Grammatical and Pragmatic Aspects of Polarity in Arabic Seditious Utterances

Reda Ali Hassan Mahmoud 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1University of Minya, Egypt
Corresponding Author : Reda Ali Hassan Mahmoud, Department of English, University of Minya Minya, Egypt, Postal code 61519. Email:

Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Feb 16, 2016; Revised: May 28, 2016; Accepted: Jun 20, 2016

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


This study analyzes various grammatical and pragmatic aspects of polarity in Arabic seditious utterances. Arabic Seditious Utterances (ASUs) are a result of the general atmosphere of incitement and discontent against lawful authorities which prevails before and after the revolution. ASUs feature the use of both negative polarity aspects to refute a number of oppressive and unjust actions of political and administrative authorities and other positive polarity aspects to affirm the allegements and demands of the claimants. Such negative and positive distinction in ASUs is represented grammatically (syntactically, lexically, and semantically) in positive and negative polarity items. They are also represented pragmatically in context-sensitive aspects within these utterances. The focus of this paper is on the analysis of seditious utterances, the various aspects of positive and negative syntactic, lexical and semantic polarity items, their scalar ways of representations in addition to other creative aspects of pragmatic-sensitive expressions of polarity. An eclectic approach is designed to suite the analysis of the scalar and multi-aspect nature of grammatical as well as pragmatic data which has been collected within a span of three years of national unrest. The analysis of the examples of ASUs shows that negative and positive polarity distinction rise above the grammatical component to other entailed and implicated pragmatic aspects. The analysis of ASUs also explains the inventive ways of pragmatic aspects which are used to understate or accentuate the control of grammatical and lexical components of polarity according to their various contexts.

Keywords: positive and negative polarity items; polarity distinction; utterance analysis; seditious utterances; Arabic language

1. Introduction

Much of the interest in the linguistic study of polarity in Arabic language has had to do with its syntactic aspects. This paper attempts to analyze the manifestations of polarity distinctions in Arabic Seditious Utterances (ASUs)1 syntactically, lexico-semantically, and pragmatically. The contextual nature of ASUs in Arabic allows the investigation of further lexico-semantic and pragmatic aspects of polarity distinction in addition to the syntactic ones. The social setting of the phenomenon of writing seditious utterances on every wall in every place in Egypt by the time of the revolutionary change renders the study of polarity further shades of meanings. These seditious utterances are linguistic expressions which are written intentionally on the walls of Egypt to achieve several goals, to reflect the upheaval and revolt of people against authority, to incite people and some political groups to stand against the government or to confront each other, and yet to register the oral slogans and the expressions of revolution into permanent written graffiti to keep them alive in popular consciousness. Some utterances are written by different political parties to encourage people to oppose or fight against the government, and some other utterances are written by different political parties to oppose or fight against each other, or to confirm certain ideas that are related to their policies. All types of seditious utterances are the product of the general atmosphere of incitement and discontent against authorities or some competitive political parties during the time of the revolutionary change.

ASUs feature the use of both negative polarity aspects to refute mainly a number of oppressive and unjust actions of political and administrative authorities and other positive polarity aspects to affirm the allegements and demands of the claimants. Such negative and positive distinction is represented grammatically in ASUs (e.g., syntactically, lexically, and semantically) and pragmatically in some context-sensitive aspects of meaning within these utterances.

The main objective in this study is to investigate negative/positive distinction and their representations in the grammatical structure of seditious utterances as well as their aspects of pragmatic meanings. The polar distinction of affirmation and negation in AUSs, their syntactic, lexico-semantic, and pragmatic aspects are used as key elements to investigate the linguistic structure and the global context of seditious utterances and their pragmatic interpretation. In addition, the grammatical and the pragmatic analyses of the aspects of polarity in AUSs may provide answers to integral inquiries on the nature of sedition, for instance: how can polarity manifest in seditious utterances? Is the global context of seditious utterances governed by negation or affirmation? What are the relations between polarity distinction and referential expressions in semantics and pragmatics? The answers to these questions are related to the investigation of the grammatical and pragmatic aspects of polarity, the main objective in this paper.

The examples in this study are exact expressions and slogans extracted from popular graffiti which have been written on the walls of the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and other governorates in Upper Egypt. Almost all these expressions and slogans are verbally used during the demonstrations and recurrent disturbances. These expressions and slogans are registered later as graffiti to keep up the revolutionary tide. The timeline of every graffito, from the beginning of March 2011 until May 2014, is taken into consideration in the following analysis as it provides significant contextual clues for interpretation. The majority of the dates of these graffiti concurs with particular political events which may indicate the reason for writing the graffito and hence the reason for the content of the written text.

This study adopts Lyons’ view of utterance as a “pre-theoretical” notion or a more “primitive notion” than the sentence and other lower grammatical units (1971: 172). The choice of the analysis of utterance rather than sentence or any other lower grammatical unit is due to several reasons. Utterance allows the pre-scientific description of the collected data and more tolerance in the interpretation of everyday discourse (Harris 1946). In addition, the interpretation of utterance relies on the elements of context, e.g., time, place, speaker, and language (Bakhtin 1986: 81). Written utterance is also anchored to context and its meaning is determined by both sentence meaning and the context of the utterance (Vachek 1965). Therefore, the choice of utterance allows both the pragmatic interpretation of sedition within the context of every seditious utterance and the grammatical form of seditious utterance weather it is a phrase or a sentence or a group of phrases or sentences, or a hybrid of both grammatical unit/units.

Polarity in seditious utterances is due to the contextual nature of these utterances e.g., the political as well as the religious divide in Egypt in the time of the production of each utterance. The context of seditious utterances is controlled by the seditious agent (i.e., the writer of the utterance as representative of his/her political or religious party), and the goal of sedition (i.e., the object of sedition e.g., the government, the army, or any other political or religious party). The global context of all seditious utterances is negative-based since every seditious agent, as representative of his/her party incites against the other, and the other seditious agent from the other party retaliates by writing another seditious utterance. So, what is believed positive by a party is assumed negative by the other. The negative and positive distinction exists in almost all seditious utterances and is represented syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically within the global negative-based context of sedition.

The syntactic aspects of polarity distinction in ASUs in section 2 focus on the analysis of NPI vs. PPI (e.g., naʔam ‘yes’ vs. la ‘no’, mesh ‘isn’t’, lan ‘won’t’) in nominal and verbal negative and declarative structures (i.e., sentences or phrases). The syntactic analysis of polarity in ASUs is based on the grammatical theory of polarity of Kilma (1964) and other syntactic accounts of polarity in (Laka 1990, Progovac 1994, Uribe-Etxebarria 1994, Haegeman 1995, Kato 2000). The studies of polarity distinction in Arabic often concentrate on the negative aspects of polarity (see Eid 1993; Benmamoun 1997, 2000, 2006; Ouhalla 2002; Zeijlstra 2008; and Ouali & Soltan 2014). Studies on positive syntactic aspects of polarity in Arabic as well as positive and negative semantic and pragmatic aspects of polarity are limited and need further investigation (Hoyt 2006, 2007).

The modern semantic-syntactic approach to the study of polarity begins with Fauconnier’s (1975a, b; 1978), but it is mostly associated to Ladusaw’s (1980, 1983, 1992), and developed later by Progovac (1992) and Horn (2000). The above views of the representation of polarity distinction in lexical items are used in the lexico-semantic analysis of the aspects of polarity in ASUs in section 3 where many lexical features have been handled such as: the use of alternative nouns, lexical converses (e.g., nouns, adjectives, and verbs), the intentional use of hyponyms as opposite lexical items, and the use of apposition of different lexical nouns to generate incite and hatred.

In section 4, the pragmatic aspects of polarity are represented by the use of non-literal metaphors to ascribe negative or positive meanings/images to the seditious agent(s) or to the goal(s) of sedition. The pragmatic interpretation of some positive and negative meanings of metaphors in ASUs is facilitated by some grammatical components e.g., NPI and vocative particles. The distinction between the semantic and pragmatic uses of metaphors to focus on literal meaning without worrying about the purpose of metaphor or non-literal meaning which focuses on the purpose of the metaphor is based on Morgan (1993), Searle (1993), and Stern (2006, 2008) and the relation between metaphor and culture in Park (2009). Other significant studies have dealt with the pragmatic/semantic scales and the logic of polarity e.g., Fauconnier (1993), Krifka (1995), Israel (1996, 2004), Chierchia (2004, 2014), and few pragmatic studies on negative polarity in Arabic language have been done by Moutaouakila (1989), Benmamoun (1995), and Mughazy (2003, 2008).

2. Syntactic Aspects of Polarity

In the following conflicting nominal seditious utterances, polarity is represented by negative and positive uninflected particles naʔam ‘yes’ and la ‘no’.

The negative and positive particles naʕam ‘yes’ and la ‘no’ in (1) and (2) reflect agreement and dissent (Badawi 2004: 36-42). The noun object ʔaddustuur is the same in (1) and (2); it is the object of agreement and dissent since it is the confirmed and negated syntactic element in both of the two utterances. Although the subjects of the two utterances are not syntactically represented, they are understood from the context of the utterances ‘[we] accept the constitution’ and ‘[we] refuse the constitution’. The noun object ʔaddustuur “the constitution” in the two utterances is affected by syntactic polarity whereas the elided subject ‘we’ remains unaffected since it is elided.

Syntactic representation of polarity is manifest in the following dichotomous utterances.

The above two utterances are usually written on walls side by side. This reflects that two wills are conflicting. The subject Morsi in (3) is represented syntactically to confirm the first will of the writer. In contrast, the same subject Morsi in (4) is elided and the utterance is negated to express the second opposing will. Syntactic polarity in these two dichotomous utterances is not only manifest in the positive and negative structures of both utterances but also in the explicit and implicit use of the grammatical subject Morsi. Corresponding to two different colliding wills for two different parties, the representation of the explicit and implicit grammatical subject in (3) and (4) is considered the target of syntactic positive and negative polarity.

Examples (3) and (4) reflect two grammatical aspects of polarity. The first aspect is represented by the different positive and negative structures of the utterances and the second one is represented by using the subject Morsi in (3) while eliding it intentionally in (4).

The next examples include three negative verbal utterances.

The function of the first two verbal utterances in (5) and (6) is to motivate people not to pay for ʔalkahrubaaʔ “electricity”, while the last verbal utterance in (7) functions to threaten for retaliation and retribution. In the two imperative utterances in (5) and (6), the negative particle la ‘not’ is used with the imperfect verb tadfaʕ “pay for” to urge people not to do a certain action, tadfaʕ alkahrubaaʔ “to pay for electricity” in (5) and tadfaʕ lilfaasideen “to pay for the corrupt” in (6). These two utterances are two variants for one meaning la tadfaʕ alkahrubaaʔ “don’t pay for electricity”. The noun object ʔalkahrubaaʔ “electricity” is partially the object of negation in the two utterances although it is elided in (6) since it is understood from the global context of the utterance.

The imperfect verb ta-dfaʕyou-pay for” in (5) and (6) signals two syntactic features. The first is the use of the second personal pronoun ta- which is meant to address the reader and urge him/her not to pay. The second feature is that the imperfect verb is usually in the present tense to urge people to execute the negative order by and after the time of reading. Imperfect verbs occur with the negative particle la in the present tense while perfect verbs occur with lan to indicate future tense (Badawi 2004: 469-70). Therefore, the main objective of negation is to urge all readers to ‘refuse to pay for electricity’, and to start executing the negative order from the time of reading the utterance.

In (7), negation is represented by the negative particle lan “won’t” and the adverbial preposition duna “without”. The negative perfect verb lan tammur “won’t pass” is used for threatening which is normally in the future tense. The addressed party in the phrase jaraaʔim-ukayour crime” is the one who committed the crimes and it is the object of threat, i.e., the goal of sedition.

The negative utterance in (7) involves two participants: the party on threat, the addressed party which is represented syntactically by the second personal possessive pronoun -uka “your”, and the elided participant, the executor of threat which is understood from the context when the utterance in (7) reads as follows.

In both cases, the two participants in the above interpretations of utterance “your” in (8a) and “we/us” in (8a, b) are affected by the negative verb. The first participant, the addressed (the target of sedition) who is represented by “your”, is the effected target of negation, and the latter participant (the seditious goal) who is implied as “we/us” is the affecting agent of negation.

The previous analyses have revealed several aspects of syntactic polarity in some positive and negative structures in seditious utterances, the behavior of negative particles in relation to nominal and verbal structures, the relation of negative/positive structures to the participants in these utterances, and the particular influence of negative polarity on these participants.

3. Lexical Aspects of Polarity

Lexical aspects of polarity distinction are obvious in the following three seditious utterances.

Although all the above three utterances have the same syntactic verbal structure (v. + objective noun phrase), they still show further aspects of polarity distinction. This time polarity distinction manifests lexically via the use of alternative lexical nouns ʔalʕskar, ʔalmurshid, and ʔalbaba “the privates, the Supreme Guide, and the Pope”. Every lexical noun is burdened with seditious meaning if it is seen in the context of its seditious utterance, and every noun is the grammatical object of the verbal utterance that begin with yasquT “down with”, and it is also the goal of sedition.

In example (9), the lexical noun ʔalʕskar “the privates” in the seditious utterance is first written on the walls by various anti-military rule liberal groups and is replicated by various religious groups in a later time. The timeline of writing the seditious utterance in (9) indicates the seditious participant or the political group that wrote it. The word ʔalʕskar has been selected intentionally by different political groups for its negative indication and degradation of the Army. Although the word ʔalʕskar has the same formal meaning in Arabic dictionary as ʔaljayysh “the army” or ʔalquwaat almusalaha “the armed forces”, it has been selected to indicate the negative informal political meaning which revives the Egyptian historical hatred of ʔalʕskar in the worst political era of Mamluk sultans in Egypt. It is remarkable that all different political groups (e.g., communists, liberals, and Islamists) agree on the use of the former negative sense of ‘the privates’ despite their political differences and the different times of writing the seditious utterance.

In example (9) the object of sedition ʔalʕskar ‘the privates’ is the target of different political groups where it is difficult to reveal the political identity of the writer of the seditious utterance without depending on the graphitic timeline, while in (10) and (11) the lexical meaning of the noun objects of sedition ‘the Supreme Guide’ and ‘the Pope’ disclose the identity of the seditious agent, liberal and communist anti-religious state groups for the former and religious groups for the latter. Although the goals of sedition ʔalmurshid “the Supreme Guide” and ʔalbaba “the pope” are religious figures in both examples, the intention of the seditious agents seems different. In (10), the intention of the seditious agent (i.e., the majority of Muslims and Christians in Egypt) is political provocation whereas it is religious provocation (i.e., members of Islamic groups) and hatred in (11). In (10), the purpose of sedition is refuting and changing the religious state as represented in the person and the title of ‘the Supreme Guide’, while in (11) the twofold purpose of sedition is abhorring the other religion as represented in the person and the title of ‘the Pope’ in addition to giving the impression that the political struggle in Egypt is basically religious.

The three alternative objective noun phrases in (9)-(11) in terms of their timeline of writing stipulate that they are written by different religious/political groups for retaliation as indicated in the above analysis. In comparison to examples (9)-(11), the following example (12) uses the same syntactic structure (v. + objective noun phrase). However, it is not loaded with a similar sense of retaliation.

The reading of example (12) is often repeated in the times of any revolution and it is not associated to any political or religious interpretation unlike the case in examples (9), (10), and (11).

Polarity in seditious utterances is also represented by lexical oppositeness. Lexical converseness is a type of lexical opposition (Lyons 1997: 280). Cruise explains that lexical converses are composed of two expressions which are converses that designate a given state of affairs or event from the perspective of two different participants (1987: 231-33). Lexical converses are used in examples (13) and (14) to designate a state of affairs from the perspective of the addresser. The designation of the states of affairs can also be seen in terms of two different participants, the addresser (i.e., the seditious agent) and the addressed (i.e., the goal of sedition).

Polarity in example (13) is represented by the two opposite lexical verbs and the two pronouns in ‘you wipe out’ vs. ‘I draw’. They are two opposite events which are done by two opposite figures, the addresser and the addressed, that represent, in turn, two different opposing parties, the agent of sedition and police officer ‘pasha’, the goal of sedition.

Example (14) shows that the imperative utterance qaaTiʕu … ʔislaamiyyah “boycott ... Islamic” subsumes two opposite lexical items, the noun “Christians” vs. the adjective “Islamic”. These two lexical items are considered two opposite lexical words by the agent of sedition although they are hyponyms of the category ‘religion’ and hence belong to the same sense relation. The two religions belong to the same asymmetrical relation of sense where the category of religion includes both Christianity and Islam, and viewed as such in basic Islamic rules, the rules that should have been adopted by the participant in question. This asymmetrical relation of religion is supported by Saeed’s taxonomy of hyponymy (2004: 69), where hyponymy is a vertical relationship in a taxonomy (ibid.) (e.g., Christianity and Islam are related to religion vertically) and “taxonomic sisters” are in a horizontal relationship (ibid.) (e.g., Christianity and Islam are related to each other horizontally).

The next examples of seditious utterances illustrate how certain lexical words are used in a negative sense.

The basic structure of the first three utterances in (15a-c) is topic and comment (def. n. subject + indef. pred.). The comments baaTil “void”, qaatil “murderer”, and balTajiyyah “thugs” indicate negative connotation. All three comments reflect the negative opinion of the seditious agent. They feature a high level of negation as in baaTil “void” in (15a), accusation as in qaatil “murderer” in (15b) and in balTajiyyah “thugs” (15c). In (15a), the addresser negates the validity of ʔaddustuur “the constitution”, hence he/she refuses it completely. In the other two utterances, accusation targets the goals of sedition: Sisi in (15b) and ʔaddaxliyyah “the ministry of the interior” in (15c). Negation and accusation disclose the addressers’ extreme negative opposition towards these goals, the three subjects of the utterances.

Yet, the sense-level of these three qualifying lexical items is negative even if they are separated from the linguistic-context of their utterances. Sense level is a term used by Choi, Deng & Wiebe (2014) to refer to the positive and the negative effects of the lexicon on entities, they use the labels (+/- effect events) to indicate the use of negative/positive lexical items and their effects on opinion interface. According to the above view, the selection of these negative lexical items (void, murderer, and thugs) by the seditious agent brings out the other opinion of those who refuse the inciters’ negation and accusation as follows.

It is obvious that the linguistic context of seditious utterances in general is negative and the negative lexical choices of the seditious agents who express their opposition and mark it down on the walls are also encountered by unwritten or unspoken opposition. As a result, the goals of negation or refusal ʔaddustuur, Sisi, and ʔaddaxliyyah “the constitution, Sisi, and the ministry of the interior” in (15a-c) are also the goals of acceptance and agreement by the members of other groups who refuse these seditious utterances. However, the core value for the lexical items which are used by the seditious agent has a constant negative effect (- effect) where the acceptance of the other groups reproduces two values, a face value where they refuse sedition and a core value where they support the goals of sedition via refusing sedition. This polar view is illustrated by the following Table 1.

Table 1. A Polar View for Core and Face Values of Sedition
Pro-sedition Anti-sedition
Goals of sedition refused accepted
Core value (- effect) (- effect)
Face value (- effect) (+effect)
Download Excel Table

In comparison to the previous analysis of +/- effect of lexical items in examples (16a-c), the adjective ʔislaamiyyah “Islamic” in examples (17) and (18) indicate different face/core values.

The basic structure of the utterances in (17) is topic and comment (def. n. subject + indef. pred.). In (17), the second word ‘Islamic’ (i.e., the comment) is adjectival; it succeeds the subject ‘Egypt’ and qualifies it. The utterance in (18) is a comment, which consists of (pred. n. + adj.), for the deleted pronoun hiya “it” and the verbal copula “is” and the adjective ʔislaamiyyah “Islamic” are parts of the comment.

Out of context, the lexical adjective ʔislaamiyyah “Islamic” — as viewed by Muslims, indicates a positive sense as it modifies the accepted religion of the majority of the people of the region. Nevertheless, the use of this positive lexical item in the context of the seditious utterances in (17) and (18) reverses its polar sense to negative. Modifying maSr “Egypt” and θawrah “the revolution” as ʔislaamiyyah “Islamic” by the seditious agent is exclusion of any other identity for these goals of modification. This sense of exclusion denies the identity of other parties and reproduces the polar dichotomy between pro-Islamic and pro-pluralist groups. Consequently, the use of ʔislaamiyyah “Islamic” as the modifying element in the context of seditious utterances alters its lexical positive sense to the pposite.

The following two seditious utterances illustrate how apposition of different lexical nouns generate incite.

In (19), three definite lexical nouns are used in apposition to produce more than one negative effect. The first lexical noun ʔalmuʕtaqaliin “the detainees” refers to the affiliated members from the Islamic parties, the goal of sedition. The word has a negative lexical effect since it describes the party in authority as detainees. The use of ʔalmuʕtaqaliin “detainees” has another contextual reference to the past of these prisoners before taking over authority. The other two words in the predicate ʔnniswaan almuslimiin “Muslim women” replicate the same negative effect on the goal of sedition. This means that the goal of sedition is repeated two times to indicate two different negative references: they are former prisoner before taking over authority whose rule is not legitimate and they are niswaan “women”, i.e., cowards in Egyptian popular thought, hence they are incompetent to rule.

Substitution of positive lexical items by negative ones increases sedition. For instance, the negative noun phrase ʔnniswaan almuslimiin “Muslim women” in (19) replaces the official name of ʔalʔixwaan ʔalmuslimuun “Muslim Brotherhood” where the substitution of the nominal element ʔnniswaan “women” enhances the negative effect. The same negative effect is reproduced in (20) by the substitution of the same official name by ʔalxirfaan almuslimiin “Muslim sheep”.

Lexical alternative nouns, lexical opposites, and the swap of positive for negative nouns are manifestations of semantic polarity. These manifestations are explained in terms of their literal meanings. The seditious agent in one utterance refers to the goal of sedition using a negative literal reference; in return, the other seditious agent in another utterance retaliates using the alternative or the opposite negative reference as with case in examples (9)-(18). Swapping negative metaphors for positive ones in (19) and (20) can also be viewed in terms of exchanging negative by positive references. In the production of the above seditious utterances, the seditious agent is committed to hit back a literal negative reference by another and the reader finds no difficulty to understand these references in terms of their negative/positive exchange.

4. Pragmatic Aspects of Seditious Utterances

The use of metaphors in seditious utterances reveals additional aspects of polarity distinctions. In the previous analysis in section 2, the semantic reference of some metaphors e.g., balTajiyyah “thugs” in (15c), ʔalmuʕtaqaliin ʔnniswaan almuslimiin “the detainees are Muslim women” in (19) and ʔalxirfaan almuslimiin “Muslim sheep” in (20) have been handled literally to discuss the semantic aspects of polarity. Morgan (1993: 134) sets out the difference between understanding metaphor literally without worrying about its purpose (i.e., semantically) and understanding the purpose of using metaphor non-literally (i.e., pragmatically). The distinction between what words literally mean and what they can be used to say has been drawn by many pragmatists (see Searle 1993, Stern 2006). As Stern puts it clearly “the first is the domain of semantics, the second of pragmatics, and metaphor, it is argued, falls under the second” (2008: 268). The later pragmatic view is used in the analysis of the next examples since metaphors have been used by seditious agents to reveal further non-literal meanings that manifest polarity distinction.

Metaphors are used in examples (21) and (22) to emphasize the self-images of the seditious agent. This is based on Searle’s argument that “metaphor is a matter of utterance meaning, and hence a pragmatic problem, rather than a semantic one” (1993: 125-6). Searle presents speaker meaning as “whatever it is the speaker has in mind is conveyed in his utterance” (ibid: 126). Consequently, the seditious agents view themselves as ʔusuud ʔalʔazhar tazʔar “Alazhar’s lions roar” in (21) and rijʕuu ʔattalammza “the students come back” in (22). The knowledge of context for each seditious agent is different than the other, and that is why the speaker’s purpose of using metaphor is different in both examples. The seditious agents in (21) are the students in al-Azhar University and they see themselves as the lions of al-Azhar who roar, while in (22) the students of other universities see themselves as mere pupils and promise to maintain their rights as such. In the first metaphorical utterance in (21) the students are exaggerating their power to claim for their revolutionary rights whereas in (22) the students admit that the authority’s image about them as scanty ʔattalammza “pupils” is true and promises to maintain their rights as such to prove that they are not scanty. Although students see their self-images in two different ways according to the content of the metaphorical expressions in the above two utterances, the non-literal purpose of the two metaphorical utterances in (21) and (22) is similar, that is to maintain their struggle against authority. However, every party does this in its own way. This distinction between the content of metaphor and its purpose has been handled by Kaplen (1989), Lakoff (1993), White (2001), Stanley & King (2005), and Stern (2008).

The use of metaphors in seditious utterances reveals other significant underlying purposes for sedition. The most significant purpose is represented in emphasizing self-image according to the way the seditious agents describe themselves and to the way they want others to consider them. At the same time, the seditious agents refuse that the image they build up about themselves to be ascribed to the other party, the goal of sedition. Compare the following interpretations that may reveal the speaker’s meaning and intention of sedition.

The example in (23) can be interpreted in terms of the underlying purposes of sedition. The seditious agent wants to describe himself as a brave lion, and he considers this image is positive as it reflects what he believes about himself, that he is brave and never scares authorities when he revolts against them. At the same time, in (24) he denies that other students in the same university are not able to revolt against authority since they are not lions, i.e., brave. In (25), the seditious agent does not consider the seditious goal as lion too. This view of relating the metaphor only to the speaker of the utterance is supported by the style of the utterance and the preference of the speaker not to introduce the word “lions” with the pronoun “we” (e.g., ‘we are the lions’). This intentional loss of the pronoun “we” indicates that the seditious agent believes that they are the only species of lions, and others (e.g., other students and the goal of sedition) do not belong to the same species, i.e., the same level of bravery.

Example (21) illustrates the literal vs. non-literal meanings of the metaphor ʔusuud “lions”. The seditious agent uses this metaphor in both senses; they believe that they are real lions (i.e., positive) while others are not (i.e., negative). They use the word “lion” literally as a “stored metaphor” (Morgan 1993: 129) in a positive image about themselves to communicate the non-literal message that the others are less powerful than them. A Stored metaphor is a “metaphor with which everybody is familiar, on its way to becoming an idiom, but still, in fact understood figuratively” (ibid: 129). The metaphor “lions” is familiar in Arabic and it is understood figuratively as “brave men”, and it is usually attributed to men on acts of bravery. The seditious agent uses the literal sense of the utterance since it does not contradict with its truth condition. Accordingly, the literal sense of the metaphor ‘lions’ is accepted as positive by the speaker of the utterance and understood easily by the reader within its semantic reference, meanwhile its negative non-literal function falls within the domain of pragmatics, and the pragmatic interpretation of its content is determined by the seditious context of the utterance.

The knowledge of the context of the utterance in (22) determines its pragmatic functions and its possible interpretation in (26)-(28) as follows.

The seditious utterance in (22) is borrowed from the title of a popular colloquial poem[5] which has been written in the seventies to celebrate the revival of students’ movement that was calling for democracy. The writer of seditious utterance believes that the authorities usually trivialize the ability of the students to cause political change. By writing this utterance, the students remind the authorities that they are going to resume their call for democracy. Therefore, the students want to negate the stereotypic figurative image that represents what is believed by the authorities. They will do so by admitting that they are ʔattalammza “pupils” (the negative image as believed by authorities), declaring the return of their political activities, and reminding authorities that they were able to cause the successful revolutionary change of the 25th revolution (a real positive image), and they are also able to repeat the change in the next wave of the revolution.[6] The above pragmatic interpretations can only be understood within the knowledge of the context of the utterance.

The choice of the lexical word ʔattalammza “pupils” rather than students indicates the negative image as proposed by the authorities, the goal of sedition. The use of the literal lexical word “pupil” by the seditious agent represents their admission and approval of its literal meaning which is meant by the authorities despite of being negative. Yet, the real intention of the seditious agent is to communicate the positive referential value of the metaphor “pupil” that they are revolutionary students rather than normal student or incompetent pupils, and they are going to resume their positive role to the contrary of what was expected of them.

In the next seditious utterance, metaphors are used to ascribe negative and positive images to the goal of sedition and the seditious agent successively.

The use of the stored metaphor naar “fire” to indicate high prices is ascribed to “Sisi” via the use of the vocative particle ya “hey”. The ascription of the negative metaphor to the goal of sedition parallels the ascription of the positive use of the Quranic verse that refers to the oppressed who is the writer of the utterance, the seditious agent. This duel ascription of the negative image to the goal of sedition vs. the positive religious image to the oppressed revives the traditional negative/positive distinction of the oppressor/authority vs. the oppressed/people.

Negative/positive distinction is represented by the use of two opposite metaphors as believed by the seditious agent in the following.

The above utterance comprises two conflicting metaphors both literally and non-literally as seen by the seditious agent. The first metaphor ʔalmiidaan “the square” refers literally to Tahrir square, the iconic symbol of the revolution whereas the second metaphor ʔillxirfaan “sheep” refers literally to MB members. The “square” is a positive non-literal representation of freedom, and the “sheep” is a non-literal representation of the dependency and the obedience of MB members. The seditious agent chooses the “square” and refuses the choice of the “sheep”. The first choice emphasizes on both of the semantic and the pragmatic meaning of the metaphor “square” because these two aspects of meanings are viewed by them as positive. On the other hand, the refusal to choose the “sheep” by the seditious agent emphasizes on the literal meaning of “sheep” as it represents the opposite assigned image where the second non-literal pragmatic meaning of dependency and obedience is also refused. Viewed differently by the goal of sedition, MB members, dependency, and obedience are positive attributes of the faithful followers of God.

It is significant to conclude that the use of grammatical components such as the negative polarity item mish ‘is not’ in (30) and the vocative particle ya “hey” in (29) facilitates the pragmatic interpretation of the negative/positive aspects of polarity. The polarity item mish ‘is not’ is a literal negation of the literal meaning of the metaphor “sheep” while the vocative particle ya “hey” is also a literal expression of annoyance and hence increases the refutation of the practices of the goal of sedition.

5. Conclusions

In this paper, several aspects of polarity have been discussed to show that the negative/positive distinction can be represented not only in the syntactic structure of seditious utterances but also in their semantic and pragmatic meanings. Some syntactic aspects are represented in a conventional way in ASUs e.g., the use of negative or affirmative particles in nominal and verbal negative and declarative structures in examples (1)-(7). However, these conventional syntactic aspects of polarity yield other distinctive features, for instance: the explicit use of proper nouns to affirm and the elision of the same proper noun to refute in example (3) and (4), the concurrent use of imperfect or perfect verbs with some negative particle e.g., la and lan in the present tense or the future tense to address the reader of seditious utterance to do certain negative actions in examples (5) and (6), the use of pronouns to address or refer to the seditious agent or the goal of sedition in negative or positive contexts in example (7). The semantic aspects of polarity distinction focus on the use of alternative nouns, lexical opposites (e.g., nouns, adjectives, and verbs), the intentional use of hyponyms as opposite lexical items, and the use of apposition of different lexical nouns to generate incite. Yet, the use of metaphors in AUSs reveals further pragmatic aspects of polarity distinction. Metaphors are generally used in a non-literal way to ascribe negative or positive images to the seditious agent or the goal of sedition. Polarity distinction is also represented by non-literal vs. literal uses of metaphor; non-literal use focuses on the purpose of the metaphor while literal use focuses on the content of metaphor.

The analysis of grammatical and pragmatic aspects of polarity distinction reveals the global negative nature of the conflicting seditious utterances since positive utterances are used literally to confirm the actions of the seditious agent(s), they are meant non-literally to refute the actions of the goal(s) of sedition. The opposite concept can be applied to negative seditious utterances.


1. Henceforth, the abbreviation ASUs will be used.

2. The “private” is a soldier in the lowest rank of the army. The choice of the word “private” rather than “the army” or “the armed forces” is for indicating the seditious agent’s sense of degradation.

3. This word is often used as a colloquial title for police officer.

4. ‘ʔalmuʕtaqaliin’ should be written in formal Arabic as ‘ʔalmuʕtaqaluun’ because it is the subject of the sentence. To be written as such indicates informality. The same level of informality is applied to ‘ʔalmuslimiin’ in example (20).

5. It is written by Ahmed Foad Nigm, a popular revolutionary Egyptian poet.

6. According to the time line of the graffito, this utterance began to appear in 2012.



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