Language in Society


Inshallah: Religious invocations in Arabic topic transition

Rebecca Clifta1 and Fadi Helania2

a1 Department of Language and Linguistics, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, Essex CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom

a2 Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Aleppo, Aleppo, Syria


The phrase inshallah ‘God willing’ is well known, even to non-Arabic speakers, as a mitigator of any statement regarding the future, or hopes for the future. Here we use the methods of conversation analysis (CA) to examine a less salient but nonetheless pervasive and compelling interactional usage: in topic-transition sequences. We use a corpus of Levantine (predominantly Syrian) Arabic talk-in-interaction to pay detailed attention to the sequential contexts of inshallah and its cognates across a number of exemplars. It emerges that these invocations are used to secure possible sequence and topic closure, and that they may engender reciprocal invocations. Topical talk following invocations or their responses is subsequently shown to be suspended by both parties; this provides for a move to a new topic by either party. (Arabic, religious expressions, conversation, conversation analysis, topic)

(Received April 09 2009)

(Revised October 19 2009)

(Accepted October 26 2009)

(Reviewed November 20 2009)