Overall Organisation. Openings and Closings in Moroccan Arabic

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2014

28 Pages


Table of Contents







“An overall structural organisation characterizes conversation as an activity constituted by sub-parts, such as the “beginning section” (where both greeting and non-topical talk), the “topical section” and the “closing section”, together with strategies for moving from one to the next” (Ferrara (1980: 327-328)); that is already a structural claim. Accordingly, a description of some aspects of the structural organisation of conversations in Moroccan Arabic (hence MA) will be given with a special focus mainly on the “opening section” and the “closing section”. A priori, MA conversational structure is characterized in the “opening” and “closing” sections by being differently structured on linguistic as well cultural dimensions.

It is worthy note that Moroccan Arabic is considered as a variety historically related to classical Arabic, as well as a variety which denotes instances of a bilingual phenomenon (Bentahilla 1983). The aim to sketch over this point is to draw attention to the importance of their manifestation in both “opening” and “closing” sections in Moroccan Arabic conversational structure.


Schegloff (1972) studies the problem of how participants achieve coordinated entry into a conversational exchange. It is found that the basic structure of a conversation is AB, AB, AB …, in which participants A and B speak successively in turns. The data for which he accounts consists mainly of telephone conversations of which the basic structure of their opening could be generalized into what he calls Summons-Answer sequences which are a general way that participants initiate a conversation, provide a coordinated entry to interaction and establish that they are available to interact”. However, Schegloff (1972) views the ringing of the phone as an integral part of the exchange, a summons.

It is to be noted that in a normal conversation a summons may be realised verbally but in a telephone conversation this communication act needs not always be expressed in words. Let us consider for a moment the structure of openings in MA. As we shall shortly see, a greeting and the return of the greeting are usually the main characteristics of an opening sequence. Consider:

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It is clear in MA and other “varieties” in the Arabic- speaking world that this type of greeting is a culturally institutionalised. It is a custom when a person greets another one, the latter is in fact under the obligation to answer; otherwise, rebukes, from the first will be issued. For instance, he may then insult the other person as “brought up in a barn”. Thus the notion of adjacency pairs is crucial to the working of an opening.

Accordingly, an entry like the one above tends to be used in both formal (among distant people) and informal situations (among close friends), though male speakers tend to use it more in various situations. In formal situation; this adjacency pair is used alone, just after the interlocutors set down to transact whichever business between them, as in the following example:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

This is a formal situation where the speaker uses the form under focus as an entry to his speech interaction. It is worth mentioning that, in such a situation, the speaker has no close relationship with his addressee. It is a typical situation where the interlocutors are distant from each other. The same for / salamu ʕaleikum / is also used as an entry to salute a group of people mainly males to whom the speaker may have no relationship:

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As observed in this piece of data, the adjacency pair (greeting-greeting) is inserted in the topical section of the conversation and considered a conversational unit. The “passer-by” did not induce the other participants to converse neither did the others. B.C.D. may have produced a first part of another adjacency pair such as inquiring about one’s health or something else. However, since speaker A is a distant one, it is just out of /sswab/ (politeness) or religious customs that he issued the greeting. If, on the other hand, A is a friend of B.C.D. the latter may have produced a second part such as:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Thus, A will be under the obligation of answering B.C.D’s question so that further conversational interaction can occur. For other forms of greetings that may occur in an opening sequence of a conversation, consider (6) where a woman (administrator) is greeted by a young person (who wants to have administrative papers (birth certificates).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

In this formal case, the greeting sequence is an adjacency pair like a summons-answer, except that in this example the first part of the first adjacency pair is a verbal communicative act which is conditionally relevant on the second.

Culturally speaking, this second part is expectable and it is upon the occurrence of the first part that it can be seen to be a second part to it. However, when one party issues a greeting and a return of the greeting on the part of the second party is produced, that provides the occasion for repetition of the greeting. That is, as Schegloff (1972) argues “the non occurrence of A is seen by the summoner as its official absence which provides him with adequate grounds for repetition of the S’ (p.103). The same applies to the interpretation of an adjacency pair used as an opening section with an “officially absent” second part. To illustrate this case, let us consider this piece of the data in which the “greeter” receives no greeting and the speakers B and C make it clear what they mean by their non-return of the greeting:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

It is-as argued above-out of the sociocultural norms that B, C should issue a greeting in return, but they did not and they need not since they consider themselves righteous. A, in his second turn thinks that they only didn’t hear him (A: Makatsamʕuʃ?) “Don’t you hear me?”); however , B C produce no greeting, and proceed to criticize A for not coming to the café where they intended to meet you. On the basic of such a criticism, A may infer why the second part is absent though his looking back at his previous “history” with B, C. The additional judgements given by B and C, besides, the official absence of the return of the greeting generate the conversational inference. Thus, as Gumperz (1982) observed, “conversational inference is best seen as a simple unitary evaluation of intent, but as involving a complex series or chain of judgements focussing on both content and on relational assessments of how utterance strings are to be integrated into what we know about our culture and about the immediate situation” (p.207).

One further observation may be made at this point about the absence of the second turn (greeting) and the repetition of the greeting in the third turn does not require that the same lexical item be repeated; rather other utterances for greeting may be used (such as: sbah lxir (good morning) or masaʔlxir (good evening) or other bilingual clichés (“salut” (hi) “bueno stardes”) (good evening) and this depends on the types and origins of the interacting parties). Therefore, the same person in the example above may repeat his greeting otherwise:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Unlike a telephone conversation, a normal conversation in a particular context where the interacting parties are co-present does not necessitate a terminating rule for the first conversational sequence (the first adjacency pair in which the greeting and its return (of greeting) occur). The reason for this is sometimes the length of the greeting itself (six turns long). It involves inquiries about one’s health and family. Levinson (1983) argues that “in some cultures there seems to be a preference for displacing the business of a conversation to later on. However, one needs to distinguish here an elaboration of openings to include conventional inquiries about health, family and so on, from a true difference in the use of the first free topic slot” (P.313) (Similar observations are made by Hudson (1980) and Keenan (1976)). Consider this example from MA:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

This piece of data shows clearly that such a “ritual interchange” (Goffman 1981), though long, is used and counts as greetings? It is only at the ninth turn that the topic of the conversation begins. Worth mentioning, here, is that the further stretching of the talk after the first adjacency pair (greeting and its return in T1 and T2) is not obligatory. However, sociolinguistically speaking, it should occur for the simple reason that the two friends (A and B) have to show mutual concern and therefore improve their “personal images”. Another motivation for the length of the greeting is the need to show that the relation which existed at the end of the last encounter is still unchanged.

Regardless of these sociolinguistic facts, the conversational activity following the essential constituent of the adjacency pair (greeting- return of the greeting) is an integral part of the greeting exchange as a whole. It is important to note that the six turns sometimes constitute the conversational activity which the interacting parties intend on. Considering the second move in the eight turn, we observe that the conversation was about to close down because of the speaker’s (B ’s) use of an item which is conventionally used as a first part in reclosing sequence (“iwa thalla”= well, take care). A in T9, however, avoids producing the second part and draws A into a topical section (talking about exams). If A9 produced the second part he would have in fact closed the conversation and issued a “farewell”.

It is worth mentioning that the length of a greeting for a friend is different from the one for a mere acquaintance for whom a formulaic expression such as “ssalamu aleikum” or “sabah lxir” is sufficient. Furthermore, the length of a greeting is proportional to the length of time since the last meeting, and is also dependent on the importance of the relationship between the two participants (for further discussion, see Hudson 1980).

We have now introduced as many greeting sequences as are required for our immediate purposes. While the discussion has focussed on the structure of these sequences, we have let aside an important inherent feature that ties the different moves of all the pairs and each pair move with another. Considering example (9), one observes that each move by one speaker establishes a conditional relevance on the following one. For instance, in turn 2B the two questions put A under the obligation to talk again; that is, to answer B ’s question and thus provides A with an opportunity for answering, and inquiring about B ’s news moreover, the relations between one pair-part and its following one applies also between completed adjacency pairs and further talk. When B has returned the greeting, he has in fact completed the first adjacency pair, and provided the proper occasion for talk by A.


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Overall Organisation. Openings and Closings in Moroccan Arabic
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overall, organisation, openings, closings, moroccan, arabic
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Nor-eddine Bourima (Author), 2014, Overall Organisation. Openings and Closings in Moroccan Arabic, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/334444


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