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Studies on Arabic Dialectology and Sociolinguistics

Catherine Miller
Alexandrine Barontini
Marie-Aimée Germanos
et al.

Arabic Dialectology - Linguistic Descriptions

Zaraʿnā Law Ṭalaʿet Yā Rēt! On Wish, Hope, and other Bouletic Modalities in Spoken Arabic from Syria

Daniela Rodica Firanescu


In this paper we deal with bouletic (or boulomaic) modalities in spoken Arabic from Syria, a modal variety intimately related to the area of irrealia, possibilia or possible worlds. While the categories of alethic and deontic are rather the domain of truth and reality, bouletic modalities are, par excellence, the realm of interlocutors' subjectivity. Our paper analyzes conventionalized expressions used in spoken Arabic from Syria to convey the meanings of wish and hope (that form the hard core of the larger bouletic modality); we focus on the 'hard core' of bouletic: the semantically complex expression yā rēt (would God...!; if only...!), with its possible combinations, as marker of desirable, and on desiderative operators law, ʾizā, ʿalaww, wēn, barki, etc.

The interpretative approach highlights the hybrid character of the illocutionary acts performed through the use of bouletic operators, proving that in Syrian - as in natural languages, in general - the bouletic modality is deeply connected with (and even dependant on) other modalities, especially evaluative and deontic. Ultimately, our approach sheds light on the linguistic creativity manifested by Syrian Arabic speakers when modalizing their discourse: an aspect that emphasizes the virtues of the colloquial mode that sets no limits to expressivity.

Texte intégral


  • 1 Published articles cover the period 2002-2017.
  • 2 Firanescu 2016 and 2017.

1With this paper, we pursue our journey with modalities in spoken Arabic from Syria, illustrated through articles presented, for their great majority, in AIDA conferences1. It focuses on the bouletic (also 'boulomaic') category, intimately related to the area of irrealia, possibilia or 'possible worlds'. While the alethic and deontic modalities (that we have examined elsewhere2) are rather the domain of truth and reality (although the literature on modalities acknowledges that certain varieties of deontic are necessarily imbued with a volitive, speaker-oriented illocutionary force), bouletic modalities are, par excellence, the realm of subjectivity that pertains to volition and possible worlds.

2We analyze conventionalized expressions used in spoken Arabic from Syria to convey the meanings of wish and hope that form the core of the bouletic modality: mainly desiderative operators (law, ʾizā, ʿalaww, wēn, barki), the semantically complex expression yā rēt (would God...!; if only...!), as marker of 'desirable' and some specific combined expressions. Other various bouletic expressions, situated at the negative pole - unsuitable (makrūh/bǝkarrih), frightening (muḫīf/bǝḫawwǝf), rejectable, repulsive (marfūḍ/karīh, bǝšǝʿ) will, hopefully, be the object of further observation.

3The interpretative approach highlights the hybrid character of the illocutionary acts performed through the use of bouletic operators, proving that in Syrian – as, in general, in natural languages - the bouletic modality is deeply connected with (and, sometimes, dependant on) other modalities, especially evaluative and deontic. Ultimately, our approach sheds light on the linguistic creativity manifested by Syrian Arabic speakers when modalizing their discourse, an aspect that emphasizes the virtues of the colloquial mode that sets no limits to expressivity.

4Abbreviations: we use 'n.d.' for non-dated references (mainly electronic); 'el.' for electronic resources.

1. Definition of terms and theoretical approach

1.1. Bouletic: definition

5A simple definition of bouletic modality is: “A type of modality that expresses what is possible or necessary given someone's desires” (ODLT, el.). In general linguistics, bouletic is most of the times considered a root modality (perhaps since Hoffman's - 1966 - classification), “root” modalities being all modalities other than epistemic: deontic, circumstantial, dynamic (ability and disposition generally included), bouletic, teleological, etc. (the number and categories of modalities depending on the various existent typologies at various authors). For Kilpatrick & Barker (n.d., 3, el.), “bouletic modality is a type of non-root modality, somewhat similar to deontic modality, but specifically concerning the desires and wishes of some relevant agent”; it is, for these authors, a 'volitional modality' - i.e., supposing a volitional agent – “that is not reliant on the lexical features of a verb”.

6According to Hacquard's (2011: 3, el.) definition (based on Kratzer's – 1981, 1991, etc, seminal work on modalities), who takes into account deontic and alethic aspects, but still emphasizes the desiderative as a core of bouletic, the “bouletic modality expresses possibilities and necessities given particular desires (from Greek boule ‘wish’)”.

7Other definitions of bouletic are schematic, non-detailed. The bouletic modality may be completely omitted as a modal category, “core” bouletic expressions being treated as “optative examples of contra-factivity” (Mitchell & Hassan (1994:12) - referring to ya retni ruḥt I wish I had gone). Bouletic seems to be a sort of “waste-basket of modalities” (paraphrasing Bar-Hillel's 1971 metaphorical expression “waste-basket of linguistics” that depicts pragmatics as being considered, sometimes, the waste-basket of linguistics, especially of syntax and semantics).

1.2. Bouletic among other modalities; symbouletic modality

8Portner (2009: 36) notes: “Not all modality in natural language can be classified as epistemic or deontic. We need other categories. Some of the other general varieties of modality include, besides epistemic and deontic, the modalities of ability, desire (called 'bouletic modality'), goals (also called teleological modality) and perhaps history”. 'Symbouletic', a term proposed by Igor Yanovich (2013, 2014), defines the modality of suggestion and advice, that we will take into account herein, as it is very close to the core (hope and wish) of bouletic.

1.3. Bouletic accessibility relation

9Portner's (2009: 36-37) vision of bouletic highlights the role of the “accessibility relation”:

R is a bouletic accessibility relation iff for some individual i, R = the relation which holds between two worlds w and w' iff all of i 's desires in w are satisfied in w'. (…) A bouletic frame is one which has the set of possible worlds conceivable by humans as W and a bouletic accessibility relation as R.

1.4. Modal flavor and bouletic ordering source

10Notions such as modal flavor, modal interpretations, and bouletic ordering source are related to the interpretation of a sentence as conveying a bouletic modal meaning. It has been noted that “natural language modals seem to vary along (at least) two dimensions: ‘force’ (whether they express possibility or necessity), and type of interpretation, or modal ‘flavor’” (Hacquard 2011: 3, el.) that needs to be detected then interpreted. As a generally applicable view, “modal interpretations differ in their selection of a modal base, of an ordering source, and in the requirements they place on the optimal worlds picked out by the ordering source” (Kilpatrick & Barker, n.d., 11, el.). The bouletic ordering source “reflects the desires and intentions of some agent involved in the described event”.

1.5. The role of the context in interpreting the modal flavor

11Discussing the example below, Portner (2009: 49) insists on the role of the context in the determination of sentence meaning:

For example, if we are talking about the fact that Mary loves broccoli, (70) naturally receives a bouletic interpretation, while if we are trying to enforce the idea that children should eat everything on their plates, it naturally receives a deontic interpretation:
(70) Mary should eat her broccoli.

12For our further interpretation, we retain the implied idea that bouletic and deontic values may be very closely related, the final interpretation we give to a sentence depending - to a great extent - on detecting the speaker's intended meaning and volition. Indexical information may play a vital role in assigning a final meaning to a modal.

2. Corpus

13The corpus is almost entirely formed from samples of expressions used in spoken Arabic of Damascus and Aleppo (the provenience of the examples is indicated by the abbreviations D and A) that we collected (sometimes tape-recorded, some other times conserved as written notes) during our stays in Syria, on several occasions, and during conversations with Syrian informants, in latest years. For space reasons, the examples included here are limited to the strictly necessary; they are selected from a much larger corpus on which we base some considerations regarding the core expressions that convey the modal meanings examined.

3. The core of bouletic in spoken Arabic from Syria (according to criteria of meaning, conventionalization, and frequency)

14Positive pole - Wish, Hope:

15A. Constructions with desiderative law (sometimes ʾizā);

16B. Conventionalized expressions: yā rēt, rēt, rēt + suffix pronouns

171. yā rēt bәʾder ʾaḥkī maʿa ḥad! D (If I only could / I wish I could speak with somebody!)

18Note: A and B categories form, in our view, the “hard core” of the bouletic modality in spoken Arabic from Syria.

19C. Expressions of wish used in their lexical sense: positive: b-atmannā (l-ak) I wish (you…); ʾadʿīl-ak I pray for you; ʾamalī ʾәnnu…/ ʾaržū ʾәnnu My hope is that…/ I hope that; constructions including bәdd (+suffix pronouns) with the primary modal value of wish (for other various modal values of bәdd, see Firanescu 2000), etc. These expressions are not analyzed herein.

20Negative pole - Rejection, Wish to Prevent, Failed Hope/Despair

21Some expressions – that we would include in the core of bouletic, at the negative pole – are: lā sāmaḥa ʾAllāh / ʾaʿūzu bi-llāh / maʿāza llāh May God forbid / save (the speaker or someone else) from this to happen; ʾAllāh yәstur, yā Rabb yā sattār / yā sāter! God protect (from/against); lā ḥawla wa-lā quwwa ’illā bi-llāh! (Literally: “There is no might nor power except in Allah”) or the “ḥawqala” formula, in specific contexts, where it expresses failed hope or despair; etc. Expressions pertaining to the negative pole are not analyzed herein.

4. Some other expressions of wish and hope at various distances from the core

22Between the two poles, there is a large series of expressions conveying the sense of desirable, recommendable, worth to be suggested or pointed out to or the opposite of all these (non-recommendable, undesirable, unwanted, negative wish, etc.), from the speaker's subjective perspective:
ʾaḥsanla(i)k – you'd better, you should [rather /better] do… (symbouletic)
Constructions containing the word ʾAllāh: ʾAllāh yәḥfaẓ-ak May God preserve you/keep you, ʾAllāh yeblīk May God afflict you, in šāʾa ʾAllāh God willing, I hope that…; also: I believe/trust that. Variant: nšalla (at the end of the statement, possibly grammaticalized for expressing vindictive or resentful reproach); ʾiza ʾAllah rād, ʾin rād ʾAllah, ʾin ʾAllah sahhal, etc. (with short vowel a in the word Allah).
laʿalla wa-ʿasā+Subjunctive: hopefully - intense hope/aspiration, mixed with uncertainty, but may express, as well, a certain degree of conviction/trust that the desired event will happen; implies that there is little hope for the desired thing to happen, but the agent keeps hoping that it will occur, eventually.
2. laʿalla w-ʿasā nšūf-ik ši masa (maybe/hopefully I'll see you one evening! = I so much wish I can see you; lyrics of the song Laʿalla w-ʿasā performed by Syrian singer Noor Mhanna).
barki/balki (that we have approached elsewhere; also, thoroughly analyzed by Salamé & Lentin (2010:107), as always including, to various extents “une implication du locuteur sur la conjecture qu’il introduit (…), et souvent (…) ses craintes ou ses espoirs à l’égard de cette conjecture”) – perhaps, maybe, possibly, could/may/might be that, it may/might happen that, hopefully (will/will not) occur/happen with complex modal flavor, predominant deontic-bouletic (would include symbouletic)
wa-law! – so, what?! I wish/hope you do (implied: no worries, I won't be upset if you do, on the contrary!)
- various imperative formulas (also with
kirmāl for someone's sake, as a bouletic marker)
ʿalaww (ʿalawwāh), wēn (in rhetoric interrogation) - It would be so nice/great! - both conveying the sense of longing for something, wishing it to happen, etc.
- evaluative expressions:
niyālak! Lucky you! (admiration, positive evaluation; or ironic, faked admiration); yā weylī! Woe unto me / Oh, woe is me! (sorrow, heartbreak); yā weyl-ak Woe unto you!
- some constructions with +Subjunctive (in interrogation)

233. kēf / šū bәddi sāwī la-tsāmiḥīnī?! D (How / what should I do so that you forgive me?!)
- various expressions of unsuitable - (makrūh/bǝkarrih), 'frightening' (muḫīf/bǝḫawwǝf), rejectable, repulsive (marfūḍ/karīh, bǝšǝʿ) - which define a specific type of subjectively defined necessity that expresses in fact the speaker's perception and/or emotional attitude towards what is or is not suitable/desirable
- cursing and swearing
- using allusive talk and proverbs, with evaluative purpose

- etc.

5. Illustrations of the “hard core” of bouletic

24We can only deal here with expressions that mainly convey (directly or in mitigated ways) wish and hope, focusing on the “hard core”, namely the categories A and B (see above, 3.). The following are illustrations of such conventionalized expressions with high frequency in the corpus:

25Law and ʾizā: conditional versus desiderative

26Both particles are part of conditional constructions (not approached here), but both are used as well in desiderative expressions (sometimes not easy to be delimitated from the “purely” conditional ones), desiderative law being much more frequent than desiderative ʾizā.

27A construction that seems to stand for a hypothesis or expectation that has a chance to be achieved in the future, often carrying a bouletic modal flavor, when it refers to a positive possible development, interpretable as such depending on context (otherwise, it remains a marker of supposition – 'in the case that…') is ʾizā kān (Past, uninflected)+verb at Past (although the expectancy is directed towards the future):

284. ʾiza kān ṭlaʿnā mәn ha-n-nār, bәddi rabbī wlādī wēnma kān! D (If we get out of this hell, I will raise my kids anywhere!)

29Desiderative law

30Does law always refer to a failed hope in the past? Does it refer to an unrealized /unrealizable hypothesis or unachieved /unachievable hope?

31Cowell (1964: 335) states that “most conditions expressed with law are hypothetical and most, therefore, are contrary to the fact or expectation. The verb of a law-clause is generally in the perfect tense”, but adds that “in desiderative (if only, would that) conditions, however, law is commonly followed by verbs in the imperfect (indicative or subjunctive) or by non-verbal clauses. The apodosis is often suppressed”. The following example from Cowell illustrates the desiderative value of law followed by imperfect:

325. law yәḥki kәlme waḥde btәnḥall әl-mәškle D (If he would just speak up once, the problem would be solved!)

33Intonation and contextual factors may make conditional statements with law interpretable as carrying a desiderative complex meaning (bouletic modality). The use of law implies the regret that the desired event has not happened so far, but it does not necessarily indicate that it cannot occur in the future. The nuance of regret/disappointment is almost always present, but possibly mixed with the flavor of resilient hope.

34Structures containing law

35- Followed by Past; kān at past tense + verb at past tense, in the main clause:

366. kәnt rәәt maʿkon әmbērḥa law žītu la-ʿanna bakkīr! D (I would have gone with you yesterday if you had come to us/our place early/earlier!)

37- Present in the conditional clause - Present tense of kān (uninflected) followed by the present, in the main clause because the condition/situation affects the current decision making:

387. law bābā mәš mašġūl, kān nәṭlaʿ ʿa bēt nēnt-ak ya ḥabībī, yā karbūğ! A (Should Daddy not be busy, we would go to your Grandma's, my sweetie, my pumpkin!).

39However, usually, kān is followed by the past tense:

408. law rәḥti la-ʿando bә-l-ʿeiyyāde! kәnti taʿarrafti ʿa-d-daktōr yalli mart-o rōmāniyye. Bas yallah, l-marra ž-žāye. Mḥammad birūḥ l-o kәll žәmʿa. A If you had gone to him to the clinic! (=You should have gone to him to the clinic!) You would have made the acquaintance of the doctor whose wife is Romanian. But no problem, next time. Muhammad goes to him every week.

41- In the context, and with the main clause omitted, the bouletic value is prominent: hope is open for the future; kān is absent from both clauses:

429. āḫ, law šәft-o tānī! D, A Oh, if I'd see him again! (Intonation conveying the meaning of regret, longing, and hope)

4310. law rakab әṭ-ṭeyyāra ʾabәl ma yisakkarū l-maṭār! Bas ma mnaʿref! Yā rēt-o laḥaʾ! D If he only could get on the plane before they closed the airport! But we don't know! I wish he made it! (Intonation of fear+hope).

4411. law ʿand-o nәdfet ḥaẓẓ bas! nattūse! D If he only had a bit of luck! Just a bit of it!

45- Followed by kān (perfect) with apodosis suppressed; the hope seems to be directed mostly towards the future, but the context may clarify if it is just a failed hope in the past:

4612. law kәnt әbmaḥall-ak bas! D If I only were in your position/shoes [in the past, now, or in the future]! Bas reinforces the sense of regret, but also of hope (like 'only' in English).

4713. law kān әl-žaw ʾarḥam b-šuwayy! D If only the weather were/was/will be a bit milder! (Out of the larger context, it is not possible to determine the temporal orientation).

48- Followed by the indicative present:

4914. law bәtšūfī šʾad kānet ẓarīfe w-ḥabbābe maʿnā! A I wish you had seen / You should have seen how kind and affectionate she was with us! The law clause expresses the regret for the past (that the interlocutor has not seen or witnessed the signs of kindness, but the Indicative Present induces the hope that the desired thing may happen in the future.

50- Present conditional: lawlā mā

5115. kәnnā bәnrūḥ maʿkon lawlā mā kān ʿannā mawʿed ed-daktōr el-lēle. Yā ḫsāra! D We would go with you if we hadn't the doctor's appointment today. What a pity!

52Polysemantic yā rēt

53Meanings: would that it were…; I wish / If only it were that…; I wish you (or other person) [could] do, etc. It is a conventionalized expression of failed hope, as illustrated by the saying:

5416. Kalimat yā rēt ʿumr-a ma bi-tʿammer bēt. D and A Literally: The expression “if only” never builds a house, i.e. With “if only” / “I wish it were” [with a defeatist attitude], one can never build a house.

55Structures containing yā rēt

56- Followed by verb at:

57Past: expresses failed hope; if the verb is kān, it may be elided (18)

5817. yā rēt sәmәʿ kalām w-mā sēfer! A I wish he listened to what he had been told and didn't travel/leave!

5918. yā rēt [әš-šaġle] basīṭa la-ha-daraže! D Would that it were so simple! / If only it were so simple! / I wish the situation were/was so simple!

60Subjunctive: has the bouletic flavor of regenerated hope oriented towards future or a 'possible world':

6119. yā rēt težmaʿnā munāsabāt ḥәlwe mәtl hāy dayman! A I wish there will always be nice occasions like this to bring us together!

6220. yā rēt ʾaʾder ʾәʾra ha-r-rmūz әṣ-ṣīnīyye! (Cowell, 1964: 350) I wish I could read those Chinese characters! (Cowell’s translation)

63Indicative present: conveys hope+doubt, uncertainty

6421. yā rēt b-yismaʿ kalām! A I wish/hope he listens to what he is being told!

65- Followed by suffix pronoun (more frequently 2nd person)+verb at the indicative present or subjunctive: expresses failed hope in the past, blended with possibly open hope for the future; it has a predominant deontic flavor, based on a deontic accessibility relation. In a specific context, it overtly expresses the speaker's desire and suggestion/advice (symbouletic modality) for the interlocutor:

6622. yā rēt-ak әtsāfer w-tlāʾī šī šәġәl b(i) Tәrkiyā! A I wish you [could] travel = you should travel and find some job in Turkey!

6723. yā rēt-o b-yismaʿ kalām! Bas wēn?! A

68I wish he were / he will be receptive to what he's being told! But where is a chance for this to happen?! (No way, there is too little hope!)

69The time projection may be ambiguous; the indicative present projects in the future a hope on which doubt and uncertainty are cast.

70- Versions with kān (discussed with informants):

7124. yā rēt-o kān b-yismaʿ kalām! – I wish he were [a man who / of the kind who is] receptive to what he is being told! Analyzed in context (omitted here), it expresses failed hope (based on past experience of failure) with the indicative present after kān indicating that the illocutionary force is oriented towards the present.

7225. yā rēt-o kān sәmeʿ kalām! - I wish he had listened to what he was told! Past after kān indicates failed hope in the past.

73- Construction with elided: rēt +pronoun suffix: would sooner/rather do… than…; the desiderative flavor persists:

7426. ḫalto, rēt-nī šaṭṭaf kәll әl-bēt mәn taḥәt la-sṭūḥ badal ma ʾaṭboḫ!…Bas ʾәmmī ʾaʻde tәʾllī šlōn (bә)dd-ik tetğawwazī?! A Aunty, I would sooner/rather (= I would be happier to) clean the floors in the whole house, from the ground to the roof terrace, than cook!... But my mom keeps telling me “how will you get married” [if you don't know how to cook]?!

75Local/regional expression ʿalaww (ʿalawwāh) from Damascus outskirts (rīf әŠ-Šām), but also Aleppo

76Abderraḥīm (2003) considers it of Syriac origin, meaning layta / yā ḥabbadā / yā rēt; we tend to believe that it is related either to the Classical Arabic particle ʿalla or to the root ʿ-l-w (cf. the colloquial exclamation ʿāl in the sense of ʿaẓīm great!). It seems to us that the value conveyed is complex: that of intense desire shadowed by little hope (as if the sense of the - frequently associated - particle ʿasā, was embedded).

7727. ʿalaww / ʿalawwāh tiži la-ʻanna šī yōm! I so much wish you could come to us one day! (Implied meaning: but there is so little hope for this to happen).

7828. bǝdd-o yiṣīr doktōr?! ʿalaww! He wants to become a doctor?! Great then! (Implies it would be great, wonderful, but there is too little hope / I doubt we'll see this happen!).

79Combined expression law+yā rēt

8029. Zaraʿnā law ṭalaʿ(et) yā rēt. Possible translations: we planted “if”, it came up “if only” / “would that”; we threw the seeds of “if”, they germinated “if only”; we have sown “if”, it came up “it would have been so nice!”, etc. Sometimes considered a saying (maqūla), some other times a proverb (matal), this expression figures on many lists of Syrian proverbs, but it is also on Palestinian Arabic lists and seems to be spread over the whole Levantine area (possibly a pan-Arabic proverb?). It expresses affliction caused by an unfulfilled wish, the deep regret caused by a failed (or failing) hope to see a good outcome of some action or development.

81A cultural aspect, perhaps relevant, is that in the Islamic tradition, law marks a statement negatively, if used to express the regret related to one's deeds in the past or past events. A prophetical tradition recounted by Muslim (cf. Al-Nawawī, el., Šarḥ…: Kitāb al-qadar, Bāb al-ʾamr bi-l-quwwa…) warns about the fact that “law opens the [way to the] work of the devil” (law taftaḥu ʿamal aš-šayṭān); al-Nawawī's explanation is that law “sows in the heart the opposition to the divine decree and [through this] Satan awakes in the heart his temptation/doubts” (yulqī fī-l-qalb muʿāraḍat al-qadar wa-yuwaswisu bi-hi š-šayṭān).

82Versions of the same expression (29) are wordplay, pun-like expressions, not as widely spread sayings or frequent formulas; sometimes, they seem to be individual creations; checked with Syrian informants, they proved to be functional and meaningful:

8330. law zaraʿnā law kān ṭalaʿet yā rēt! If we had sown/planted “if”, it would have come up “if only” / “would that it were…”

8431. zaraʿnā әl-law ṭalaʿet / talaʿ bi-l-ʾāḫer yā rēt We sowed the seeds of “the if”, at the end it came up “if only” / “would that it were…”. Note that law is articulated or substantivized, meaning “the” if, a specific type of if, well defined, interpretable as the one carrying by excellence the meaning of doubt (defeatist, pessimistic view).

8532. fa-law zaraʿnā law talaʿ yā rēt w-yā rēt yiṭallaʿ rēt. Kān mā ʾәlnā law! And, if/since we sowed “if”, it came up “if only”; and “if only” sprouts/germinates “would that it were”. Were it not that we said “if”!

8633. zaraʿnā yā rēt ʾām talaʿ law! We planted “I wish it were” / “if only”, and – [surprise!] – came up “if”!

8734. hād bizakkirnī b(i)-matal kānet settī bәtʾūl-u: zaraʿnā law talaʿ yā rēt! D This reminds me of a saying/proverb that my grandma used to say: “We planted 'if', it came up 'I wish it were'/'if only'”.

8835. zaraʿnā law fi ʾarḍ kāna ṭalaʿet yā rēt We planted/sowed the seeds of “if” in the soil of “to be” (“it would have been”) and it came up “if only”. This very interesting version that introduces kāna in the combination is more elaborated.

89On the above-mentioned versions an informant commented:

9036. law zaraʿt yā rēt w-law, raḥ yinabbit l-ak lā šī. If you sow “I wish it were” and “if”, they will germinate /bring about nothing for you (the outcome will be nothing).

91A word on double modals with bouletic component

92Many examples of bouletic modality in English contain “should”, considered as the most versatile modal, but whose main flavors are deontic-bouletic. “Should” is often a part of a double modal construction. It has been noted that (Kilpatrick & Barker, el.: 4):

(…) the meaning of a double-modal construction cannot be equated with any interpretation of the lower modal alone, nor can it be paraphrased by the meaning of any single modal. Rather, each modal makes its own characteristic and irreducible contribution to the meaning of the construction as a whole.

93The same authors emphasize (p.13) that “there are two crucial restrictions evident: the lower modal [the first] always has a circumstantial base, and the upper modal [the second] always has a bouletic ordering source”. The following example would reveal the virtues of the construction ʾaḥsan l(a)+pronoun suffix (all words pronounced together, in one sequence) that seems to play in Syrian the role of deontic-bouletic “should”. In both 37 and 38, this construction represents the upper modal; in 38, both modals carry a bouletic modal meaning, together conveying a symbouletic modal flavor (strong recommendation).

9437. bižūz / žāyez ʾaḥsan-l-ak ma trūḥ. D Maybe you should not go / Maybe it would be better [for you] that you don't go.

9538. ʾēš d-aʾǝll-ak, ʾaḥsanl-ak ǝtkūn bi-l-bēt ʾabǝl ma yeržaʿ ʾabūk. A I want to tell you something: you should better be home before your father returns.

Final remark

96This paper has highlighted a series of conventionalized expressions that form the hard core of the positive pole of the bouletic modality in spoken Arabic from Syria. Beyond conventionalization (or, sometimes, right because of it), there is wide room for the speaker's creativity, as far as the main syntactic constructions and key-words are preserved. Further investigation should probably focus on the core of the negative pole, followed by the expressions situated at variable distances from the two poles, but liable to convey bouletic meaning. The material available for analysis suggests that the less conventionalized are some expressions, the more we need to incorporate pragmatic analysis tools (indirect speech acts, conversational implicatures, pragmatic politeness theories, mitigation, etc.), as the bouletic flavor may be evasive or blended with other modal flavors, depending on the complex pragmatic context.



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1 Published articles cover the period 2002-2017.

2 Firanescu 2016 and 2017.


Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

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