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“Is she a wife or a mother?” Social order, respect, and address in Mijikenda1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 February 2009

James McGivney
Affiliation:
School of European Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BNI 9QN, England

Abstract

Mijikenda social relationships are of two types, “respectful” and “joking.” In this northeastern Bantu language of Kenya, respect based on kinship requires an overt linguistic marker: adjacent generations (parents and children) “respect” one another and address each other using plural forms. Kin of the same generation (siblings, cousins) and of alternate generations (grandparents, grandchildren) “joke” with one another and address each other in the singular. Accordingly, address form in Mijikenda signals and reaffirms generational identity and relative position in a well-defined social structure. It is also normatively associated with “correct” behavior. As pronouns of respect occur in such small-scale, nonstratified Bantu societies (and throughout the world), it is suggested that Brown and Gilman's (1960) particular hypothesis for the origin and spread of T/V respect systems needs to be replaced by a more socially persuasive and general explanation for a widespread phenomenon. (Sociolinguistics, pronouns of address, T/V systems, kinship, Kenya languages, Bantu)

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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