Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Saying X: The Pragmatics of a Nigerian Context

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Saying X: The Pragmatics of a Nigerian Context

Article excerpt


The study investigates the pragmatic motivations of linguistic choices contained in selected mobile-phone text messages written by Nigerians. As an effort towards crosscultural pragmatics, the study examines "Nigerianisms" in the use of English. Bach and Harnish's concept of mutual contextual beliefs (MCBs) is mainly relied upon as a theoretical framework, although insights from other scholars of pragmatics and sociolinguistics give the study a more illuminating theoretical base. The study reveals "that in saying x (producing different utterances), Nigerians may violate the norms of the English language and alienate even the native speakers who are bereaved of the social realism that underpin the Nigerian speakers' communicative strategies. This practice is informed by the existential experiences which constitute the socio-cultural and diachronic Nigerian context.

Key words: Pragmatics; Mutual contextual beliefs; Sociolinguistics; Discourse


The study presents English as a product of colonialism which Nigeria experienced during the British rule. At various stages after colonialism, the language changes due to social dynamics in Nigeria; socially realistic phenomena inform "nativized" varieties of English, and this trend operates as a continuum. Our concern is mainly to probe the informants of the encoding and decoding of utterances in region-based natural human communication, relying mainly on pragmatic tools. The paper contends that it is logical to make a Constative (a Declarative speech act) on the pragmatics of saying x in the Nigerian context, using The Projection Principle (Cf. Jolayemi, 2000). The Principle states that via micro-structures (selected samples), messages in the macro-structure of a text could be procured". In this regard, the way English is used in the nine text messages which constitute our corpora, reflect how the language is used by the Nigerian speech community.

Indeed, English colonized Nigeria, and to decolonize it, Nigerians use "nativized" varieties which may not be intelligible to the native speakers of English. Bach and Harnish (1979) contend that MCBs (Mutual Contextual Beliefs) are needed by participants of discourse for effective communication to take place between S (Speaker) and H (Hearer). We have observed that Nigerian English is viewed in various frames: taboo, non-standard English, ethnic stigmatizations and language choices informed by incompetence in the formal properties of English (incompetence in "use"). We argue that it is "social competence" (which is very crucial to discourse), that generates "Regional Englishes", rather than "linguistic incompetence".


We briefly review pragmatic theories that are relevant to the study namely: Austin (1962), Searle (1969), Grice (1975) Bach and Harnish (Ibid.). Besides reviewing these theories, we review Adegbija (1982) as well as sociolinguistic issues that serve as anchorage to the thrust of the paper:

* Pragmatics

The word ''pragmatics'' is from the Greek word "pragma" which means "deed" or "action". Pragmatics emerged as a reaction against the hitherto purely-formalist approach to language study; an approach which de-emphasizes contextual factors that generate texts. Scholars have defined pragmatics in different perspectives, but the various definitions explain pragmatics as the study of language use according to various situational variables.

* Austin (1962)

Austin (1962) argues "that the goal of the pragmatic analyst is to find out the total speech acts performed in the total speech situation". A major feat of Austin's theory is that it generated widespread interest in "doing things with words. Austin makes a distinction between performatives and constatives. Constatives are statements that have the property of being either true or false, whereas performatives are utterances which count as actions. Austin posits "that performatives can either be felicitous or infelicitous, and should be performed under certain felicitous conditions; certain words have to be uttered in certain circumstances, all participants of the discourse must exercise such procedures correctly and completely, the particular persons and circumstances in a given situation must be appropriate for the particular procedure, and their thoughts and feelings should be germane to the situations. …

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