Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level



Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies


John Duval

Committee Member

Mounir Farah

Second Committee Member

Joel Gordon


Folklore, Lebanese Zajal, Oral Poetry, Translation, Verbal Dueling, Zajal Lubnani


This dissertation examines the living and vibrant oral tradition of verbal dueling in Lebanon, also known as Lebanese zajal. The introductory chapter explores the historical, sociolinguistic, and musical-metrical roots of today's Lebanese zajal contests and festivals, which feature teams of up to four poets who compete against each other in improvised, sung verse in colloquial Lebanese, carrying a sort of dialogue within which they argue opposing sides of universal themes and topics of current social interest. Though time, tradition, and culture in the Lebanese mountainside have nurtured the development of sung oral poetry into its current form and status as a national pastime, very little has been written about it in English. In the second and third chapters, the dissertation takes an inside-out approach to making the art of Lebanese zajal accessible to an English-speaking audience via a close-up view of a celebrated verbal duel that took place in 1971 at the mountain resort village of Beit Mery, Lebanon, before an audience of 40,000 enthusiasts. Following a description of the setting, the individual performers, and previous rivalries building tension before this contest, a bout-by-bout written record is laid out with running commentary and explanatory notes. Each exchange is transcribed from a taped recording obtained in Lebanon and is followed by transliterations, literal translations, and poetic translations. In the fourth and final chapter, the dissertation provides an analysis of the oral-formulaic composition strategies used by the poets and the effectiveness and interplay of prosodic and semantic features of the poetry. The final chapter also comments on current trends in the zajal tradition in Lebanon and what effects recent developments might have on its future. In addition, a side-by-side Arabic-English poetic translation and a glossary of terms are appended along with the audio recording.