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A PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS OF SELECTED YORUBA EUPHEMISMS
1.0 Background to the Study
Communication has always been a vital part of human existence and language plays a pivotal role in the communicative process, since it is the medium of all imaginative, spoken, written or gestured expressions. Over the years, the flexibility of language has afforded language users the opportunity to creatively manipulate language in order to express human thoughts, ideas, and emotions in subtle ways to foster harmonious relationships. To this end, people often make deliberate choices of communicating through indirect or pleasant expressions as against the use of expressions which are considered unpleasant or rude in communication. Euphemism is a subtle form of language used amidst the varieties of language system employed by language users both in written and spoken form for effective communication. According to Fromkin and Rodman (2003) “euphemisms are words or phrases that replace a taboo word or serves to avoid frightening or unpleasant subjects”. That means it is generally an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant. Akanbi (2008) also refers to euphemism as “a word or phrase which replaces a taboo word or is used in an attempt to avoid either fearful or unpleasant happenings”. For example, in many societies, because death is feared, there are so many euphemisms used as substitutes such that it is more comfortable to say that “people have passed away or passed on”, than to use the word „die‟
According to Enright (1985) “a language without euphemism would be a defective instrument of communication. Thus, euphemism is an indispensable and natural part of human language; it is a cultural phenomenon which cuts across all languages and cultures, for almost all cultures seem to have certain behaviour or words that are tagged as forbidden for people to mention directly at least not in a polite company. Such words as described by Fromkin and Rodman (2003) are called taboo words – they refer to acts that are forbidden or to be avoided, and in situations where an act is a taboo, reference to it automatically becomes a taboo. For example in English it is a taboo to talk about some vulgar words or swear words in public such as; „fuck‟, „prick‟ „tits‟ „balls‟, etc. Such words are often seen as dirty, as most people avoid discussions that relate to them directly or rather use less meaningful words for them. Therefore, it is not wrong to say that the existence of taboo words and ideas stimulates the creation of euphemisms. The use of euphemism is common among the Yorùbas who as a way of life take their norms, practices and traditions very serious such that words are not just uttered anyhow; they are weighed before they are uttered . It is the belief of the Yorùbás that certain words are not to be said in their lucid forms, this consciousness is what informs the Yoruba saying; „Gbogbo as̩o̩ kó̩̩ là ń s̩á lóòrùn’ meaning ‘It is not all clothes that are spread in the sun’. This explains the fact that not all words can be said in public. For example, taboo words that relate to human sexual organs, human sexual activities and the likes, are not just discussed freely; for such words, people create euphemisms as substitutes which help to reduce the effects they could have on the hearer‟s mind. Taboo words in Yorùbáculture however go beyond those that relate to human sexuality, they also extend to areas such as; dressing, food, hygiene, death, names, birth, business, and royalty Oyetade (1994). Taboo is a major component of the Yorùbáculture , it is one way in which the Yorùbá society expresses its disapproval of certain kinds of behaviour believed to be harmful to its members, either for supernatural reasons or because such behaviours violate the moral code. Salami (2006), affirms that the Yorùbápeople ; for example, do not often describe the genitals by their technical terms and it is also a taboo to mention women‟s menstrual activity by name. Therefore, in a bid to avoid such taboo words which could make them sound loose, indecent, rude, too direct or impolite, the language users tend to settle for words that help to present them in a pleasant or mild way for effective communication. It is against this background that this study sets out to examine the inevitability of the use of euphemism in the Yoruba society, the types of acts performed either directly or indirectly through these euphemisms in conversations and how politeness is manifested in the use of these euphemisms in Yoruba Language. For example; in Yoruba Language, when one dies, in order to sound polite and to present the news to people in a subtle and appropriate manner that will lessen the effects the news might have on its hearers, such may be expressed euphemistically by saying “He has changed position” (ó tí pa ipòdá). Here, the euphemistic term “change position” used as a substitute for death performs directly an assertive act and indirectly an expressive act. Politeness is also demonstrated by the speaker‟s use of the euphemism as the tact maxim is being maintained as a means to reduce the serious threats the news might pose on the addressee if he says what he intends to say directly. Thus, cost is minimised and benefit is maximised to the addressee by the speaker by expressing a substitute of what he intends to convey.
1.1 The YorùbáPeople and Culture
According to Okediji (2008), when the question is put forward, “What is Yorùbá: language, people, culture, community or geographical definition?” such question poses a lot of problem, as it seems complex. It is not easy to provide a definite answer since the manifestations of Yorùbá cultures are not only found in Africa , but in various parts of the world , such as; in the Americas, Caribbean Islands and Europe . Who are those referred to with the phrase “The Yorùbás”? Are they those who speak the language and any of its dialects? Or should it be limited only to those people who at one time claim origin from Ife directly or indirectly? Are they those people who at one time or the other were either conquered or incorporated into one or the other Yorùbákingdoms ? Or do we look around for people who have similar institutions, similar objects of worship, similar concept of beliefs and similar customs and include them into this cultural group? Owing to these facts, it seems difficult to arrive at an accurate classification or definition of „the Yorùbás‟. Akinjogbin in Okedeji (2008) proposes certain criteria to be considered in defining “the Yorùbás”. The first criterion he came up with is „Language‟ which is seen as an important and basic identity in any culture . Therefore, wherever the Yorùbálanguage or any of its dialects is spoken in West Africa, such is assumed to have one time or the other formed part of what can be called Yorùbáland . The second criterion is based on the assumption that quite a large group claimed to have migrated from Ife ; therefore, wherever one finds this claim , such areas should be included in the Yorùbácontinuum . Despite the fact that not all these people with this claim have Oduduwa as their father, in which they are said not to speak the recognizable Yorùbá, their oral tradition cannot be dismissed and as such they should be considered as belonging to the Yorùbá culture . The third criterion is predicated on the fact that where a Yorùbákingdom has succeeded in incorporating a non Yorùbágroup for a sufficiently long period , to the extent that such an incorporated group has imbibed; the language, the institutions, the religion and mores of the Yorùbápeople, it is right to include such people or group in the Yorùbácontinuum. The fourth criterion which is the last he gave is based on the claims that some former Yorùbá kingdoms were lost to Oduduwa princes and that some of those kingdoms may have taken on other languages. However, it will be right or legitimate where the traces or evidences so permit to include such kingdoms; that is if it is possible to find similar traits and strong historical links. In drawing a geographical boundary, the present Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Lagos states within Nigeria fall within the boundary and includes a large part of Kwara State, particularly, the Offa Igbomina and other parts of Kwara such as; Ipee, Ojoku ,Omu Aran, and Ajase Ipo. Ilorin, Ekiti, Owe and Kabba/ Bunnu are also being accepted. Westward, the Ancient kingdom of Ketu, Sabe and the Ana in the present Republic of Benin, and the Atapama in the present Republic of Togo, also present no problem in being accepted as falling within the YorùbáLand . All these people described understand one single Yorùbálanguage though they have several dialects of the same language . For instance, there are about twenty dialects of Yorùb á spoken in areas such as; Ijebu,Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti. The Yorùbátribe is known in West Africa and even all over the continent as one blessed with rich cultural values, so rich is the culture that its presence is felt in every aspect such as greeting, naming, language use, religious worship, arts, music, dressing and other aspects of life Adebileje (2012). The Yorùbás are also well known for their great recognition of the Supreme Being „God‟ such that they are a religious group of people who are mainly Christians and Muslims. However, before the advent of Christianity and Islam, they had their own religion and they believed in their own deities , which differ according to geographical location