Word Power in Taboo Expressions as Instrument of Change in Nigeria

By Shirley Yul-Ifode.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

The phenomenon of taboo has been postulated as one of the reasons for sex differentiation in speech, proscribing certain behaviours of a people in a particular society. Coates (1993:43) states that taboo operates in societies proscribing certain forms of behaviour, including linguistic behaviour. Linguistically, taboo refers to words that are not to be used, or at least, not in “polite company”. Fromkin and Rodman (1993:303) explain that words that are forbidden reflect the particular customs and views of the society. Using a simple descriptive linguistic method, this paper examines cross-linguistically taboo expressions in selected Nigerian languages, focusing on how the notion of taboo can be inculcated into youths at an early age, and thereby using it as an instrument to curb violence and aggression in the society. Since women have been reported to use more prestigious language features as a result of status consciousness, while men are identified with language of independence and dominance, taboo should not be seen as one of the determinants of this male independence and dominance. The paper argues that preference for such expressions does not enhance, but derogates the status of the user. It goes on to add that the power in these taboo expressions, as words, infuses strange desires into the minds of young ones, which subsequently generate strange behaviours in the growing child, leading to violence and crime in the society, in the child’s search or quest for this so- called independence and dominance. It concludes by calling for a change in attitude from the grassroots in permitted linguistic norms rather than hide under sex differentiation, expecting that the relevant social institutions would be sensitized to do so.

Keywords: Power in the Word, Taboo Expressions, Change

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.125-134. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 647.815KB).

Shirley Yul-Ifode

Professor, Department of Linguistics and Comminication Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt, Rivers, Nigeria

Shirley Yul-Ifode is a Professor of Basic and Applied Phonetics/Phonology in Child Language and Communication Disorders in the Department of Linguistics and Communication Studies of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. In addition to her numerous articles and books in the above areas, she has pioneered research and projects on Child Language and Communication Disorders in Nigeria. Outside academics, she preaches the Christian gospel.


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