Pejorative references as positive politeness in parents and their babies interaction and communication in Libya

Mayouf Ali Mayouf (1), Li Wei (2)

1: English Department, Faculty of Arts, Sebha University, Libya Arab Jamahiriya 2: School of Languages, Linguistics & Culture Birkbeck, University of London


Pejorative references, as shown in the phrase my ugly, dirty, stinky and doggy baby daughter/son is commonplace in Libyan (and possibly all Arab and most East Asian countries) language culture. They are used by the speaker to refer to themselves, their family and close friends in specific contexts, and are usually used as a sign of love, belongingness and intimacy. Such references, particularly references to persons other than the speaker (the speaker's baby daughter/son in this research), are often seen by those unfamiliar with the Arabic language cultures as insulting or at least negative in intent. In fact, it is hard to imagine such references could be acceptable at all in post-modern feminist societies. However, we wish to argue in this paper that pejorative references to family and friends are expressions of positive politeness. We will examine in detail the specific contexts in which Libyan parents use pejorative references when amusingly interact and communicate with their baby daughters/sons. The data employed in this research comes from ethnographic observation and interviews. The pejorative phrases produced by the parents (subjects) were naturally recorded. The investigation will help us to understand the concept of self in the Libyan culture, which in our view may differ in several important dimensions from that in other cultures, and on the other hand, may look very similar to pejorative references practiced in other cultures, e.g. East Asian. Nevertheless, dichotomies such as individualism and collectivism cannot fully account for the differences. We will also argue, from a methodological perspective, that linguistic practices play an essential role in the construction of culture and cultural values.

Session: Paper session
Interaction 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 05