From "I Love You, Habibi" to "Oh My God, Habibi, It's Not That Hard!": What Address Terms Tell Us About Relationships and Culture


  • Nura Naama Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus



The address term habibi is one of the most frequently used terms by the Arab community. Literally translated, ‘habibi‘ and the feminine version habeebti mean my love or my dear, however, use of this word extends to far more figurative uses than literal ones. Personal address terms are fertile grounds for examining interpersonal relationships and by extension examining the culture as a whole. This study examines the different functions invested in the term ‘habibi‘, where four major codes were identified through interviewing participants and taking part in participant observation. The data were analyzed using Hymes‘ speaking framework and a grounded theory approach. Through primary-cycle coding, I identified the following codes: maintaining a relationship/closeness, politeness, showing compassion, and saving face. All of these codes belonged to more general codes of familiarity, solidarity and unity, all of which belong to the larger overarching theme of harmony. The implications of this study suggest that key terms of address such as ‘habibi‘ are important to study because of the relational information they contain, as well as the invested cultural values which will ultimately help us understand how members of a given cultural group communicate.