A Pragmatic Analysis Nigerian  Of Nigerian Proverbs In Wole Soyinka’s “The Lion And The Jewel”

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

Communication in the society happens chiefly by means of language. However, the users of language, as social beings, communicate and use language within the context as society; society controls their access to the linguistic and communicative means. Language, being the most important means of communication, interaction and social integration among individuals in the society, needs to be preserved, sustained, and properly developed. Language, by definition, is said to be the human vocal noise or the arbitrary graphic representation of the noise, used systematically and conventionally by members of a speech community for the purpose of communication. (Osisanwo 2003:1)

As evident in the Nigerian context, when using language to communicate, some expressions are not considered rich except such expressions are buttressed with proverbs. These proverbs are rich with words of wisdom and they are passed across from generation to generation. Proverbs can be said to be succinct and pithy sayings in general use, expressing commonly held ideas and beliefs. (Encyclopeadia Britannica, 2010).

Pragmatics can be seen as a branch of study concerned with the ability of language users to pair sentence with context in which they would be appropriate. (Levinson, 1983:24). The pragmatics of English can be said to be one of the linguistic features of Nigerian English. This study will discuss at length pragmatics along side with proverbs in our subsequent discussion.

1.1 The English Language In Nigeria

The evolution of English language in Nigeria has been traced by Alabi (1994:187) to pre-trans-Atlantic slave trade era, specifically in 1553 when some British were said to have paid a very brief visit to the Nigerian coasts especially the ports of Benin and old Calabar. The first obstacle confronted by the visitors was communication barrier between the native and the English men. There was then a pressing need to dislodge this obstruction, hence, the need to teach the basic English for communication, business transaction, and missionary activities and for other functions.

At the initial stage, the medium of communication between the English men and the native was an English-based pidgin. Since the traders, missionaries and colonial administrators were not willing to learn the indigenous language(s), English had to be imposed and taught in order to train clerks, interpreters, stewards and messengers to help white men in administrative and domestic activities.

It is therefore evident that the cornerstone of the British introduction of the teaching of English language was not based on evolution of a “standard” English but on the emergence of fairly communicative English. Therefore, right from the outset, there has been a basis for dialectal varieties in Nigeria spoken English.

Consequently, the use of English in Nigeria survived the departure of the colonial administrators as the official language. Now, several years after independence, English still survives and assumes a more important status in Nigeria. It is a medium of social and inter-ethnic communication. It is used as a medium of instruction in schools: primary, secondary and tertiary. There is no gainsaying that ultimately, a variant of English tagged Nigerian English has become an inevitable variety from one culture to another bringing about various English varieties/dialects. Thus, the English language has attained a dominant status in Nigeria such that it is arguable that the survival of the country largely depends on it as the language of unity, nationism and intra- and inter-ethnic communication.

1.2 Proverbs And The Pragmatics Of English In Nigeria

Nuggets of popular wisdom abound in many African languages to accentuate and highlight discourses in given context. These expressions of wisdom are usually referred to as proverbs (Adedimeji 2003:54). Proverbs are used in different ways in the Nigerian context. This shows that Africans, especially Nigerians, cannot communicate effectively on many occasions without punctuating their expressions with proverbs. This is because proverbs are part of every spoken language and are handed down from generation to generation, The reality of which has become an attribute of Nigerian English.

English as a second language in Nigeria has undergone many changes to suit the Nigerian English speakers. Certain flavour and ‘Nigerianisms’ have been added to it to ensure its (English) survival in the Nigerian context. The Nigerian Standard English is said to enjoy social acceptability and international intelligibility. Some scholars are of different views concerning this. Alabi (2007:81), for instance is of the view that, the English which is used in the Nigerian environment is something other than a replica of native speakers’ varieties. Kujore cited by Alabi (2007:81) buttresses this point that English as a living language is bound to undergo many changes in such a foreign environment as Nigeria’s whose cultural and linguistic backgrounds are different from those of English in its native environment.

Many characteristic features of Nigerian dialectal forms of the English language exist at the phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic. Interestingly, these ethnic traits do not simply disappear just because a speaker is educated. This is because variation in English reveals more of cultural differences. The language as it is now has been ‘domesticated’ in Nigeria to reflect the general social context within which it functions.

Achebe, quoted by Kachru (1981:25) says …

I feel that English language will be able to carry the

weight of African experience. But it will have to be a

new English, still in full communion with its ancestral

but uttered to suit its new African surroundings.

Adedimeji (2007:166) submits that, as language reflects the totality of culture, mores, philosophy and customs of its speakers, Nigerian English showcases the traditional experiences of Nigerians.

The above utterance by Achebe is manifested in what is called pragmatic variation which will includes: euphemisms, kinship terms, greetings, idiomaticity, discourse/conversational implicature, politeness, transfer features and proverbs (Adedimeji 2007: 166-169) making the pragmatic features of Nigeria English.

These are briefly discussed as follows:


These are expressions that are used to lessen the bad effect of something or situation; present unpleasant or unsuitable situation in a pleasant and elevated manner.

Kinship Terms:

These are words that reflect deep family and social relationship.


Nigerian cultures place much emphasis on greetings. This is manifested in the following examples “Well done”, “Welcome”, “Sorry”, (even when one has not caused the inconvenience).


This has to do with the use of idioms. They are expressions which meaning cannot be known literarily.

Discourse/Conversational Implicature:

This happens when one or all of the Gricean maxims, i.e. Quality (be informative as required), Quality (be truthful), Manner (be clear), Relation (be relevant) are flouted and not adhered to.


Expressions showing respect are created by the Nigerian speaker of English to exhibit all the titles of the addressee so as not to rob the person of being addressed of his/her supposed dignity and respect.

Transfer Features:

These are patterns that reflect the influence of Nigerian languages on English.


These are ancient sayings of wisdom handed down from generation to generation. The Nigerian uses of proverbial expressions have led to the formation of English that is out of tone with the standard British English because some proverbs in Nigeria are directly translated from mother tongue e.g. ‘there is no smoke without fire’, ‘A man running during the day time, if he is not after something, then something must be after him’, etc. These proverbs among several thousands of Nigerian proverbs enrich the pragmatic variation of Nigerian English.

1.3 Purpose Of Study

The purpose of this study is to examine how meaning is generated from the use of proverbs and beyond the level of general conversational meaning. Also, this study aims to survey the importance of proverbs in Nigerian culture. This study also aims at showcasing Wole Soyinka as a competent writer whose work is relevant to the Nigerian society.

1.4 Scope Of Study

This will be limited to the identification and analysis of Nigerian proverbs in The Lion and the Jewel. All Nigerian proverbs found in the chosen text will constitute the body of data for the research work. This work shall not examine proverbs outside the chosen text. Pragmatic theory will be used in the course of the study.

1.5 Justification Of Study

This study is being embarked upon because no study of this nature, to the knowledge of the researcher has focused on the pragmatics of Soyinka’s proverbs in The Lion and the Jewel. In this research work, the researcher came across such works as Alabi (2009), which focuses on the syntactic structures of proverbs in Achebe’s and Adimora-Ezegbo’s trilogies, Adedimeji (2009), which focuses on a universal pragmatic analysis of Nigerian proverbs in Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi, Arimi (2009), which concentrates on the contexted wisdom on Indonesian and Japanese proverbs, and Adeleke (2009) that focuses on the aspect of Yoruba history in the proverbs.

In the above works, the researchers focused on proverbs in different aspects. This work will be different from the above as the researcher will analyze the Nigerian proverbs using the pragmatic framework. This study will go a long way in helping people to know the importance of proverbs in our society.

1.6 Research Methodology

In this research work, all Nigerian proverbs in the chosen text will constitute the body of data. However, to achieve comprehensibility and better understanding, various elements of pragmatics are not only pertinent but also required. Therefore, the data will be analysed using the elements suitable such as speech act, context, presupposition, implicature, intention, inference and mutual contextual belief (MCB).

1.7 Wole Soyinka And A Synopsis Of His The Lion And The Jewel

Wole Soyinka was born on 13th July 1934 at Abeokuta, Ogun State. After preparatory University studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African Drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various Universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975 he was appointed professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the “Orisun Theatre Company” through which he produced his own plays and performed as an actor. He has periodically been a visiting professor to the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yule.

During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he

was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, prose and poetry. His writing is based on the methodology of his own tribe- the Yoruba- with Ogun, the god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during his time in London, The Stomp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel (a night comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and1959 and were published in 1963.

The play, The Lion and the Jewel is set in the village of Ilujinle. Lakunle catches a glimpse of Sidi carrying a pail on her head, and rushes out of the classroom to seize the pail. He tries to emulate European notion of courtesy by relieving Sidi of her burden, though carrying water is traditionally a woman’s task. When Lakunle proposes to Sidi, he is quoting words he has read in popular English books about marriage, with his pretentious metaphors being answered by Sidi’s pithy proverbs.

The heightened when Sidi says she wants a bride-price. She insists on this because of the tradition which will prove her value in the eyes of the village. The girls come to tell Sidi about the magazine which contains her images and that of Baroka, the Bale of Ilujinle. Photographs of Sidi have pride of place, on the cover and centre spread, whilst the village bale, has only a small corner inside. Sidi realizes the power of her beauty, placing her above the leader of her people.

Baroka was once a powerful warrior. He has lived a long life and acquired many concubines. Now he wants Sidi and sends his head wife, Sadiku, to propose to her. This is common in many cultures for men to use elderly women as intermediary to solicit a new bride. Sidi is not interested since he is an old man, and with arrogance of youthful pride, rebukes his advances. But Baroka is a wily old fox, not so easily brushed aside. He is determined to have Sidi, and hatches a plan to seduce her. Sidi falls for Baroka’s seduction and finally gets married to Baroka.

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