave them   she-raised-them

            They deserved it. She taught them a lesson.

06  An :    =YALLAH    yayman       ano   mama  ʕmltli             tyeet

My God   my Ayman   it is   Mum    she-did-me  famous

See my Ayman, Mom made us famous

07          ibn      klbh

Son of a female dog


08          £bljamʕa           ,   wla ħda           ystrji ytṭlaʕ       ʕ:li£

in the university  no  of them   can-he  look-he  at me

            in university. None of them can even look.

09  Ay: a → <WALLAHI>  btabʕna       khalti  khokha  khalto khawla    btabʕna ?

By my God    is watching-us  aunt-me khokha  my-aunt khawla is watching-us ?

            WALLAHI is aunt Khokha , (I mean) is aunt khawla watching us ?

10      b → <WALLAHI alʕḍeem>         enha   yʕni  AS:SD (.)  <WALLAHI>   [bme:et   rajul

By-my-God almighty      she is  PRT  a lion      By-my-God   as-100  men

WLLAHI almighty she is a lion. WALLAHI (she is) as hundred men. 

11  An:                                                                   [ʕn jd sss

[from serious

I agree (with you)

12  Ay:      >wlk  hneyalk<          [hek   yʕmi

How  lucky-you           yeah uncle-me

             How lucky you (are) yeah. She (was) like a master

13  An:                            [ħasytha <akhoy illy> raħ……

[ like-her my brother …

             She was like my brother

(Talk continues regarding Anoud’s mother and brother personalities)


To be in the same page, Excerpt (1) is talking about how Anoud’s mother stood for her daughter and stopped some guys in her neighborhood, who were also studying with her and the incident remined her with another one where her brother did the same.

In line (9) Ayman started his turn with wAllah to emphasis his full understanding to the new news. The first pair part (FPP) of the adjacency pair here by Ayman that, is a conversational unit where two related turns are exchanged between two speakers (FPP) and a second pair part (SPP), so, he needs to clarify why he is swearing because he (the speaker) proceeds to swear.

As I explained previously, wAllah, as a pure swearing by God, occurs in an initial position of the sentence. It should occur not only as a preface, as in line (9), but it should also match the second condition as promising, waring action, or conditional statement to do or tell the truth that end up with uncompleted swearing project. in line (10), where it is followed by emphasis alʕḍeem, (and thus upgrading and emphatic). There is also, a justification in the next TCU because the swearing turn doesn’t serve a complete meaning yet until the speaker clear why to swear. To compare, in line (9), where swearing is embedded in a more extended turn line (10), Ayman, interrupted himself (btabʕna khalti  khokha ?) (see arrows at a). This interrupted question helped Ayman to reach the full interactional swearing project in the next TCUs (see arrows at b).

To focus on wAllah deployment in the context presented here: that wAllah as a purely religious notion leads to topic transition. In line (13) the current interactional episode closed after two turns and they started new topic. What wAllah did here is that talk about to the incident is, ended soon after wAllah turn, and discussion about another Anoud’s family member personality is opened. Thus, this serves the purpose of swearing that nothing would be discussed after someone pronounce the name of God to swear and, the only thing that next speaker can do is to agree (see line 11) where Anoud completely supported Ayman opinion after he swore ʕn jd which is basically SPP of swearing turn.


Section 2: common use of wAllah  sequence investigation…

Trudgill (1992) it is, “language use in which expressions refer to something that is taboo and / or stigmatized in culture, or that it should not be interpreted literally or that it can be used to express strong emotions or attitudes”. It worth to mention here, this kind of curses or social swearing, in Arabic, is never associated with Allah name as it still represents holy spiritual aspects. Yet it is used in many other uses, but not for curses or impoliteness[3]. My aim in this section is to investigate wAllah under this respect. In other word, wAllah may appear in a sequence as a listener response according to CA methods.

Listener response is an aspect of turn-taking that can be defined as, what the listener comments without intending to take the turn. It is worth to mention; the listener can produce responses as good listening hood signs. These signs base on their intentions, interests, and understandings .However, they are not freely produced, they are more welcomed at certain times during the conversation determined by what and how the previous turn has been said. Schegloff (1982) states that when non-primary speaker responses ignored, then an essential part of the naturally occurring interactivity between the parties is left uncovered.

Duncan (1974) included turns such as “I see” and “right” to the scope of listener responses from just vocalizations items such as “Uh huh,” and “Oh.”. He also included body gestures like nodding as well.

Yet from literature review I realized that there is disagreement about the terminology of this kind of responses and for each point of view there are a list of functions that it is depended on.

For instance, some scholars terms them as; ‘a continuer’ that for a present speaker is still holding the turn (Schegloff, 1982; Young & Miller, 2004), ‘a minimal response’ to show once good listenership (Zimmerman & West, 1975; Maltz & Borker, 1982; Holmes, 1997 ;Young & Miller, 2004), ‘an agreement mark’ shows that both listener and speaker share same view (Hirschman, 1994), ‘an acknowledgment’ in respect to a listener pays attention to speaker words (Jefferson, 1984; Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) , ‘a news marker’ marks to show that what speaker saying is new information (Heritage, 1984; Gardner, 2001), and many other terminologies. For this reason, I will use ‘listener responses’ thus, it is a border term that cover all functions.

Arabic scholars studied listener responses in felids such as Pragmatics, Discourse Analysis, Phonology, and CA. The major of them characterized it as ‘Back-Channel’ (Ward & Al Bayyari, 2007, 2006). Hafez (1991), argued that, the semantic and pragmatic functions of ‘back-channels’ in Spoken Arabic aren’t different to those seen in other languages.

To sum up the conditions of it in CA, it should be produced by listener in the first place, occurs in TRP, reacting to speaker turn basically without intentions to take the floor, and it is not the second pair part of ‘an adjacency pair’ that is, a conversational unit where two related turns are exchanged between two speakers. In the next excerpt I am going to apply CA methodologies to test conditions above. Other common uses of wAllah can be heard in the video and the transcribed sequences here as well but, is only to focus on is a listener response use (see the arrow c).


Excerpt 2:

(Nareen (N) is a Kuwaiti blogger. She is using U-Now to contact with her fans and family. Mahmoud (M) is one of her relatives and they were chatting about his coming summer trip around Europe (younow famous broadcasters (2017, 00:03:32).)


1  N:       KHEDNII  mʕaak?   [khednnii mʕaak?   MHMO:UD ?=

Take-me with-you take-me with-you mhmoud

I wanna go with you Mhmoud

02  M: c →                    [>↑wAllah< tʕi

By God come-you

                               WAllah yeah

03  N:      = eli     emt  ~ْ[ħjْezt?

tell-me   when   book-you

            Tell me when you have booked

04  M:      wa:allah rah sho:of ʕndi  shḡli btʕrvi   mkgi ana:a= ((playing with his hair))

By God   go  see   have-me thing you-know my-mind I

            WAllah let me decide (but) you know my mood

            shlon Lama atlʕ [shḡli    aw shi

How   If   jop  activity or thing

             How I (might) have responsibilities

05  N: c →                   [umm



06  M:        faa rah     jarba  eda sarit rah  elek     btsser  inshallah…..

PRT I-going try-it if  well  I-go speak    with-you God-willing

I will discover it (trip) if I like it we are going together inshallah

(Talk continues regarding the trip expenses)


In the first and third lines, Nareen was exited abut Mahmoud’s trip, she started her turn with request to travel with him and she asked for when he booked. During her turn Mahmoud gave her kind of acknowledgment that he is paying an attention and he said wAllah tʕi (see arrow c). Nareen continued her FPP with opened request that needed an answer from Mamhoud. In line (4) he responded with dis-preferred answer after wallah. Heritage (2015,2017), argued this kind of use with ‘well + dis-preferred answer turn’ also he extened his work to other languages.

My focus her in wAllah that between the adjacency pair (see line (2) arrow c). It is occures in TRP between two TSUs . The first TSU in line (1) KHEDNII  mʕaak? khednnii mʕaak? MHMO:UD ? and the second one is in line (3) eli     emt  ~ْ[ħjْezt? That is because each one is completed in syntactic and pragmatic meaning. Moreovre, Mahmoud was not responding to Nareen’s request nor attending to take the floor from the previous speaker. Hafez (1991), realizes from his Arabic data that listener responses (back-channel in his study) is clearer when followed by TCU of saliently different speaking style —such as: less energy, breathy voice, or creaky voice. Back to excerpt 2 (line (3) eli     emt  ~ْ[ħjْezt?  is the following TCU and it is significantly less energy than KHEDNII  mʕaak? khednnii mʕaak? MHMO:UD ? Which is the TCU that comes before wAllah.



In this essay I studied two instantiations of wAllah that can be distinct respectfully by their position in the turn, and the actions being undertaken. In section one the use was swearing to say the truth, and in section two it is used as a listen response. Still many uses need to be investigated and in someday identified.


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[1] Hebrew has this kind of use as well(Brown ,2007).

[2] I inserted links to each letter not exist in English

[3] It occurs n impolite turns sometimes but Allah name and exexpression never refers to such meaning.