Nsenga proverbs in Zambia: linguistic, ethnographic and logical analyses

No Thumbnail Available
Ngalande, Sande
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Center for African Studies,Kyoto University
As African societies are rich in, and dependent on, orature to transmit societal information, proverbs play a central role in reflecting people's culture and traditions and they are hence entrusted with one of the most important functions of teaching and transmitting ethnic traditions and moral values across generations. It is therefore generally agreed that proverbs are not only the fruit of people's wisdom but also represent general characteristics of a society. Proverbs exist both orally and in print in the multitude of cultures and languages of the world. Whereas numerous collections already exist, several hundreds of both proverbs and publications on proverbs are added annually world over. Generally, most studies consist in paremiography. Paremiography is the commonest practice in the study of proverbs. Various people of various disciplines have collected proverbs either simply for the sake of making a collection or for specific purposes. Paremiography dates back as far as Aristotle's times and beyond in religious books. However, paremiologists occupy themselves with both the collection and classification of proverbs. In Africa and particularly Zambia, the majority of proverb information consists in collections more than the study of proverbs. Common in studies on proverbs is also the classification or categorization of proverbs based on discourse functions, conversational meanings and uses of proverbs. It is therefore common practice to find several works listing proverbs on one hand and their meanings on the other. The proverbs are also presented according to general functions and uses. As most African societies are multilingual, proverbs are also presented in local languages and translated into official languages, usually European languages, which are languages of the former colonial masters. In the Zambian case, translations are made in English. Although proverbs are an important part of language, many linguists have not directly dealt with the subject. Linguists too have involved themselves in classification and collection of proverbs as is the general trend. Some linguists have looked at proverbs under phraseology, but there remains the need for linguists to go beyond treating proverbs as phraseological units. In this manner, while research on proverb collections, conversational meanings, functions and use of proverbs abound, there is a dearth of information on the grammar of proverbs in Zambia in particular. Stated as a question, the problem is "What is the grammar of proverbs in Nsenga language?" The study is a departure from merely documenting proverbs to undertaking intensive analyses of individual proverbs in order to exhaustively deal with meanings and related linguistic and ethnographic aspects of individual proverbs. Thus rather than focus on collecting large volumes of proverbs, more time is allocated to dealing with individual proverbs from various angles or approaches in a holistic manner. The study therefore contributes by developing a new approach in analyzing proverbs. It combines the linguistic, ethnographic and logical approaches to deal with the complexity of the nature of proverbs and meaning in proverbs. Eight hundred proverbs and their accompanying ethnographic data were collected from the Nsenga people who speak a language called Nsenga using qualitative methods. Nsenga is spoken in Eastern Zambia. While Zambia has at least 73 speech varieties, English is the sole official language and only seven other indigenous languages have been selected as semi-official languages known as "Regional Official Languages". These languages are especially taught as subjects in schools. In Eastern Zambia, Nyanja is used as the official language. As a result, Nsenga is neither taught in schools nor used in any official capacity. It is therefore a minority language that has very little literature. The linguistic analysis reveals that Nsenga proverbs constitute a special form of language with a number of distinguishing features. The features include eight rhythm patterns based on Nsenga syllable structure that chiefly distinguish the phonology of Nsenga Proverbs from that of ordinary Nsenga. Other features of the phonology of Nsenga proverbs include grammatical and poetic alliteration of both consonant and vowel segments. The study also reveals morphological and syntactic structures that distinguish the grammar of Nsenga proverbs. These include a special form of pronominalization and nominalization. Others are bipartite structures, incomplete structures, imperative structures and the non-comphance to rules of grammar. The ethnographic analysis shows the manner in which proverbs are performed among the Nsenga people and the various societal characteristics as revealed by the proverbs. This analysis helps to move the study from merely dealing with linguistic meaning to dealing with pragmatic and cultural specific meaning of Nsenga proverbs. The analysis of meaning in proverbs is complemented by the logical analysis, which examines the reasoning pattern displayed in Nsenga proverbs. The study subsequently shows deductive reasoning in the form of Modus Ponendo Ponens as the predominant logic in Nsenga proverbs.
Linguistics , Proverbs, African--Zambia.