The rhetorical response to the discursive demeaning of the food of poor Egyptians

Author: Emad Abdul-latif (Qatar University, Qatar)
Speaker: Emad Abdul-latif
Topic: General Sociolinguistics
COMELA 2022 General Session


The rhetorical response to the discursive demeaning of the food of poor Egyptians

Food is widely used as a tool to construct identities based on the association of certain foods with social groups. For example, in the Egyptian popular discourse, eating kebab and apple symbolizes a high social status in contrast to eating Mesh and Fegl related to poor rural Egyptian peasants. Moreover, people of certain races and groups produced pejorative expressions about other groups and races based on their popular type of food, as we see in many circulated discourses, especially in personal communication in Egypt.

The research tests the hypothesis that popular groups, especially the poor and peasants, did not passively receive rhetoric of demeaning their food but instead produced rhetorical responses to this demeaning to defend their identity and tradition. The article answers two questions: How did the poor, Egyptian peasants and other marginalized classes deal with the rhetoric of demeaning their food? And what are the rhetorical methods by which they could produce responses that resist the rhetoric of humiliation? I analyze a corpus of proverbs, street vendor calls, folk songs, and radio operetta to answer these two questions. I examine the relationship between food and social and political identity in Egyptian popular discourse and the role of popular rhetoric in defending the interests of the marginalized. I argue that the poor people have devised rhetorical responses to resist discrimination and contempt based on food and create a perception of equality between the food of the poor and the rich, aiming to undermine the basis on which food is used as an instrument of social discrimination. Those responses are polysemy, analogy, counter-preference, counter-derogation and nationalizing their food.

Keywords: Discourse of food, Egypt, rhetorical responses, the oppressed