Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Pragmatics of Kiswahili Literary Political Discourse

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Pragmatics of Kiswahili Literary Political Discourse

Article excerpt


This article is an attempt to understand the meaning of the pragmatics of Kiswahili political poetry. Pragmatics is concerned with the meaning of the utterance, how what is said was meant by the speaker, and how the utterance is to be interpreted by the audience (indede 2003:191). The article employs the Cooperative Principle developed by H.P Grice whose Conversational Implicature is central to the discussion. Grice sees pragmatics as speaker meaning. He goes further to give distinction between what a speaker has said and what he has implicated taking into account that what he has implicated may either be conventionally implicated by virtue of the meaning of some word or phrase which he has said or non conventionally implicated. This is to say the specification of the implicature falls outside the specification of the conventional meaning of the words used (Strawson 1974:54) (1). Hence the Gricean reasoning of conversational implicature that we shall apply to this analysis reminds us that literary meanings are unique in some sense, that the conventional meanings may not do justice to the intentions of the writer since this may differ completely to what is displayed on the surface by the words used.

As we shall realize in this analysis, the entire world of literary communication is fundamentally different from oral communication in which Grice's theory is based. The addresser and the addressee in literary communication are temporally, locally and possibly culturally distanced. As a result literary communication is a one-sided process of communication with no one to one feedback on the part of the addressee to the addresser, that is, writer and reader (audience). Though basically Grice's explanations deal with natural conversations, it is important to note that the general display of Grice's approach to discourse create room for analysis of literary texts. It is against this background that this article attempts a pragmatics analysis of literary political discourse. The conversational strategies in literature and more so in poetry as shall be seen in this article invite an open-ended world in which the reader acts creatively just like the author if they have to share the meaning and meet communication goals. The discussion will focus on specific examples drawn from Kiswahili written poems; Chembe cha Moyo by Alamin Mazrui (1988), Sauti ya Dhiki by Abdilatif Abdala (1973) and Jicho la Ndani by Said Ahmed Mohamed (2002).

The use of the term 'attempt' here implies that the issues raised in this article are not absolute since the pragmatic analysis of literary texts as noted by Van Dijk (1981) and Pratt (1977) poses its own complexities. As it is noted by Pratt, the author or rather fictional speaker, or fictional reader explores many ways in which a literary text can implicate meanings. In this article then, I have concerned myself with the question; what is being communicated by the writer and how it is communicated, thus backing other philosophers' views that pragmatics denote meaning as understood in context. All in all the article draws a conclusion that the communication success of a literary text depends on our abilities to reason about the writer's meaning verses sentence meaning. This kind of communication strategy is supported by certain choice of diction, mood, tone, intentions and motivations supplied by the composer of the poem.

Pragmatics and the Literary Concept

Various critics of literary works have come up with interesting ideas which either contradict or agree with the theory of pragmatics. One of them being Emmanuel Ngara (1990) who sees literary works as communicative utterances produced by the author and received by the reader (or hearer especially when the poem is read aloud). He further observes that a poem is not like everyday speech in that it is patterned in order to give its communicative effects a greater impact. He further notes that the impact of a poem comes from the totality of the poem, from the weight of its message combined with its emotional, intellectual and imaginative appeal (pp 14-15). …

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