On Posture And Expletives—Uriah Dillsworth Gaugauh Kamadugha — JLSSCNC Vol I, No 4 Contents Presidential Speech Disorders—James McCullough

Ndaba Forms of Address

Ndaba is a Bantu language spoken in scattered pockets of Tanzania and Uganda. During this century, many of its speakers have become bi- or trilingual by learning Swahili and/or English. The present study examines the peculiar effects in Ndaba speakers of first language speech patterns on styles of personal address in second languages.

The Ndaba language is remarkable for its peculiar person address system. Although Ndaba has a full personal pronoun system, and Ndaba speakers all have personal names, nevertheless it is not proper to address another Ndaba by either personal name or by any form of second person pronoun. Rather, the speaker must call his listener by some insulting descriptive adjective, such as mwewe ‘ugly’, andoga ‘stupid’, or ŋginya ‘badly dressed’. However, low-prestige members of the community (including foreigners like myself) are addressed with the personal pronoun u ‘you’. (I am happy to report that by the end of my stay among the Ndaba, my principal informants were insulting me as rudely as if I were their mother).

The explanation for this peculiarity seems to be that the Ndaba consider immodesty the greatest possible sin. Failing to insult someone covertly suggests that this person might be guilty of immodesty. The high-status can get away with covertly accusing the low-status in this way. However, should anyone go so far as to actually compliment another person, the latter has the legal right, according to Ndaba tradition, to kill the complimenter without recompensing his family beyond the value of a single goat.

We should note that the avoidance of personal names in discourse is motivated by another consideration, a magical one. To speak a person’s name to that person, I am told, is to let the ever-present demon-spirits know what the addressee’s name is. He who breaks the taboo must pay for the magical ceremony which officially changes the addressee’s name; since the ceremony usually costs between four and seven cows, this is a powerful deterrent. I am told that very rich Ndaba sometimes address their enemies by name in hopes that the demons will do away with them before the name change ceremony can occur. However, the named parties usually manage to get the ceremony performed on time.

All of these customs, which are interesting in their own right, become doubly so when considered in the context of native Ndaba speakers’ acquisition of second languages. The Ndaba have a history of stormy diplomatic relations with other peoples, no doubt in part because the naive Ndaba speaker insults his interlocutors profusely as a way of showing his respect for them. However, since independence the Tanzanian government, in particular, has made efforts to develop the technologically backward and isolated Ndaba sectors of its country. Since the 1970’s, many young Ndaba have gone to school and learned Swahili and/or English and have gone on to employment in jobs requiring them to speak these languages. Some of them, unfortunately, couldn’t learn not to insult people when speaking the second language and were usually kicked out of school at an early age. Most, however, have adapted to the new language and, while they still use insults regularly in speaking Ndaba, they speak English or Swahili normally. However, they are still averse even in these languages to compliments, except as a way of attacking authority figures such as bosses for arrogance. Such attacks have the advantage of buttering up the boss while allowing the Ndaba to blow off some steam by voicing his unrecognized criticism. A final, very small, multilingual group consists of those Ndaba who, having learned not to insult people in their second language, apply this lesson to the first language. Such ‘egotistical’ people are widely disliked and ostracized in Ndaba culture.

Hiroko Watanabe Osaka Foreign Languages Institute

On Posture And Expletives—Uriah Dillsworth
Presidential Speech Disorders—James McCullough
Gaugauh Kamadugha — JLSSCNC Vol I, No 4 Contents