Why Does the Verb Fail to Be Xabar? A Relevance-Theoretic Analysis

Rasheed Saleem Al-Jarrah


Adopting a psycholinguistic model of analysis such as Relevance Theory (Sperber & Wilson 1986a[1995]), helps, we argue, account for traditional Arab grammarians' long-standing belief that the verb, as a lexical category, fails to be xabar (a rheme). Concisely, this paper aims to explore the 'linkage' between linguistic structure and pragmatic interpretation. The proposal adopted here is that, following Al-Jarrah (2009), actions, being less concrete than participants, tend to stand out less in the "landscape"; and thus, are less likely to create maximal relevance. In relevance-theoretic terms, verbal constituents create, we argue, less contextual effects for larger processing cognitive effort. Nominal constituents, on the other hand, are more likely to be relevant because they are, we believe, the "discourse entities" which are mainly the potential carriers of information. The present study advances the uniform assumption that the “rhematic status” of a constituent - be it nominal, verbal, etc. - is exclusively determined by its overall relevance to the context in which it occurs, i.e. the one causing substantial modification to the cognitive environment of the interlocutors in the discourse. In order to empirically support the validity of this claim, the information structuring of the opening of some Qur'anic chapters (Arabic: suras) is investigated. Whereas some chapters (e.g. 'al-muŧaffifeen, 'al-''la) follow the verbal pattern (V S), others (e.g.'altakweer, 'al-inshigaag, 'al-infiŧaar) follow the nominal pattern (NP VP)...

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v3i1.689

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