Forms Of Address In Algerian Arabic

أشكال التخاطب في اللهجة العربية الجزائرية

Les formes d'adresse en arabe algérien


Naouel OUASTI, « Forms Of Address In Algerian Arabic », Aleph [], 9 (1) | 2022, 19 April 2021, 22 May 2024. URL :

‘Forms of Address’ is an important custom that we use over and over in our daily speech and writing. A form of address is a word used as an identifying appellation which takes different forms signifying status, function, or kin relation. In other words, it is a word by which someone is designated or called in speech or writing.

This study deals with such forms in Algerian Arabic since they are very important in establishing interpersonal relations and a key factor in keeping up conversations among members of the speech community. Besides, they are considered as specific markers of polite behaviour. The study will focus on the following research questions:

1- What are the different forms of address used in Algerian Arabic i.e. the spoken dialect (in the speech community of Maghnia situated at the extreme west of Algeria)?

2- What are the social variables governing the choice of address terms in Algerian Arabic?

3- How is politeness reflected through different choices of those terms expressing familiarity and distance?

The forms of address used in the dialect investigated – the Arabic variety of Maghnia – can take the form of names, kinship terms, personal pronouns, other terms originated from marriage relationship and occupational titles in addition to certain terms reserved to old people. Those forms are less complicated in informal situations because in formal ones their choice is determined by the type of people with whom we interact.

“أشكال التخاطب” هي عادة مهمة نستخدمها مرارًا وتكرارًا في حديثنا وكتاباتنا اليومية. شكل التخاطب هو كلمة تستخدم كتسمية تعريف تأخذ أشكالًا مختلفة للدلالة على الحالة أو الوظيفة أو علاقة القرابة. بمعنى آخر، إنها كلمة يتم من خلالها تحديد أو استدعاء شخص ما في الكلام أو الكتابة.

تتناول هذه الدراسة مثل هذه الأشكال في اللهجة العربية الجزائرية لأنها مهمة جدًا في إقامة العلاقات الشخصية وعاملاً رئيسًا في مواكبة المحادثات بين أعضاء مجتمع الكلام. إلى جانب ذلك، تعتبر علامات محددة للسلوك المهذب. ستركز الدراسة على الأسئلة البحثية التالية :

1- ما هي أشكال التخاطب المختلفة المستخدمة في اللهجة العربية الجزائرية أي اللهجة المنطوقة (في مجتمع الكلام في مغنية الواقع في أقصى غرب الجزائر)؟

2- ما هي المتغيرات الاجتماعية التي تحكم اختيار مصطلحات التخاطب في اللهجة العربية الجزائرية؟

3- كيف ينعكس الأدب من خلال الاختيارات المختلفة لتلك المصطلحات التي تعبر عن الألفة والبعد؟

يمكن أن تأخذ أشكال التخاطب المستخدمة في اللهجة التي تم التحقيق فيها - وهي اللهجة العربية المتنوعة لمغنية - شكل الأسماء، ومصطلحات القرابة، والضمائر الشخصية ، والمصطلحات الأخرى التي نشأت من علاقة الزواج والألقاب المهنية بالإضافة إلى مصطلحات معينة مخصصة لكبار السن. تكون هذه الأشكال أقل تعقيدًا في المواقف غير الرسمية لأنه في الحالات الرسمية يتم تحديد اختيارها من خلال نوع الأشخاص الذين نتفاعل معهم.

Les « formes d’adresse » sont une coutume importante que nous utilisons très souvent dans nos discours et nos écrits quotidiens. Une forme d’adresse est un mot utilisé comme une appellation d’identification qui prend différentes formes signifiant un statut, une fonction ou une relation de parenté. En d’autres termes, c’est un mot par lequel quelqu’un est désigné ou appelé par la parole ou par écrit. Cette étude traite de ces formes en arabe algérien car elles sont très importantes dans l’établissement de relations interpersonnelles et un facteur clé pour maintenir les conversations entre les membres de la communauté de la parole. En outre, elles sont considérées comme des marqueurs spécifiques du comportement poli. L’étude se concentrera sur les questions de recherche suivantes :

1- Quelles sont les différentes formes d’adresse utilisées en Arabe Algérien c’est-à-dire le dialecte parlé (dans la communauté de la parole de Maghnia située à l’extrême ouest de l’Algérie) ?

2- Quelles sont les variables sociales qui régissent le choix des termes d’adresse en Arabe Algérien ?

3- Comment la politesse se reflète-t-elle à travers différents choix de ces termes exprimant la familiarité et la distance ?

Les formes d’adresse utilisées dans le dialecte étudié - la variété Arabe de Maghnia - peuvent prendre la forme de noms, de termes de parenté, de pronoms personnels, d’autres termes issus du mariage et de titres professionnels en plus de certains termes réservés aux personnes âgées. Ces formes sont moins compliquées dans les situations informelles car dans les situations formelles, leur choix est déterminé par le type de personnes avec lesquelles nous interagissons.


Forms of address are words by which we refer to or address someone. They are, as Keshavarz (2001: 6) has elegantly defined them, “linguistic forms that are used in addressing others to attract their attention or for referring to them in the course of a conversation.” They may vary according to age, gender or social status of the person being addressed. They take the form of names, titles, pronouns, verb endings, etc. In defining such forms, Braun (1988: 7), writes: ‘Address is a speaker’s linguistic reference to his/her collocutor(s)’ i.e. these words are not only used to get the addressee’s attention but also to refer to him or her for example when saying: ‘excuse me’ or ‘hi’. In another definition he says that forms of address are: ‘words and phrases speakers of language use to address their collocutors (Braun, 1988: 7).

Terms of address are also characterized by Braun (1988, 7) as ’words and phrases used for addressing’. He states that the address behaviour is ‘the way speakers of language use address variants available to them in their repertory’ (Braun, 1988:13) adding that ‘address system includes all the available terms of address in a specific language’ (Braun: 1988:12). Parkinson (2013)1, also, adds other ’communication functions’ of terms of address: ’summoning, establishing, and maintaining contact with the addressee throughout a conversation; ordering and cajoling; and calling the addressee something.’ These linguistic forms may ’include pronouns, honorifics, pronoun substitutes‟, names, nicknames, teknonyms, titles, and other words used vocatively’ (Parkinson, 2013). They are linguistically as well as cognitively important in showing how addressees are perceived and categorized by their addressers (Maalej, 2010:148).

Links between language and context with regard to terms of address have received a great deal of interest from linguists and also scholars of sociolinguistics have focused on the different sub-types of these forms - such as kinship forms, titles, nicknames, personal names, personal pronouns, and honorifics - and how their usage is governed by a variety of sociolinguistic and socio cultural variables such as sex, age, degree of relationship (i.e. blood relation, intimate, distant etc.), degree of formality/informality, power/solidarity, social status/education, etc. Levinson (1983:63) asserts that in many languages. The gradation between the ranks of interlocutors is systematically predetermined. Usually sociolinguists rely on pragmatics to explain some of the linguistic features of terms of address from a socio-pragmatic standpoint. Politeness theories, in particular (Brown and Levinson 1987, and Comrie 1976; cited in Nevala 2004), are used to investigate terms of address as well as forms of reference.

The present study is mainly concerned with identifying the different terms of address which exist in Algerian Arabic, in an attempt to explore the different socio-pragmatic variables that determine their usage, with a view to explain how they are selected to perform different levels of politeness.

As far as the research strategy is concerned, the most common method of data collection in studying verbal behaviour adopted in this research is called the Discourse Completion Task (DCT) in which participants are provided with a written questionnaire that consists of different social situations where the participants are expected to use a term of address in order to call someone or talk to him bearing in mind the differences in social relations which exist between interlocutors. Moreover, personal observations and note taking were also employed.

1. Purpose and Significance of the Study

From the diachronic study of Algeria, we conclude that it is a melting pot for people from different races, various ethnic and cultural backgrounds; this makes its linguistic situation quite complex and gives birth to heavy parameters ‘diglossia’ and ‘bilingualism’ which greatly influenced the Algerian social and cultural background and hence their linguistic repertoire.

As forms of language usage are crucial to building social relationships, the present study aims at analyzing the address system employed by Algerians since it is a reliable way and one aspect that can therefore reflect those linguistic, political, and cultural values of the society. Studies of the way people address each other in face-to-face interaction have been related to another phenomenon ‘politeness’ that is one of the functions carried out by language. It refers to “the behaviour which entirely expresses positive concern for others as well as non-imposing distance behaviour.” (Holmes, 1995:5). In other words, linguistic politeness is an expression of cultural values, connected to what is considered proper or prescriptive of how people should act.

Accordingly, our aim in this research work is to contribute the great body of information on the address behaviour in expressing politeness from an Algerian perspective bearing in mind the nature of the Algerian sociolinguistic situation. For doing so, we tend to examine different forms of address employed in the spoken discourse of Algerians and how they are linguistically manifested to express different levels of politeness.

2. Literature Review on Address Terms in Arabic Language

The interest in the use of terms of address has started since the publication of Roger Brown and Albert Gilman (1960) landmark article ‘Pronouns of Power and Solidarity’ which studies the two choice system of ‘Tu’ and ‘Vous’ each one having a semantic implication. To differentiate the two pronouns function, Brown and Gilman (1960) put forward the two notions of ‘power’ and ‘solidarity’ (1978). They mean by the first the social distance that exists between the speaker and the listener, whereas the second is always associated with familiarity and intimacy. They conclude that solidarity is reciprocal since it is used between equals while power is non – reciprocal because it is used with people of social distance, to whom we show a certain kind of respect.

Based on Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory, Brown and Gilman’s (1960) theory of power/solidarity and Brown and Ford’s (1961) theory of intimacy/status, a considerable body of research was conducted on Arabic Language terms of address.

First, El-Anani (1971) works on terms of address used by Jordanian-Arabic speakers. He focuses more on status and role-relations of Jordanian interlocutors. Many types of Jordanian terms of address (e.g. kinship terms, pronouns, respectful terms, forms of endearment and affection, forms of approval and disapproval, and imperative sentences) have been identified and analyzed in terms of their linguistic features.

Observing natural interactions, Yassin (1975) provides a descriptive analysis of the terms of address in Kuwaiti colloquial Arabic. Depending mainly on natural observations, he identifies different address forms such as kin-terms, personal names, teknonyms, patronyms, nicknames, titles, occupational names, etc. The findings of his study show that the choice of both reciprocal and nonreciprocal modes of address in social activities is determined by the two dimensions of power and solidarity. Moreover, it is found that a variety of ’respectful address-forms’ – as he calls them – are used such as: titles, occupational terms, as well as forms used for command/request like imperatives, declaratives and tag-questions.

In another study, Alrabaa (1985) investigates the usage of Egyptian pronominal terms of address through administering a questionnaire to 87 participants of different age, sex, and social class. Considering the two parameters power/solidarity of Brown and Gilman (1960) in collecting data, he states that age and social status variables are crucial in choosing between ’inta/’inti ’you’ and aritak and aritik “you‟ corresponding respectively to T and V pronouns in Brown and Gilman (1960). Sex, however, is the least influential factor among other sociolinguistic measures.

Farghal and Shaker (1994) study the relational social honorifics used by Jordanians, and examine the socio-pragmatic rules that govern their usage. They categorize these honorifics into two major classes: 1- kin-terms and 2- titles of address. Both classes include two other sub-classes, (a) distant honorifics which are used for strange addressees, and (b) affectionate ones used for friends and relatives, and rarely for strangers. They come up with the proposition that the interaction between language and society in Jordanian Arabic is subtle and elaborate.

Mashiri (2003) provides a sociolinguistic interpretation of Shona native speakers’ use of kinship terms, and how these terms are used as communicative resources to invoke social meanings in non-kin relations.

Shehab (2005) tests the translatability of some addressing terms in Najib Mahfouz’s famous novel Ziqaq Al-Midaq into English. In discussing the results of the study, he refers to Levinson’s (1983) classification of terms of address: absolute terms which are used for ’authorized speakers and authorized recipients’ (e.g. ‘’دكتور “doctor” for PhD holders or medical doctor), and relational ones which are ’used merely for social purposes’ (e.g. ’أستاذ‘ “professor” when used to show respect and politeness to any addressee is relational, but when used by students to their teachers, it turns to be absolute) (Shehab, 2005 p.311).

In 2010, Maalej investigates how terms of address are used by speakers of Tunisian Arabic in addressing non-acquaintances. It is found that Tunisian speakers inject kinship-related terms in addressing non-acquaintances in an attempt to create familiarity and minimize social distance.

Taha (2010) traces the etymological sources of address terms in Dongolawi Nubian, a Nilo-Saharan language variety spoken in Sudan. Terms are classified into native Nubian forms and borrowed ones of Arabic, Turkish, and English origin. Taha concludes that contacts with other languages and cultures have resulted in a variety, richness, and relative degree of flexibility in Dongolawi Nubian terms of address.

AL-Qudah (2017) studies address terms in Jordanian Arabic. Six major categories of address forms are the focus of the study. The latter identifies their social meaning, and the governing factors that control their use. It also reveals that the social meaning of Jordanian terms of address is context- dependent. For instance, kinship terms are used to address relatives and non- relatives to support positive face. Tecnonyms are found to be greatly embedded in the Jordanian culture as polite terms of address since they are nearly used in all social domains.

3. Politeness in Address Behaviour

The underlying principle of politeness is to preserve harmony by showing good intentions and consideration for the feelings of others. Every culture has developed certain mechanisms to signal that speakers are or are not attempting to be polite.

The study of the politeness phenomenon is closely related to address studies and has much to contribute to it. Following Brown and Levinson (1978-1987) terminology, negative politeness is the heart of respect behaviour, whereas positive politeness is the kernel of “familiar” and “joking” behaviour. One of its common forms is “the identity markers”, such as address forms which explain a connection between the speaker and addressee (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 107-9).

Researches focussing on the address system usually take another position; they limit their treatment of politeness to the usage of distant address forms. Both aspects of linguistic politeness are clearly distinguished by Kasper (1990:194-197). The choice of a specific address form is defined as “social – indexing” which depends upon the relationship between the participants; this is opposed to “strategic politeness” where choices are made dependent upon situational variables and intentions. Nevertheless, power relations which determine “social indexing” or address system may influence “strategic politeness” but the latter is dependent on more factors (degree of imposition). In most languages, a high level of address calls for a large grade of politeness but the opposite is not always true.

Forms of address are best understood by examining dyadic interaction, that is, by noting the address form exchanges between any given pair of individuals..

Therefore the present study intends first to identify the various address terms employed in the spoken dialect of the extreme west of Algeria and second how people show their familiarity or respect making different choices of those terms with distinct participants in different situations when performing different tasks. For doing so, the research takes into account the three most influential models of politeness: Lakoff’s rules of pragmatic competence (1972), Leech (1983) ‘Grand’ scheme, Brown and Levinson (1978-1987) politeness strategies bearing in mind Brown and Gilman ‘pronouns of power and solidarity’ which is the basis of all the above mentioned theories.

Here we intend to analyse ‘power’ and ‘solidarity’ notions reflected in various forms of address -under the heading of Brown and Levinson’ politeness- in family interaction since the family unit is an integral part of society and such should form an integral part of the study of linguistics; it is also the best representative of solidarity politeness. In this analysis the levels of politeness are addressed from two different viewpoints. The first is the use of positive politeness strategies in the family with a focus on the in-group address forms and their significant role in family discourse; whereas the second is a switch to the use of negative politeness strategies in different academic situations focussing on address behaviour required to fit the needs of the interlocutors

4. Method and Data Collection

4.1. Collection of Data

In the first part of the questionnaire, personal information about the informants was gathered to find out the factors affecting the linguistic choice such as: age, sex, birthplace, educational background, jobs practiced and social rank were collated.

In the second part, informants were asked to give a taxonomy of different terms they use to address various categories of people in the speech community under investigation. (Family members, friends, colleagues and their responsibles, neighbours, teachers, etc)

The third part of the questionnaire was devoted to how the two famous concepts put forward by Brown and Levinson (1978-1987) namely positive and negative politeness are reflected in the spoken repertoire of my speech community through the use of different terms of address when performing different tasks in their life like doing shopping, asking for food in a restaurant, asking for something in a dinner table, etc. The persons interviewed had different educational backgrounds (graduate, undergraduate, primary, middle and secondary education); very few of them were illiterate. Most of them belonged to the 14-50 age range; there were only few people who were above 50 years old.

4.2. Results and Analysis

Each language has specific forms of address associated to different levels of formality and governed by a set of rules that decide which forms can be used in which circumstances.

In Arabic like all other languages one person may receive different addresses from different speakers for example, a woman could be addressed as ‘Mrs x’ title plus family name, as ‘y’ her first name by her colleagues, with a surname by her family and as ‘Mum’ by her children.

The same phenomenon happens in our speech community; if your father is presenting a lesson and you call him/bba/(Dad) in class, it is considered disrespectful while at home calling him ‘teacher’ will be perceived as equally inappropriate. Hence, some settings require certain forms of address which can be rude in other settings.

According to the observations, interviews, questionnaires and surveys I did, forms of address are determined by a/Characteristics of the person addressed (adult/child, male/female, married/single), b/Features that characterize the relationship between the speaker and the addressee (for example: role, age, class), c/Attributes of the situation (intimate, formal, or informal).

After discussing the major types of address which occur in Algerian Spoken Arabic and the way the Arabic system works, selected groups of speakers and addressees are examined to determine the usage of various terms taking into account their age, rank and gender.

4.2.1. Positive Politeness Use of In-group Identity Markers

One of the most prominent positive politeness strategies in family discourse is the use of terms of address that include the addressee with the addresser in a commonality. According to the data collected, those forms concentrate on three word classes: (1) pronouns, (2) verbs’ inflections, (3) nouns supplemented by words which are syntactically dependent on them (Braun, 1988:7). These forms are frequently employed in family discourse to show solidarity politeness. In fact, since subject pronouns are not obligatory in Arabic, familiar pronouns/nta/(masculine ‘you’), /ntija/ (feminine ‘you’) i.e. second person singular pronouns are rarely used for a direct address but generally as referent forms. In the plural, the second person plural pronouns/ntu:ma/ or/ntuma:n/are used for both men and women. Besides, /huwa/(he), /hija/(she), /hu:ma/, /huma:n/ (they) third person singular and plural referent pronouns are most of the time used to avoid repetition of a former indirect address with a noun.

The informants in our data argue that the usage of direct pronouns is only to emphasize or insist on the addressee’s role in the conversation as the following example shows:

A: /rak ʕlija ana/ (you speak to me?)
B: /wah rani ʕlik nta/(yes, I mean you)

Therefore, pronouns in Algerian Arabic can be represented by congruent verb forms alone (second person singular) to cover all everyday conversations. To explain the point more clearly, here is a recorded conversation between a stepmother and daughter-in-law speaking about other stepmother’s daughter.

  1. Extract 1

A: /kisbahtu wkiraha lamrida lju:m /
(How are you today and how is the patient today?)
B: /raha kiʒʒәn wantuma kisbahtu mυhammәd ma jaXdәm/
(She is like a devil and you, how do you feel, this morning? Mohammed, has he gone to work?)
A: /wah sbah mbakkar wlabna:t maʒawʃ galu nʒi:w ssbah/
(Yes, he gets up early, and girls (your daughters) didn’t come, they said: “We ‘ll come in the morning.”)
B: /ɤadi nahdәr mʕa zakija wanʃu:f/
(I’ll call Zakia and see what the matter is.)
B : /ʔalᴅ zakija matʒi:wʃ wәlla kifaʃ/
/Hello Zakia! Don’t you come?)
C : /ʔana rani fettri:g bәssah fatiha muha:l tʒi whuwarija raha temma ?/
(Me, I’m on my way but Fatiha, I think she won’t come and Houaria, is she there?)
B :/hadik lmaɤbu:na bajna maXellahaʃ tʒi bәssah huwarija wnæwel ʒaw lba:rәh/
(That miserable, is certainly not allowed to come but Houaria and Naouel came yesterday.)

The extract above shows that there is a great informality between the interlocutors involved in this conversation, the speakers are using a direct language and familiar terms to the addressee like first names; closeness is also inflected in verbs’ suffixation like/kiraha/(how is she?), /kisbahtu/(how do you feel this morning?); there is also a use of terms of pity/lmaɤbu:na/(that miserable), /lamrida/(the patient) in addition to a term of insult referring to a child who was ill/ʒʒәn/(devil).

With examining another extract, other terms of address are employed in a conversation between a mother and her son of five years old.

  1. Extract 2

A: /jasi:n ru:h ʕand mart Xalәk taʕte:k lfto:r luXtәk/
(Yassine, go to your uncle’s wife and ask her to give you lunch for your sister).
B: /tata gatlәk mama ʕti:ni lafto:r luXti/.
B: (Tata, mum says give lunch for my sister)
C: /sahha tata/(ok, tata).
‘B’ goes to the kitchen and comes back with a tray full of food and said:
B: /haki mama/(Here it is, mum).
A: /ru:h ʕawәd sæʕdiwlidi ʒi:bli lma /
(Go again, dearest son, to bring me water).

Here the in-group address forms used with an imperative/ru:h/(Go) indicates that the mother considers the power between herself and her son and even the social distance between this boy and his uncle’s wife; these are represented in the Kts/tata/and/mart Xalәk/(referring to the uncle’s wife), and/mama/(mum). The second request of the mother is also given in the imperative but followed by a term of endearment/saʔdi/(my dearest) in addition to the Kt/wlidi/(my little son) is employed in order to soften the imperative and indicate that it is not a direct order as well as expressing familiarity and respect at the same time. Thus, when used with children, the imperative structure is turned from an order into a request (Brown and Levinson, 1987 :108).

Another kind of address to note in family discourse is the frequent use of terms of endearment including both nicknames and pet-names. The former are those informal, often humorous words connected to the person’s character or appearance; the latter are names used for somebody instead of the real name to show affection. Examples of these are recorded in this phone conversation below between an adult female and her niece of four years old.

  1. Extract 3

A:/ʔalo ʕᴅmri bõʒu :r/(Hello, darling, Good morning!)
B: /wi tati bõʒu :r/(Yes,hello, Good morning!)
A: /kiraki twahhәʃtәk bәzzaf neffu :lti, kbarti/
(How are you, I miss you ‘nfu :lti’, you have grown older?)
B: /wi rani neqra fla kXeʃ/(yes, I’ m in the nursery school).
A : /w lolita raha tәmma hta hija twahhaʃtha tʕallmat tahdәr wәlla wa :lu/
(And ‘Lolita’ has she learnt to speak or not yet?)
B: /ʃwija ha :hija nfawwәthalәk/(A little bit, she is here. I’ll pass her to you).
C : /ʔawo tati ʔabes/(Hello ‘Tati’ fine).
A: /ʔalo ʔazzi :n té adorable/(Hello! O you wonderful, you are sweet.)

As the extract shows, great intimacy and closeness is shown to these two girls through the terms of affection (written in italics) employed and the second person singular pronoun reflected in the verbs’ ending underlined. In contrast, the adult female is receiving a kin title/tati/(instead of tata) referring to ‘my aunt’. By the way, children within the family are generally addressed by short informal forms of their first names; these forms are called diminutives. The latter type of address is according to Wood and Kroger (1991) “The ultimate indices of closeness and intimacy.”2, they are used within members of the family to soften what the listener may perceive as a threat to face. In other words, they are used to soften sometimes a parental imperative. These terms seem to function as an overall endearment of the topic of conversation and stress emotional agreement between ‘S’ and ‘H’, too (Brown and Levinson, 1987 :109). Examples of these diminutives recorded from the questionnaire responses as well as through observations are represented below in table 1.

Table 1. Diminutives Used for Address in Algerian Arabic

Names of Girls

Diminutives Used for Address

Names of Boys

Diminutives Used for Address


/nǝfu:la/, /fifi/


/mᴅmᴅ/, /mu :h/ 


/alu:ʔa/, /Lolita/

Sid Ahmed



/nani/, /nanwila/






/didᴅ/, /diden/


/biʃ/, /bisᴅ/









Zine El Abidine








Nour Eddine



/ʃuʃu/, /ʃuk/








/dala/, /didi/




/tifa/, /ʕattu:fa/




/Xeddu:ʒ/ Address Inversion

Address Inversion is another special pattern of nominal address observed in family discourse to express closeness, intimacy and solidarity. It is the use of a term, mostly Kts (which do not function as would be usual) express the addressee’s, but the speaker’s role in the dyad (Braun, 1988 :12); for example, a mother addressing a child as/mama/or an adult male addressing his nephew as/ʕammi/, or/tata/by a female adult to a child. These terms are reciprocated to the adult mother, uncle or aunt. This address inversion is not restricted to Kts but they seem to be the most frequent type within the family.

Another feature to point out here is humour, laughter that functions to express solidarity and rapport between participants. Very often, the family members especially siblings, are engaged in ‘joking relationships’ (Hay, 2000)3 where individuals tease and insult each other. This verbal sparring is employed to develop a sense of comradeship and joviality within the group (Hay, 2000)4

The system of address in Algerian Arabic, then, can be only explained from speakers’ constellations of different terms by interviewing informants with different social and cultural backgrounds. Certain variants are preferred by certain groups of speakers who are characterized in terms of regional dialect urban Vs rural background, age, kin relation, and so forth. To put it the other way round, each group of speakers in the speech community brings a typical inventory of address, thus, enlarging the general system of variants. Below in table 2 is the test informants’ data:

Table 2. Address Forms for Family Members

Family Members

22 Informants

Total: 100%

1. Father

04: /papa/
01: /ʔabi:/

68, 18%.
09, 09%
18, 18%
04, 54

2. Mother


36, 36%
50, 00%
13, 63%

3. Older brothers and sisters

22: FN

100, 00%

4. Younger brothers and sisters

12: FN
05: Petnames
05: Diminutives

54, 55
22, 72%
22, 72%

Sons and Daughters

10: FN
05: Nicknames
07: Endearing terms

45, 45%
31, 81%

6. Grand parents

Grand Father

04:/bba lha:ʒ/
01:/bba sidi/
01: /papi/

63, 63 %
04, 54 %
18, 18 %
04, 54 %
09, 09 %
04, 54 %

Grand Mother

08: /h
02: /mi:malha:ʒʒa/

06, 36%
36, 36%
09, 09%
04, 54%
04, 54%

7. Uncles

Father’s brother

13: /ʕammi/, /ʕammi/+ FN
05: /ʕammᴅ/
04: /hbi:bi/

59, 09%
22, 72%
18, 18%

Mother’s brother

13: /Xa:li/, /Xa:li/+ FN
05: /Xa:lu/
04 : /hbi:bi/

59, 09%
22, 72%
18, 18%

8. Aunt

Father’s sister

13: /ʕammti//ʕammti/+ FN
03: /ʕamtu/
06: /hbiba/

59, 09%
13, 63%

Mother’s sister

09: /Xa:lti/, /Xa :lti/+ FN
06: /Xa:ltu/
04: /hbiba/
02: /tati/
01 :/tata/

40, 90 %
27, 27 %
18, 18 %
09, 09 %
04,54 %

9. Parents in-law

Father’s in-law

04: /si:di/
02: /ʕammi/+ FN
06: /ʃi:Xi/

45, 45 %
18, 18 %
09, 09%
27, 27%

Mother’s in-law


36, 36 %
09, 09 %
18, 18 %
36, 36 %

10. Address inversion

22: Kts.e.g./bba, ʕammi, mama, ʒәddi, ʕammti, mima/


Having a closer look at the above examples, the number of selected forms is multiplied and the alternatives fall into four categories; FN (first names), Kts (kinship terms), endearing terms and address inversion. Again the various representatives of the basic categories should not be considered equivalent, because each of them has a special connotation. Thus/ʕammtu/(aunt) (+ hypocoristic suffix) (Braun, 1988 :191) seem to be more intimate or more personal than simple/ʕammti/(my aunt) and denotes that the aunt addressed is young. Moreover, addressing the parents as/mama/(Mum), /papa/(Dad), and the grand-parents as/papi/, /mami/borrowed from the French language is a characteristic of children of educated, modern collocutors and speakers with a westernized look. In contrast, informants with a veil or beard, with more strict religious tendencies totally reject these terms and prefer purely Arabic address forms as/bba/, /abi:/ or/baba/for (Dad) and/mma/or/ʔummi/for (Mum)/ʒәddi/and/mima/to address respectively their grand-parents.

To conclude, one may say that within the family, there exist pre-established and stable speaker relationships (father-mother, brothers-sisters, parents-children, etc); the latter coupled with a high degree of informality that is also a feature of the intimate genre and serves to permit the usage of a direct style (Blum-Kulka, 1997 :177) and thus informal terms of address indicating closer and intimate relationships. These terms include : first names, verb inflections, kin terms that can be combined to FN like/ʕammi ahmed/or/ʕammu ahmed/(my uncle Ahmed) corresponding roughly to the collocutor’s age or generation. The Kts may express the speaker’s age and sex too when used in address inversion. Furthermore, there are other terms indicating close relationships such as/sahbi/(a male friend), /ʒari/(neighbour) but cannot be classified under the previous categories and in which the relationship is expressed in the terms themselves. Besides, positive politeness within the family is expressed through nicknames, pet-names, diminutives, address inversion in addition to other non-linguistic features such as joking and laughter.

Therefore, family interaction is characterized by a low politeness on the part of the speaker and this affords to be direct. This directness both maintains the intimacy of the speaker’s relationship with his/her addressee and it is family- specific way of talking (Wolfson, 1988 :193).

The previous explained strategies are generated to all situations where positive politeness holds the floor of conversation, that is to say, in all familiar, informal and intimate settings. Other Terms of Address

Different from all the previous forms of address, people use other terms of affection, esteem and friendship. Many of these expressions are used by means of interjections illustrated by the article/ʔa/from CA/jaa/; the following table shows the words found in Algerian Arabic with their literally equivalents in English:

Table 3. Terms of Affection and Esteem

Terms of Affection and Esteem

English Equivalents

Terms of Affection and Esteem

English Equivalents

/ʔa sahbi/(Male in Arabic)

‘O my male friend’


‘O you beautiful’

/ʔa ʕumri/

‘O my dear’


‘O you the wise’


‘O my love’


‘O human being’

‘O my darling’

‘O you son of Adam, literally’

/ʔa zzi:n/

‘O you wonderful’

The last expression/ʔabnadәm/is used when finding fault with someone who is not acting as a human being should.

One of the functions performed by these addressing expressions which occur in many languages is to provide an address for situations in which names are unknown or could not be used.

One characteristic of the Arab culture is the frequent use of personal epithets whose distribution is conditioned by a number of factors such as age, sex, social relation (friendship, kinship…) and even appearance.

Personal epithets appear also in noun phrases with an evaluative adjective to which we refer as ‘terms of pity’ like: /maski :n/(poor), /maɤbu :na/(miserable) in Arabic that usually express pity or sympathy.

Insults or derogatory terms on the other hand, are fairly common types of address in Algerian Arabic low registers between social equals; they are generally used when the interlocutors are seriously angry. These insults can be used alone or preceded by a vocative/ʔa/in direct address. Here in table 4 are some examples with their literally equivalents in English.

Table 4. Spoken Arabic Insults Used in Address

Spoken Arabic Insults

English Equivalents

Spoken Arabic Insults

English Equivalents

/mahbu:l/,/ʕəggu :n/or/hmeq/









/ʃeta:n//ʒәn//ʕafri:t /

Names of Devils







4.2.2. Negative Politeness

If Wood and Kroger (1991:147) noted: “The maintenance of positive face requires the achievement of closeness and identity”5, then the maintenance of negative face requires the achievement of distance. Brown and Levinson (1987 :129) place negative politeness at the heart of respect behaviour, just as they place positive politeness at the heart of intimate behaviour. They remark that “negative politeness is the most elaborate and most conventionalised set of linguistic strategies for FTA redress” (ibid.p.130). They list ten strategies for the linguistic realizations of negative politeness: be conventionally indirect, use of hedges, be pessimistic, minimize the imposition, give deference, apologize, Impersonalize S and H (distancing), State the FTA as a general rule (avoidance of pronouns), nominalise (use of nouns instead of verbs) and go on record like incurring a debt or as not indebting H.

In Algerian Arabic, very often in their every-day speech people define addressees as father, mother, wife, daughter and son of someone else by expressing the addressee’s relation to another person, for example, /bant әlha:ʒ/(daughter of the pilgrim), /bant hmed/(daughter of Ahmed), /wәld ʕli/(son of Ali) and so on and so forth for the purpose of avoiding personal names; that is the key for ‘power politeness’ or ‘negative politeness’ reflected in address behaviour. Hence, avoiding address by first name alone is of per amount importance to express deference and respect but there are many other variants to show this criterion. For this reason, address research viewed distant address as the only or most important form of non-familiar interactions, i.e. negative politeness.

Power, respect, and deference are reflected through a variety of categories. Among them, we mention first, the indirect address that seems to be restricted to a special function, i.e. establishing a first contact with a stranger - An appropriate noun is a means of expressing distance - in the sense of lack of acquaintance. For this, most informants agree on /ʔaX/ (brother), /ʔuXt/ (sister), ‘ssi mohammed’ (vocative + Mohammed -FN -) even if the person’s name is not ‘Mohammed’ because it is a neutral term used to address men whose names are unknown. Even the French words ‘jeune’ (young) and ‘Monsieur’ (Sir, Mr) and ‘Madame’ (Madam, Mrs), ‘Mademoiselle’ (Miss) may turn up in an Arabic conversation for the first contact with a person whom we do not know. This kind of address is not mentioned for a long time and is sooner or later replaced by one of the normal variants which will be explained later.

It may be more interesting in this context to give a few examples of questionnaire items so that the diversity of data and its causes become more understandable. For that, we consider the following situations where there is no familiarity between participants to analyse the forms that can be employed in address behaviour: secondary school, café, court of justice and shopping.

Since subject pronouns are not obligatory in Arabic, the plural form/ntu:ma/ (plural ‘you’) rarely functions as V pronoun in the dialectal form as opposed to the standard variety of Arabic, most of the informants deny even the possibility of marking respect with the plural pronoun/ntu:ma/in their every day speech; they prefer to combine verbs with plural suffixes or inflections to indicate a difference in rank or status. On the other hand, pluralisation is usually used on the part of the speaker when he/she wants to indicate superiority over the addressee; this is done by the first person plural pronoun/hna/(we) instead of/ana/or through verb forms in the plural /mʃi:na/ (we went) rather than/mʃi:t/(I went).

Within the repertoire of free forms of address, FN can be combined with Mr/Mrs/variants: /sajjid, sajjida, ʔa:nisa/ (Mr, Mrs, Miss). The latter variants can be used without names as well. Besides, FN can be added to LN.

Another way of expressing negative politeness is the use of titles either alone or with FN as has been already explained. The latter criterion generally reflects the academic education, rank, occupation of the addressee. For instance, a recorded conversation shows that a doctor uses ‘Madame’ and receives ‘Doctor’ in turn when examining a woman. Other titles may be used e.g./ʔusta:d/, /muhandis/,… referring to (teacher, architect,……) to addressees with high academic education or who really occupy a corresponding position. In the field of education, titles can be added to the words ‘Monsieur’ or ‘Madame’, for instance ‘Monsieur l’inspecteur’ or/sajjid lmufattiʃ/(Mr the inspector) and ‘/sajjid lmudi:r/(Mr the headmaster) even in informal situations i.e. in a simple debate with those people. Besides, addressing a teacher outside or inside the class does not involve any change; the most appropriate titles are /ʔusta:d/(masc), /ʔusta:da/(fem) but addressing another male superior either a headmaster or anyone else from the administration staff is more frequent with the term/ʃi:X/for males but with/ʔusta :da/or FN for females that may also be used for an Imam responsible for religious education in a mosque.

On the other hand, in the court of justice, all lawyers, both young and old receive /ʔusta:d/ or /ʔusta:da/referring to /muha:mi/ and /muha:mija/ (male and female lawyers) but judges, attorneys and other judicial workers are addressed in return with more formal, standardized expressions which include: /sajjidi: ʔarraʔi:s/(Mr the judge or president)/hadara:t ʔassada al mustaʃa:ri:n/ or/ʒanab almahkama almuwaqara (Your Excellency, Mr the magistrate). Therefore in this kind of situations where there is a great formality between speakers and hearers not only distant pronouns are employed but also the high variety in addition to a switch to the foreign language where the context necessitates French, regarded as a prestigious language in Algeria that is usually used when a high degree of politeness is required.

In a café, for example, the waiter is addressed by his name if it is known. However if the name in unknown other terms like ‘Mohammed’, /hbi:bna/, /ʃarika/, / ʒari:/, /Xuja/, ‘jeune’ (young), ‘la famille’ (family), ‘l’artiste’ (the artist) are employed. Moreover, hand gestures like knocking at the table or calling him simply with hands i.e. avoidance of address term may be used but considered rude and impolite by the waiter.

Besides, with shopkeepers, basic categories are not so many: (1) fictive Kts (a- uncle terms/ʕammi/, /ʕammi lha:ʒ/; b- brother terms/Xuja/); (2) FN; (3) Si+ FN or LN; (4) avoidance.

The religious titles/lha:ʒ/and/lha:ʒʒa/(masc/fem pilgrim) are commonly used for addressing old people in general and otherwise with addressees who are known to have undertaken the pilgrimage to Mecca; they can also be combined to uncle or aunt terms resulting in/ʕammi lha:ʒ/and/Xalti lha:ʒʒa/meaning ‘uncle pilgrim’ and ‘aunt pilgrim’. This address term /lha:ʒ/and/lha:ʒʒa/is also used for the sake of respect of older people even if they have not been to Mecca yet.

Consequently, address variants reflecting deference and negative politeness are taken from the following categories (1) fictive Kts, (2) Mr-variants, (3) titles, (4) religious titles, and (5) avoidance.

It is important to note here that this diversity of data and of address behaviour was found with a very special section of the Algerian society i.e. different informants or sub-groups of speakers may have their own preferences according to their ethnic background. Heterogeneity would have been much greater if other groups of speakers had been included. Additional informants are potential sources of additional variants, differentiation, and factors.

Finally, the Algerian address repertoire is inhibited by the social, ethnic and linguistic characteristics of the society. Hence the Algerian repertory is rich and productive; new variants are easily formed by modifying, e.g. suffixing basic forms or to some extent by borrowing from foreign languages like/tata, tati/, from the French ‘Tante’ and /ʃf:r/‘Chauffeur’,….. Address behaviour may even seem inconsistent with one speaker since switching can be frequent and is enhanced by the multitude and variability of forms.

Here, the various constellations of the basic categories explained before are reproduced in a statistical way in table 5 below.

Table 5. Address Forms at Schools

Secondary School

30 Informants

Total: 100%



30: /ʔusta:da /



30: /ʃi:X /

100,00 %.










05:/ʔassajid lmufattiʃ
05: Mr l’inspecteur

50,00 %
25,00 %
25,00 %


05: /ssajji:d lmudi:r/


Table 6. Address Forms at the Court of Justice

Court of Justice

10 Informants

Total: 100%

Other juridical Magistrates


100,00 %


100,00 %


100,00 %

Table 7. Address Forms in a Café



36 Informants

Total: 100%






02:/ʒa :ri/
08 :/Xuja/
01:/ʔaʃba :b/
01 :‘l’artiste’

41,66 %
02,77 %
02,77 %
05,55 %
22,22 %
02,77 %
11,11 %
08,33 %
02,77 %

Table 8. Address Forms for Shopkeepers

25 Informants

Total : 100 %



15: /Xuja/

60, 00%



08, 00%


To conclude, we may point out that Algerian Arabic like many other languages and dialects has a rich repertory of address which includes a number of variants and it is obvious that the existence of those variants, pronominal or others makes non-reciprocal usage easier and more frequent and allows a more detailed encoding of differences in age, kin relation, sex, social or occupational status. Moreover cultural norms and values can be reflected in an address system because address behaviour is the way individual speakers or groups of speakers use the repertory of address variants available to them. From a sociolinguistic point of view, address behaviour is meaningful whenever speakers have to choose from several variants those that are ‘correct’ in a given conversational context.

Forms of address then are best understood by examining dyadic interaction, they are determined by a set of variables; high among them are: a/the seriousness of the face-threatening act, b/the social distance between the speaker and the hearer and c/the relative power between interlocutors. These forms of address can take the form of pronouns inflected at the end of verbs, nouns like first and last names, or others reserved to marriage, kinship relations in addition to specific terms devoted to elders, friends and neighbours or people whose names are unknown to us. Moreover, they also take the form of titles, nicknames, endearing terms, personal epithets, terms of affection and esteem, diminutives and finally insults. Besides, address behaviour is the way people choose their repertory of address variants available to them as appropriate. This appropriateness in face-to-face interactions has been related to the universal phenomenon general to all human societies, namely ‘politeness’ since it has much to contribute to it. This underlying principle of politeness which is to show good intentions and considerations for others by making use of certain mechanisms specific to each language known as ‘social indexing’ or ‘address system’. These social markers of politeness can be classified in two kinds; firstly those indicating positive politeness which involve familiarity, closeness, intimacy and secondly those indicating negative politeness which is the heart of formality, deference and respect.

To end, I also wish that this study will pave the way to those who are interested in investigating how politeness is shown or expressed by other non-verbal behaviours, like certain gestures or movements of the body, asking new questions and raising a new problematic in order to get at the conditioning factors we have uncovered.

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2 Quoted in Wolfson (1988 : 186)

3 Quoted in Braun (1988: 192)

4 Quoted in Braun (1988: 193)

5 Quoted in Wolfson (1988,187)


Université Abou Bakr Belkaid - Tlemcen

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