Stance-taking via ya′ani/ya′anu: A discourse marker in a Hebrew-Arabic language contact situation

Michal Marmorstein, Yael Maschler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore two stance-taking patterns in casual Hebrew conversation involving ya′ani/ya′anu, a discourse marker originating in colloquial Arabic. In the first, ya′ani/ya′anu, the same as Arabic yani (lit. 'it means'), frames reformulations of prior discourse serving to enhance interpersonal involvement and mutuality regarding the interlocutor's stance toward what has been said, thereby constructing intersubjectivity. The second pattern consists of a prosodic variant, ya′ani/ya′anu, functioning as a double-voiced ironic hedge. The latter is an innovation of Hebrew, brought about by its functional association with Hebrew ke′ilu 'like'. The two uses of ya′ani/ya′anu elucidate two different processes that discourse markers in language contact situations may undergo: Persistence of lexically motivated metalingual meaning, and extension of lexically unmotivated meaning. The considerably low frequency of ya′ani/ya′anu vis-à-vis ke′ilu is explained by its devaluated social meaning in current Israeli discourse, as an index of nonhegemonic religious and ethnic groups such as Arabs and Mizrahi Jews.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalLanguage in Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
*The authors have contributed equally to this study. We wish to thank the editor Jenny Cheshire and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments and suggestions on a previous version of this article. Parts of this study were presented at the Intersubjectivity in Action conference at the University of Helsinki (May 2017) and at the Fifteenth International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA) in Belfast, Northern Ireland (July 2017). We thank the participants for their comments. Yael Maschler would like to acknowledge grant #1233/16 from the Israel Science Foundation, as well as a Visiting Professorship at the Finnish Center of Excellence in Research on Intersubjectivity in Interaction at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian, and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki during February 2017, which have both enabled completion of this study. 1All Hebrew examples come from the Haifa corpus of spoken Hebrew (Maschler et al. 2019), unless otherwise noted. Transcription conventions are found in the appendix. 2The DM ya′ani/ya′anu has additional functions in Hebrew, unrelated to stance-taking. For lack of space, those functions are only mentioned below. They are discussed in detail in Marmorstein & Masch-ler (ms). 3For example, in the 100 minute corpus investigated in Marmorstein (2016), 297 tokens of yaʕni were employed. 4We employ the term irony in Ducrot & Todorov’s (1981) sense, according to which irony is a figure of speech in which the meaning of an utterance is intended as the opposite of what is said. 5This is not a true case of conversion, of course, since after such a ‘conversion’ the ‘converted’ remains Jewish. 6For the uses of the discourse marker (be)kitsur ‘anyway’, see Maschler (2009: ch. 3). 7These written examples, of course, do not include prosody, and thus cannot illustrate the stress on the penultimate syllable. 8It is interesting to note the great proliferation of ke′ilu over the past fifteen years. While the early years of corpus construction (2.5 hours collected during 1993–2002) manifest only 120 tokens, the 8.5 hours collected during 2003–2014 manifest 982 tokens (cf. Maschler 2001, 2009:132–33). 9An exception is The encyclopedic sapphire dictionary (Avneyon 1998), which lists both variants, however, with the outdated pronunciations ya′eni and ya′enu. 10The term Mizrahim (pl. of Mizrahi) refers to Jews descended from Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa. 11גנלס-ונעי-וא-ינעי-םירמוא 12That the meaning of these terms IN HEBREW is lost for some speakers is in itself evidence for their decline. 13For a recent discussion of linguistic variables associated with Mizrahi ethnicity and their macro-social meanings, see Gafter 2016. 14 15Previous negative attitudes toward ke′ilu (Maschler 2001, 2002b) have considerably weakened over the past decade, but in any event, they were never related to ethnicity. 16A video recording of this part of the speech can be watched on v=p49EHVzZTe4.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Cambridge University Press.


  • (re)formulations
  • Discourse markers
  • indexicality
  • intersubjectivity
  • irony
  • language contact
  • metalanguaging
  • stance-taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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