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Czekelius, Annette R. (1999) Artistry and effectiveness in language use: The evaluation of ways of speaking among the Berba of Benin. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study is about artful speech and the politics of language use among the Berba, a small ethnic group of northern Benin. Despite their integration into a nation state, Berba can still be regarded as an essentially segmentary society. One of the most remarkable features of Berba culture is their highly developed verbal art, not only as regards the wide range of speech genres, but also the sophistication by which local critics assess generic properties and discuss notions of quality and verbal skill. In the investigation I examine three speech genres, namely political language, storytelling and proverb speaking. The thesis addresses two central issues: firstly, similarities and intersections in terms of generic properties and evaluative criteria, and, secondly, inspired by theories of the ethnography of speaking, genre and evaluative criteria in the dynamics of political language use. The discussion in the four central chapters (2-5) makes the following points on the basis of data presented; in the indigenous theory of political language, the key parameters in order to achieve rhetorical success are thoughtfulness, clarity and indirectness. This can directly be linked to the guiding principles of Berba local politics, which is oriented towards consensus building and conflict management, and hence promotes an ideal of persuasive argumentation (thoughtfulness, clarity) and a reconciliatory mode of speech (indirectness). As a comparative investigation reveals, the same properties are valued in the traditions of storytelling and proverb speaking, although for different reasons. While clear diction is indispensable in order to achieve rhetorical success in a storytelling event, it is allusive wording and metaphorical disguise (though with an explicative intent) which is esteemed in proverb speaking. In chapter 6 the example of a political debate brings together the different strands of investigation and illustrates how a number of speech strategies, centred around thoughtfulness, clarity and indirectness, co-occur during the speech event. In terms of the politics of language use observation of cross-generic interrelations substantiates the idea that a speaker, who has acquired verbal competence in one genre or domain of speaking, may usefully draw on the same skills in order to succeed in another.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:58

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