This post aims to make a small preface to non-verbal communication in Arabic-speaking countries, it will try to give some brushstrokes of the subject, due to the complexity and extension of the subject to be discussed.

   Before addressing the matter, we have to specify three concepts: One, the term non-verbal communication, the other the concept of Arabic and the last the Arabic language.

   Non-verbal communication (NVC) is defined, in principle, «as the observation of any interaction in the universe except speech.»

   Humans are biopsychosocial beings, with which we are animal beings that have evolved due to the development of all their parts (genetics, verbal communication and socio-cultural interaction).

   The theoretical foundations on which this communicative act of the CNV is based are:

    1º.- Ethological origin.

   Ethologists maintain an analysis of human behavior, taking into account it as more evolved animal beings, with which the same observation parameters will be appropriate to reveal instinctive behaviors and innate responses, such as their adaptation to the context.

   Ethologists who have studied animal behavior, such as psychologists who have taken part or all of their studies, would be:

   The works of Thorpe, Timbergen, Chauvin, Montagner, Darwin, etc … 2º.- Anthropological.

   2º.- Anthropological.

   Anthropologists are the pioneers in NVC, although not intentionally, since they study cultural differences and similarities or try to see what is innate or cultural in them. Thus we have Levy Strauss, Malinosky and others, although they are not anthropologists, they acquire the same study guidelines as they such as Leach, Kendon, Ekman, la Barra, etc …

  3º.- Linguistic.

  The study of verbal language is essential for the analysis of the CNV and as theoreticians they would be. Pierce, Saussure and Chomsky among others.

   Second, we want to specify or at least clarify the term Arabic, which has so erroneously been used interchangeably with the Middle East and by extension with the Muslim world.

   While the Arab countries are considered Middle Eastern, not all of the Middle East is Arab. Approximately 85-90% of the Arab population are Muslims, only 20% of the world’s Muslims are Arabs.

   Another fact that has led to the identification of «Arab» countries is the creation of «The League of Arab States» in March 1945, it was created to promote cooperation between countries of Arabic culture and language, the union of a total of 22 sovereign states.

   The organization can unite states economically and politically and the countries that make up the union are similar in terms of attitudes and cultural behaviors. Well, African countries such as Somalia, Mauritania, and Sudan apart from not speaking Arabic, their tribal traditions and languages ​​are more the result of an African heritage than Arabic, or the Maronite Christian communities of Lebanon that are surprisingly with different attitudes from Muslims from Saudi Arabia.

   An accepted definition of “Arabic” in this review is the one offered by Jabra (1971): “…. Anyone who speaks Arabic as their own language and consequently feels Arabic ”. This definition takes into consideration people who are outside the Arabian Peninsula region and who identify with the pride of the language, customs and historical achievements of the Arabs.

   The values ​​that prevail in Arab societies are: resistance, righteousness, loyalty, (Nidell, 19); dignity, generosity, courage and self-respect (Patai, 1983); pride, rivalry and revenge (Almaney & Alwan, 1982). The most commonly mentioned values ​​are: collectivism, hospitality and honor, as a heritage of Bedouin values.

    And finally we have to clarify the characteristics of the Arabic language, and for this we have to speak of the term «diglossia» according to the RAE:

  1. f. Bilingualism, especially when one of the languages ​​enjoys superior social or political prestige or privilege.
  2. 2. f. Anat. Double or bifid arrangement of the tongue.

    There for, we find the classical Arabic or the Arabic of the Koran; Modern Arabic or Fusha, the language of the government, of the religious and the middle population, and finally the local dialects, which are used as a language of oral transmission and which the majority speak on the street. That is why a Tunisian does not understand an Iraqi, etc …

   The Arab saying: «The Arabs do not agree or agree», will have to do to a lesser or greater extent by this diglossic circumstance of the language.

   In addition, according to a recent sociological study, it indicates that dialects compete with Fusha or Standard Arabic, that the religious duality between Sunnis and Yeses influences the linguistic prevalence of Bahraini Arabic. Abu-Haidar (1989), detects that women more than men prefer the Baghdad dialect.

Arabic has characteristics such as:

  • Codeswitching or code change, Arabic speakers not only have a code change within the Arabic language, but also with French, English and Spanish, borrowed from the colonization era
  • Communicative style of Arabic differs from the styles of other languages ​​and has some common characteristics: Repetition, indirect communication, elaboration, when an American uses ten words to express an idea, an Arab uses a hundred words to express the same idea (the rhetoric) and effectiveness.

      It is also worth highlighting the fixed formulas, idioms, phrases or   jaculations  that   are used continuously as (inshallah; al-hamdulillah, etc ..).

   There are two guidelines that mark the rhetorical style of this language:

   One is the use of an exaggerated style (mubalagha) in the expression and the other the assertion (tawkid) of the speakers of this language that contributes to the feeling of the elaborate style of Arabic communication.

   Non-verbal communication in the Arab world.


   1st.-The gestures: Samovar and Porter indicate that at least 247 separate gestures were cataloged. Safadi and Valentine (1990) emphasize the substantial difference that exists in the gestures of different Arab societies, in order to recognize the diversity that occurs as «subtle physical differences that are equivalent to large semantic variations.»

   The study carried out by Safadi and Valentine combines previous models of non-verbal behavior developed by Hall (1966), Birdwhistell (1970), with personal observation in the Middle East, in order to compare with American gestures and also, previous work by Brewer (1970), the power to distinguish the gestures of the Levantine Arab (Beirut, Damascus).

   2º.- Eye contact: While the Arab community uses the indirect verbal style, they interact with the oriented body and the direct gaze between members of the same sex.

   3rd.-Contact: Arab societies have been accepted as cultures of contact between both sexes, it is very common to see women and men walking down the street holding hands, it is a fact that for a Westerner it is strange, or contradictory, since we can confuse homosexuality in these gestures where, in turn, it is hidden in these gestures in these communities.

   The women kiss each other three times and the men also kiss each other on the mouth, and they also rub the tips of their noses. But in the case of different sexes, there is no contact, except if the woman wants to, that is, if the woman shakes hands, they shake hands and that’s it.

   4th.- Proxemic: Arabs in comparison to Westerners show tolerance to crowds, pushing and proximity. According to Nydell (1987), he observes that Arabs distinguish between a stranger and a friend and divide people into this duality, and that as a result there are public «behaviors» that do not have the same consideration for one or the other. Arabs do not distinguish between public and private per se, which is very common in western societies and representative of the separation of mind and body (Hall, 1966).

   The concept of time in the Arab world is polychronic in its approach, the term «inshallah» is widely used in Arab societies, Nydell (1987) «the belief that God directs and has control over everything», the lack of free will , makes everything is conditioned by the action of God.

  This term according to Condon and Yousef (1975) reflects an orientation in the present in Arab society. «Inshallah» has a multitude of linguistic uses. It can mean «yes» at some unspecified future tense or «no» in terms of refusing a serious commitment or taking personal responsibility or even not accepting and shifting the blame for failure to an act of promise that substitutes for you.

   As an anecdote when I lived in Amman (Jordan), every time I was going to carry out some procedure, it was a bank residence, etc…. If you wanted to know the result of the management in how much time it would be obtained, and the one who managed it told you: «Bukra Inshallah», (tomorrow God willing), it meant that you wait seated, because (God has many things to do with what which, it was not the fault of the mismanagement of the system, the worker, the king, no, the failure was God’s, which is understandable that it is delayed due to the responsibility it has with all humanity).

  In polychronic cultures (cultures with greater contextualization (interpretation of gestures, behaviors, silences, etc.) usually develop with the so-called polychronic perception of time (or p-time) (Cateora, 2010).

  «Polychronic time integrates the human transaction as if it were an intangible bridge, uniting and directing different elements that are absorbed as integral parts of high-context cultures.»

   In this type of culture, a person has to be an expert or have a «friend» who can solve things for you, the process of using the influence of an interpersonal network to receive favors is known as (wasta), it is the central characteristic of life in the region.

    This process, which has been the subject of complaints and criticism, is widely practiced and should be considered as an existential strategy for daily life.

   Paralinguistics in Arab societies is not a well-studied phenomenon and there is not much empirical research on it. Members of Arab societies speak fast and loud.

   While for Arabs it is a sign of strength and sincerity, for Westerners it is aggressive and unpleasant, and conversely, for Arabs speaking softly and quietly is a sign of weakness and deviation.

   Arabic tends to use a higher tone with which Westerners interpret it as more emotional and aggressive or threatening. Intonation distinguishes between signs of accidents, signs of agreement or disagreement, and warnings (Safadi & Valentine, 1990).

   The use of silences in societies that promote contact with others, serves as a psychological withdrawal, they are signs that you want to be alone. In a couple the silence together with the absence of the gaze.    And finally we have to mention the importance that Arabs give to smell, Hall (1966), writes that Arabs smell each other in conversations: “Smelling a friend is not pleasant but desirable in the sense of rejecting him because his breathing is a shameful act ”.

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