Discourse markers as a lens to variation across speech and writing ; Egyptian Arabic ya?ni 'it means' as a case study

Michal Marmorstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This paper explores the use of the discourse marker (DM) ya?ni (lit. 'it means') in spoken and written Egyptian-Cairene Arabic. The DM ya?ni originates in conversational interaction and is symbiotic with its sociocognitive constraints and goals: It serves to facilitate the verbalization of new or hard-to-activate ideas and to optimize the verbalization of alreadyintroduced ideas, so as to enhance participants' mutual understanding and involvement. When carried over to written discourse, ya?ni undergoes various forms of adaptation. In casual-personal prose ya?ni is frequently used; however, the distribution of the tokens is different and their function recontextualized. Tokens introducing new ideas are few and acquire symbolic meaning, while tokens introducing elaboration of prior discourse are widely used and serve to evoke conversational interaction. In expository discourse, as reflected in Egyptian Wikipedia data, ya?ni is considerably less frequent and limited to elaborations of concepts and facts. The paper shows the highly context-sensitive function of the DM ya?ni and the ways in which its indexical force, as a marker of conversationality, is either heightened or weakened in writing, depending on the genre in which it is put to use.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)153-182
Number of pages30
JournalFunctions of Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - 22 Jun 2021

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