An Analysis of the Pragmatic Functions of Idiomatic Expressions in the Egyptian Novel ‘Taxi’

By Hala Elshamy
Submitted to Session P4865 (Formulaic Language and Pragmatic Competence, 2017 Annual Meeting
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Idiomatic expressions are a common phenomenon in all languages. They are used widely in all sorts of communications, in written as well as in spoken interaction, in formal and informal contexts. It is obvious that much of the communicative content of language is tied to these expressions and linked to a single meaning and pragmatic functions, which give them considerable semantic/pragmatic utility (SCHMITT, 2008). Some linguists consider them as a subcategory of the big umbrella formulaic sequences: “a phenomenon that encompasses various types of word string which appear to be stored and retrieved whole from memory” (Wary 2000).
Few studies have only investigated idiomatic expressions in literary works written in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic and even these few studies have not analyzed the pragmatic functions these idiomatic expressions fulfill in daily conversations.
The study is an attempt to analyze the language of ordinary people in Egypt. Hence, it focuses on investigating and analyzing the pragmatic functions of idiomatic expressions in Egyptian colloquial Arabic represented in the conversations of the novel Taxi. The novel has quickly become a well-known bestseller when it was published in 2006 and has enjoyed great popularity. What makes the variety used in this book attractive to many readers is the fact that it belongs to a level of Egyptian colloquial Arabic the majority of Egyptians use in their daily communications and in different contexts (Badawi, 1973).
In this study, the idiomatic expressions are analyzed in the light of Searle’s Speech Act Theory (1969). Searle classifies speech acts in a taxonomy including five types: representatives/ expressives/ declaratives/ commisives / directives. By relying on speech act theory, the researcher can get to know what type of illocutionary act one can generally perform by using idiomatic expressions in certain contexts.
The results of this study show that idiomatic expressions are culturally loaded expressions with different speech acts fulfilling a satisfying number of various 13 pragmatic functions necessary in daily life conversations such as thanking, deploring, complaining, opposing and describing. Consequently, the study highly recommends teaching idiomatic expressions in Arabic foreign language classes on a pragmatic-function and context basis. This can help Arabic foreign language learners to be able to better understand the thoughts, emotions and views of speakers of the target language and avoid misinterpretations, othering and stereotyping of the people in the different culture.