On Writing and Literature

The Jaw-Jaw Lebanese

Qualified emphasis is particularity useful in attempting to interpret certain aspects of the communicative behaviour of any speech-community, but more so of complex social and linguistic structures such are the ones in Lebanon where over 4 million people form intricate societies with highly complex repertoires. Many speak Arabic, English and French, but there are other minorities who control additional codes like Armenians, Jews, Kurds and Assyrians. The dilemma here is obvious. If one were to assert that code-switching is rule-governed, one must be in possession of the necessary data to define every rule and account for every switch. If, on the other hand, one were able to account for certain switches and not others, the moot question is whether incomplete data gathering and methods of analysis are responsible for such partial interpretation, or whether answers to all questions are impossible because the subject dealt with, i.e. human behaviour, is impossible to interpret fully under any circumstances, and will remain so until means of interpretation reach a degree of sophistication and precision unavailable as yet.


It is claimed by many eye witnesses that certain Lebanese Phalange militias used to produce a tomato to people they stop at checkpoints during the civil war and ask them to name it. If the suspects used banadora, they were allowed to continue to their chosen destination having satisfied their questioners they were Lebanese and sons and daughters of Lebanese, but if some used bandora they would be recognised as Palestinians, and shot on the spot or driven away for interrogation. If there was cause for suspicion that the person or persons concerned do not ‘sound’ completely Lebanese, other speech tests were used. They would listen carefully for special words like ‘issa’ (now), or ‘khia’ (brother), or any stylistic variation known to be part of the repertoire of ways of speaking of Palestinians.