Invoking divine blessing: The pragmatics of the congratulation speech act in university graduation notebooks in Jordan

Muhammad A. Badarneh, Fathi Migdadi and Maram Al-Jahmani
Jordan University of Science and Technology


This study explores the speech act of congratulation in university graduation notebooks, a new communicative context in Jordan. Using the concept of the pragmeme as a situated speech act, a total of 1064 congratulatory messages, found in 35 notebooks, were analyzed. The analysis demonstrated that the cultural concept of baraka ‘blessing’ plays a central role in the Arabic congratulation speech act. Embedded in its production are other speech acts such as compliments and advice, sociocultural beliefs and concepts such as fatalism and collectivism, and sociocultural practices such as naqout ‘money given as a gift’. Invoking these values and beliefs when performing congratulations was accomplished through ritualistic religious invocations, formulaic expressions, reference to collective identity, and acts of material support, showing how this Arabic speech act is situated in sociocultural beliefs and values.

Publication history
Table of contents

Congratulations have been traditionally investigated in spoken language through the lens of speech act theory as expressives that channel the speaker’s psychological state (Searle 1976). The present study examines their use in written communication as situated speech acts, or pragmemes, whose performance is situated in social practices, embedded in the sociocultural context, and intrinsically connected with social facts (Mey 2001; Capone 2010, 2018; Wong 2010; Allan et al. 2016). The present study investigates how the congratulating speech act is performed in a local social practice that has recently appeared in Jordan, namely what is referred to as ‘graduation notebooks’ (henceforth, GNs). This written form of congratulation, as this study demonstrates, offers the congratulators greater latitude in expressing their feelings and emotions toward the addressee, and helps reveal underlying cultural values and assumptions of the community when performing congratulations. This form of offering handwritten congratulatory messages to graduates has become a sociocultural practice that provides rich data on the connection between speech acts and culture. For the purpose of this study, the definition put forward by Verschueren is adopted, according to which congratulation is “an expression of the speaker’s being pleased about the hearer’s success in doing or obtaining something important” (Verschueren 1985, 47).

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