Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Proverbs as Cultural Semiotics in Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Proverbs as Cultural Semiotics in Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman

Article excerpt


Proverb has been defined in different ways by scholars. Examples of such are: Mieder (1985), Alster (1993) and Benhard (1995). The explication of the significations in proverbs has been shown through the perspectives of literature, anthropology and linguistics. According to Yusuf and Muthangwane (2003:48) "Proverbs are relatively short expression which are usually associated with wisdom and are used to perform varieties of social functions. For instance, among the Yorubas, proverbs are employed to condemn indecorums, to encourage virtues, to reprimand people with questionable characters, besides others (Yusuf, 1994) in the view of Achebe in Things Fall Apart, among the Igbos (in Nigeria) 'proverbs is the palm-oil with which words are eaten". That is, proverbs are utilized in discourse as meta-language to enrich our speech. Few linguistic analysis of proverbs have been focused on pragmatics (e.g. Norrick, 1994), discourse analysis (e.g. Seitel, 1994), semantics (e.g. Yusuf, 2001), pragmatic acting (e.g. Odebunmi (2006), and pragmatic presupposition (Aremu, 2008).

Significance of the Study

The study is significant in filling the existing vacuum in the linguistic research into the use of proverbs in Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman (henceforth DKH). Apart from Aremu (2008) which studied the pragmatic presuppositions in DKH and Dasylva not much work that are specific has been done on the analysis of cultural semiotics in proverbs employed by Wole Soyinka in DKH. This work is also the playwright (Wole Soyinka) in significant in understanding the language of Soyinka's poetic dramaturgy.

The Plot of the Play 'DKH'

The play is a slice of Oyo history. The event in the text of Soyinka's Horseman revolves round Elesin (the King's horseman) who refused to commit the necessary ritual suicide as tradition demands. This event occurred in 1946 in Oyo (Nigeria). Epicureanism and egeocentricism made Elesin to footdrag in performing his role as the "life sustaining tank" of the Oyos. Despite the pleas and warnings of Olohun-Iyo and Iyaloja, pride and stubbornness made Elesin to keep on with his carnal lust, and then caused a doom on himself and the entire Oyo people. Elesin's hubris led to the unnecessary death of Olunde (his son), and also, his belated suicide could not save the situation. Besides the flaws of this tragic hero not only made him to fall from grace to grass; but it also led to the desecration of ancestral cults by the District Officer (Mr. Pilkings) and the destruction of traditionalism.

Theoretical Framework

Under this sub-heading, we shall review the existing literature on semiotics, context and mutual contextual beliefs before bringing out a theoretical framework for the study. First, we define semiotics.

Semiotics, according to Eco (1976) is concerned with "everything that can be taken as a sign". It involves the study of not only what we refer to as "signs" in everyday speech, but also of anything that stands for something else. In the view of Morris (1983), semiotics is the study of sign Eco (1976) posits that semiotics is a branch of linguistics is not only a theoretical approach to cultural studies but it also teaches that reality is a system of signs which cannot be taken for granted as purely objective but also independent of human interpretations. This linguistic concept was started by Saussure (a French linguist) before it was popularized by Sander Pierce (1931) According to Pierce (1931), human beings are meaning-makers who make meanings through their creation and interpretation of signs. Man and everything in his environs are meaning potentials. In the opinion of Danes and Perron (199) and Chandler (2003), culture is a major factor in producing and interpreting signs.

Besides, semiotics is also "a branch of study which investigates the properties of signaling systems both natural and artificial, especially with regard to the meanings or messages that they convey. …

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