A Pragmatic Analysis Of The Interplay Between Context And Illocutionary Acts On Meaning And Interpretation Of Igala Proverbs

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A Pragmatic Analysis Of The Interplay Between Context And Illocutionary Acts On Meaning And Interpretation Of Igala Proverbs


Proverbs play very important functional, communicative and pragmatic roles in Igala language. Their social and contextual importance has been attested to by ethnographers, philosophers, literary and other language experts, as instruments of communication, cultural education and channel of language aesthetics, as a house of wisdom, garnished and sustained among the Igala of Northern Nigeria. It is, perhaps, unimaginable thata speech event, involving a competent Igala speaker will be successfully conducted and concluded without the use of the appropriate and, contextually suitable proverbs, in order to achieve the purpose of the discourse. In spite of their rich linguistic and pragmatic importance, however, Igala proverbs have not been accorded critical linguistic and especially pragmatic focus in research, especially in relation to with regards to the important role of contextual features used in the deciphering of meaning and interpretation.

This research examines Igala proverbs and the extent to which contextual features help in the interpreation of meaning and their uses in specific social contexts, the illocutionary acts performed both directly and indirectly, and the pragmatic value derivable from the analyses of each proverb. The theoretical framework for this study is based on Lawal (1997), which is a synthesis of the pragmatic insights of other linguists. The data for the study were obtained from audio recordings of Igala traditional performances during marriage and coronation ceremonies, conflict resolution sessions, village meetings, and structured interviews. Secondary sources of data were obtained from story books by writers of Igala extraction, and literature from other cultures.

Findings emanating from this study revealed that context is the determinant of meaning in pragmatic studies, especially in the analysis of Igala proverbs which are context sensitive and their meanings and interpretations are subject to their use and usage in a contextually conventional language environment. In context of this study, the illocutionary acts helped in the correlation of the degree of proverbs meaning, interpretation and functions especially in the determination and projection of the speaker’s intention, in the direct and the indirect illocutionary acts and the overall impact on meaning.On the whole, the study found that inspite of technological advancements; proverbs are still used extensively in Igala traditional societies. This research further reveals the love and admiration Igala speakers accord to Igala proverbs genre.

This study reveals that there is more to the study of a proverb than a mere mechanistic examination of its forms. Pragmatic mappings of contexts and competences at the linguistic, situational, social, sociological, psychological and cosmological levels as well as other pragmatic features such as Mutual Contextual Beliefs (MCBs), intentions of the speaker and the listener, the illocutionary acts performed, presupposition, inference, implicatures and intuition, all affect the meaning and interpretation of the proverb in language situations in an ethnographic setting.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Across languages and cultures, proverbs constitute a very important aspect of language use. Hence, they have been subject of varying attention from linguists, anthropologists and language users in general. They have also been described and labelled in various ways in different languages and cultures. For example, the Yoruba refer to proverbs as a kind of horse, which comes handy in recovering a speech that has derailed. Among the Igbo, proverbs are “the palm oil with which words are eaten” and they form “an aspect of language use, which not only makes a point, but fixes in our minds” (Achebe, 1958:6).

Even the scriptures are not silent on proverbs. Proverbs 1:1-7 (The Holy Bible,New International Version, 1984), explains that proverbs help the wise inincreasing his wisdom, while enabling the discerning to get guidance. Proverbs in different languages and cultures form part of the codes of behaviour and exemplify their use for the transmission of tribal wisdom and rules of conduct (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1992:749). In fact, Gadzar (1980:84) refers to proverbs as a short-handframe of reference to the moral and ethical inclinations of a people. They could form part of a class that comprises the origin of myths, folk-tales and songs, which feature in conversation between adults. Fergasson (1983:63) believes that proverbs “mirror the life of the people, reflect what they do, what and how they think, how they live, what values they admire or abhor and what joys and sorrows they experience”.

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