Speaking of Bodies

By Lisa J. White
Submitted to Session P5028 (Language and Identity, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Speaking of Bodies
Embodiment in Arabic Morphology

The publication of Metaphors We Live By, (Lakoff and Johnson, University of Chicago Press, 1980), precipitated an explosion of inquiry into the pervasive role of the body in metaphor, and “embodiment” quickly became a hot interdisciplinary topic. From literature, psycho-linguistics and anthropology to philosophy, gender studies, and beyond, researchers have shown, in language after language, that the body is essential to our thinking and the source of innumerable figurative expressions. Embodiment refers not just to explicit imagery involving body parts, but also to metaphoric expressions that implicate the body. Who has not felt the pangs of love, the heat of anger, the ache of loss? For better and for worse, our experience of life is intrinsically bound up in the body, and human languages reflect this universal truth.
Arabic, however, seems to have received less than its fair share of research on embodiment, at least in English publications. The only researchers I am aware of who have investigated body metaphor in Arabic and published the results in English are Ateek, Hassan, Naylor, & Sarofim in A Roving Eye, (Cairo, New York: AUC Press, 2014), a bilingual and pictorial exploration of body idioms in Egyptian Arabic, and the prolific Zouheir Maalej. Beginning in 2004 and using Tunisian Arabic as his corpus, Maalej has written widely on metaphoric expression involving the body and emotion, with articles on anger and fear, the heart and the eye, the head and the hand. He also co-edited Embodiment via Body Parts, (Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2011) a study of the figurative use of body parts in such diverse languages as Chinese, Japanese, Estonian, Greek, Danish, and German.
What my study adds to the just-emerging discussion of linguistic embodiment in Arabic is the way in which Arabic morphology systematically exploits roots referring to body parts to create constellations of vocabulary which are semantically and metaphorically connected. This fact is of particular relevance to second language learners and teachers. So far, in terms of academia, the intriguing intersection of embodiment and Arabic morphology is virgin territory. My paper examines the basic issue of embodiment in Arabic, and offers specific illustrations of its powerful, coherent, and poetic presence in morphology. Exploring this domain enriches metaphoric and cultural competence and also has important pedagogic implications.