Manual Secret Manipulations: Language and Context in Africa

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Nico Nassenstein. John Benjamins Publishing Company This electronic file may not be altered in any way. Please contact rights benjamins. In an innovative approach, the present paper therefore looks at confusing and allegedly unin- telligible narratives and conscious linguistic manipulations, silliness and concealing strategies in language as employed by elderly speakers of Kinyab- wisha, Kinande, Kihunde and Kiswahili in Eastern DR Congo.

Types of Secrecy in Africa and the West

All these are analyzed in a theoretical framework of the secret agency and power in language use that mark the agency and wittiness of the elderly in Eastern Congo. This preliminary introduction furthermore suggests a strong focus on silliness in linguistic analysis as also found in Kuipers ; Storch , Keywords: elderspeak, linguistic manipulation, secrecy, age, silliness 1. Coupland ; Eckert , among others as a driving force in social change and variation.

Accommodation theory, when applied to age-related styles, is intended to explain why, for instance, speakers copy certain phonological patterns from others, such as pitch contour, tonal features, and also deviant forms of specific phonemes. Current research projects on linguistic variation among old speakers mostly focus on building corpora on which quantitative analyses can be based, dealing with discourse analysis and pragmatic variation see the corpus compiled by Bolly et al. The pre- sent paper, however, is restricted to deliberate manipulations in the speech of the elderly, and does not include medical triggers for language change over the lifes- pan, nor impairments in speech production.

Ever since the analysis of manipulative language, secret language, and pre- dominantly creative strategies in African languages has begun to increase, lin- guists have studied the language of children, with a focus on ludlings, i. All of these are summarized and analyzed by Storch in her monograph on Secret Manipulations.

However, insights into linguistic manipulations and secret speech of the elderly are remark- ably scarce in specifically African contexts. He explains in the episode Last exit to Springfield how these sto- ries can also be used strategically in interaction. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time.

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Now where were we? However, the present paper is not the outcome of long periods of fieldwork with a specific focus on the linguistic manipulations of elderly speakers, but has to be considered a first rough collection of thoughts, a proposed focus on deliberate language change among elderly people. I am very much indebted to Paulin Baraka Bose Uganda Christian University, Kampala for the data, support and cooperation provided while researching the linguistic manipulations of old people in Eastern Congo.

A draft of the present paper was presented at an international workshop on linguistic creativity and secrecy at James Cook Uni- versity, Cairns Australia in August Dimmendaal for his interest in the paper, and Sasha Aikhenvald and Bob Dixon for hosting the workshop. I am grateful to Mary Chambers for care- fully proofreading the paper, and to both reviewers for their useful comments.

Secrecy in the speech of the elderly in Eastern DR Congo The present preliminary view on the language of the elderly is based on data extracted from conversations with speakers of the Bantu languages Kinyabwisha, Kihunde and the widespread lingua franca Kiswahili, all from Eastern DR Congo and spoken in or around the provincial capital of Goma. Secret manipulations in speech could be found in all three languages, idiolectally employed especially by older men and sometimes women in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

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Kihunde is listed as JD51 [hke], whereby all of the latter are related and share similar features. The lingua franca Kiswahili, which is mentioned several times throughout this paper, is classified as G40 [swh]. The powerful and secret dramatization in the speech of the elderly is encoded in confusing, silly and noisy language, which can only be partially unmasked. Transforma- tion here puts the concepts of age-related speech and normative expectations held by the addressee into question.

As soon as elderly interlocutors manipulate lan- guage, they are no longer old speakers who define linguistic norms but are altering themselves and their roles through secrecy in interaction. Third, old speakers in the Congo can deliberately be silly, and reclaim silliness in interaction. Manipula- tions of the elderly could then be seen as a subversive strategy and as a decolo- nial option when interacting with younger researchers whose perspective is based on a Northern episteme, and whose approaches to the language of old speakers questions local hierarchies, local prestige and constitutes an act of sacrilege; the inadequate attempt of unveiling the secret of manipulated language triggers more manipulation, more surprise moments, and increases the encoding of concealed language.

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While 1a is directed toward women, 1b toward men, all other curses 1c—1g can be directed toward both. Exces- sive swearing by old people becomes a powerful practice, where the secret is partly unveiled. Swearing par- lors, as parts of local bars, can thus be seen as places where a secret community of practice shares excessive linguistic practices as a means of identity building, and at times also as a pleasurable practice.

Due to the change in rural and urban communities, where the former higher social status of older people is increasingly debated and questioned by younger generations, who are becoming more focused on westernized principles of education, old people reconquer hierarchies through the power of words, i. Very often, these severe curses that give elderly speakers the power to control and sanction younger members of their family or community are accompanied by spitting practices, which are equally restricted to old people, predominantly men.

Spitting among old Banyabwisha can serve purposes of healing, liberating and, when applied gently onto the palm of the addressee, creating a strong bond between older and younger community members. However, when an old person forcefully spits onto the ground while using offensive language, it clearly repre- sents anger and rejection.

Crowd manipulation

Younger Banyabwisha confirmed that cursing rarely occurs without spitting, and that both stand in strong semiotic interconnect- edness. Spitting among young people does not occur frequently, and is not an acceptable behavior when elders are around. This does not have to do with their status in regard to a required initiation etc. When asked to explain how and why stories are constructed that contain neither moral lessons nor advice, and that leave the lis- tener rather puzzled, he replied as follows: Kuko bitu byenye unaniuliza, hm, mutu hawezi fanya adisi yenye haiko ku nani, hm.

Kama unasema adisi yenye haiko na fasi, yenye haina musingi maanake haiko adisi ya muzuri, maanake pale umechanganikiwa. Sababu adisi inakuwaka kitu yengine. Sawa majina ya batu: leo unasema jina utajua kama uyu ni munyanga, uyu ni muhunde. Uyu ni Munyarwanda, Saa tuseme baluba, hauwezi kusahau baluba, ama batu ya Kasai, hm?

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Like names of people: today you say a name and you will know if this is a Munyanga person, this is a Muhunde person. This is a Munyarwanda. When the ten-minute long audio recording was sent to me by my colleague, stating that the old man had talked for a long time but had only addressed the requested topic in a few brief sentences, it took me a while to realize that the entire recording was an example of deliberate obfuscation, leading away from the actual topic after only couple of sentences, and leaving the conversational part- ner surprised and puzzled.

Stories that contain moral lessons, wisdom and educational potential can at times be seen as the intellectual property of the elderly who tell them, and may therefore be modified, manipulated, or lead nowhere. By this means, ownership of orature and intellectual capital is expressed, and specific agency is marked.

I did not tell you anything like that! Les vieux te racontent des histoires de blague. Now one day, when I went I met soldiers. They asked me if I really was Congolese. We discussed that. I never did that. I only sold goats or coffee. Interestingly, this does not automatically mean that elders also make deliberate grammatical mistakes in their speech, as for instance reported by Irvine for Wolof speakers with a higher status.

I thank one of the reviewers for this comment. Quel jour? What day?

Even though he knows s he said it. And everybody knows s he said it laughing. Not only in Eastern Congo but also in the Western world, rejection of former statements often goes along with a certain authority and social hierarchy, e. The rejection of statements does not therefore necessarily have to do with age as a social variable, but rather with the role of a speaker in a given setting or hierarchy.

Moreover, the fact of making a statement once and not several times constitutes a strategy of evidentiality. Their main function consists in signaling between aged conversational partners that usually a third party, potentially a younger person, has become the topic of the conversation. In Kinyabwisha, the secret modal parti- cles nduza and kanaka are used, related to the Kinyarwanda particles ntuza and kanaka which are more widely used without the same function as in Kinyab- wisha.

There is no equivalent found in French, the language of the field session, nor in other languages such as Kiswahili. When Kiswahili is spoken in a larger group, Kinyabwisha secret particles may be inserted by a speaker, with the inten- tion of passing on the message to another old speaker. They usu- ally refer to insider knowledge within a tight-knit community, and always consti- tute a form of communication between two or more interlocutors about a third one, or a third party, who may be addressed if present, or may be absent, although the criticism still needs to be concealed.

Mami Mushunju explains the use of nduza and kanaka as follows in Kivu Swahili : Luga muzuri muzuri, hm, sasa siye tunabisumuliya, siye bawili tunabijuwa sana. In this case, nduza as secret modal particle stands in clause-initial position, referring to someone who is known to speaker 1 and 2, but not necessar- ily to speaker 4.

Younger speakers will neither ask for the concealed information in the conversation of old people, nor are they supposed to commonly employ the modal particles themselves in interaction.

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It was observed at a local wedding in Goma, the provincial capital, that an elderly man took only a few sips of beer out of a bottle, afterwards using his apparent state of drunkness as a strategy for passing a delicate message to the people around him. Mutoto mudogo, kiyana, aneza owa mama wapata apa. Ulishaona mama yake? Maraba, kama unafanya nini…? According to Paulin Baraka Bose p.