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AN ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY OF SOCIO-POLITICAL COLUMNS IN SELECTED NIGERIAN NEWSPAPERS

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

 

1.1   Background to the Study

This research is an attempt to embark on an ethnographic study of socio-political columns in selected Nigerian Newspapers, with the aim of demonstrating the applicability of ethnography of communication to the selected socio-political columns. Ethnography is a broad area of scholarship in social science and anthropology, where culture and society are structurally and functionally analyzed. According to Wardhaugh (2006), the function of an ethnographer is “to observe first-hand how a group of people behave in their natural settings” (p 249). In terms of its genesis, ethnography is rooted in anthropology but is said to have become useful to sociologists and linguists over time (Denzen & Lincoln, 2011).

This study is therefore predicated on the sociolinguistic approach to ethnography rather than its root, which is centrally anthropology. More specifically, the discussions in the study touched on discourse analysis and sociolinguistics, which were aspects of linguistics that deal with functional and contextual examination of language. It seeks to explore Hymes’ idea of the ethnography of communication as a means to understanding language in use rather than language as a set of structural rules, focusing on the ethnography of communication as theoretical frame work. The ethnography of Communication, a 20th Century conception developed by Hymes is essentially a sociolinguistics approach to analysis of discourses (Olateju, Oyebode & Ademilokun, 2014). The ethnography of communication relates ethnography the description and structural/functional analysis of society and culture with language, which is a cultural tool that helps people share knowledge such as arts, morals, beliefs and everything acquired by man in every human society.

Furthermore, this interesting area of communication/linguistic studies is an approach to understanding society, culture and the reconstruction of a given ethnic or distinct group of people within a society. Cameron (2001) stated that the ethnography of communication could be perceived as an application of ethnographic methods of anthropology and sociology to the communication pattern of a group of people. Communicative competence is described as the overall knowledge of a user of language in terms of not just syntax, morphology and phonology but also in various social contexts. In other words, it is not enough to be sufficiently knowledgeable in rules that govern grammar, words and phrases. Language users must also understand appropriate contextual application of language to have attained what Hymes described as “communicative competence”.

It is noteworthy that before constructing the act of SPEAKING Model with the purpose of creating a template with which linguists could understand the culture of an ethnic group through the communicative process, Hymes had brought up the idea of communicative competence in reaction to Chomsky’s idea of competence and performance. According to him, people can construct utterances that are ungrammatical yet socially appropriate (Hymes, 1989). Factoring the social context within which language is used underscores the essence of communicative competence. Although Hymes conceptualized communicative competence, the four areas that make up communicative competence were developed by other linguists such as Canale & Swain (1980). This study examined the four factors of communicative competence areas in the selected columns, with the overall goal of understanding the communicative competence of socio-political columnists in Nigerian Newspapers.

This study sprouted from a desire to further understand Language use and communicative competence within a group of people in the society, or more specifically, a specific speech community. While scholars have argued that language is more than communication (Atupa, 2011), the core function language performs in society is to act as a medium through which people share ideas and feelings. One important inference that can be deduced from this is that language cannot function outside the society just as much as the study of language cannot be limited to the usual functional/structural areas of linguistics.

As a further development to Noam Chomsky’s transformational grammar as well as other scholars’ theories in morphology, phonology, semantics and pragmatics, language studies have taken a social science slant which has led to the emergence of studies such as sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. This progression was, of course, ignited by a reason which (Jaworski & Coupland, 1999) described as the need for linguists to understand the threads that run through language, meaning and society.

Moreover, the issue of performance and competence, which after Chomsky theorized, led to an understanding that language use and effective communication has many variables that transcend structural and transformational grammar. These variables, having been considered by a good number of linguists since Hymes demonstrated that meaningful consideration of competence in communication must recognize the functionality of language.

Consequently, this study examined socio-political columns with focus on functional aspects of language studies, primarily, pragmatics, sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. It will rely on the ethnography of communication, specifically communicative competence, for critical assessment of the primary discourse data. The subfields, Sociolinguistics and discourse analysis is discussed in detail in chapter two of this study.

Although there are various scholarly definitions of discourse analysis, two of the lot helps to create a meaningful background to this research work. Discourse analysis, as defined by (McCarthy, Matthiessen & Slade, 2002), is the analysis of language in its social context a definition that helps to situate this research as sociolinguistics. Likewise, (Fairclough, 1992) states that discourse is “more than just language use: it is language in use, whether speech or writing, seen as a type of social practice” (p. 28).  While both agree to discourse analysis being a study of language as a social tool, (Fairclough, 1992) specifies that the discourse could be in speech or written.

The term, the ethnography of communication, when first conceptualized by Hymes, was ethnography of speech. The idea borders on the examination of language use within the wider context of the socio-cultural practices and beliefs of members of a speech group or speech community. Through ethnography of communication, Hymes established a system (SPEAKING) whereby the linguistic competence of an ideal speaker is measured not merely by producing grammatically correct sentences but also by considering the appropriate socio-cultural contexts within which language is used.

Since Hymes, various scholars have theorized on ethnography as it relates to language studies and communication. For instance, Canale and Swain (1980) conceived certain components that define communicative competence. The components were later expanded by Canale (1983) to include: Grammatical competence, discourse competence, sociolinguistic competence and strategic competence. Invariably, Canale’s proposition concluded that communicative competence of a language user is determined by all four components. It is against this background that the researcher proposed to conduct the theory of the ethnography of communication in selected newspaper column using Canale’s model of communicative competence.

In addition, the study recognizes political columnists and their readers as comprising a speech community which has various unique contexts of language use. It is generally understood that a speech community is perceived not merely by common language shared by members of this community but mainly by common linguistic norms and contexts (Atupa, 2011). One can therefore propose that a speech community is not necessarily physical. What is paramount is for the community to share idiosyncrasies and rules for conduct of speech. This research will attempt to demonstrate the linguistic norms common to political columnists and their audience. In addition, it will endeavor to demonstrate the application of the ethnography of communication to written texts.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The application of the ethnography of communication to research endeavours is not uncommon in language studies since Hymes proposed his SPEAKING Model. In fact, researchers in linguistics and philosophy of language have applied the Model to numerous speech communities with meaningful findings that continually validate its usefulness. Besides, language students with interest in sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and pragmatics all over the world have sufficiently conducted researches on the SPEAKING Model. This study took a departure from Hymes’ SPEAKING approach to the ethnography of communication but retain its objective of demonstrating that communicating effectively is influenced by both linguistic competence and communicative competence. It will essentially attempt to use Canale’s (1983) model of communicative competence as tool for the ethnography of communication.

There is no gainsaying the fact that despite the fact Hymes conceived the idea of communicative competence, it was developed as a theory by other linguists over time. Unlike Hymes’ act of SPEAKING, the ethnography of communication theory using the four components of communicative competence has not been fully explored in relation to the diverse speech communities that abound in Nigeria. This research seeks to apply the ethnography of communication theory using communicative competence to socio-political columns, though with a certain audience that makes up the speech community (the columnists and their readers), in order to demonstrate the extent to which ethnography of communication can be used to determine effective communication.

  • Objective of the Study

The aim objective of this study is to demonstrate the applicability of the ethnography of communication to socio-political columns in Nigerian Newspapers, by examining communicative competence exhibited in selected columns as case studies. The specific objectives are to:

  1. describe the nature and communication conduct within the selected speech community;
  2. analyze the level of strategic competence within the selected columns;
  3. explain the level of linguistic competence within the selected columns in the Nigerian newspaper;
  4. explicate the level of sociolinguistic competence within the selected speech community;
  5. describe the level of discourse competence within the selected speech community and
  6. ascertain the level of overall communicative competence of socio-political columnists as demonstrated in the analysis of the selected case studies.
    • Research Questions

The following are the research questions to which the study hopes to provide useful answers

  1. What is the nature and communicative conducts that could define the selected speech community?
  2. To what level is strategic competence reflected in the selected columns?
  3. In what way is grammatical competence reflected in the selected columns in the Nigerian newspaper?
  4. How has sociolinguistic competence reflected in the selected speech community?
  5. To what level is discourse competence reflected in the selected speech community?
  6. To what degree do the columnists in the selected cases studies achieve communicative competence?

 1.5    Scope of the Study

Since there are diverse speech communities, both in the physical and ideological senses, this study is limited to political columns and their audiences. The study also comprises review of substantial secondary material which are related to the topic. For instance, Holmes (2013), Gee (2004), Wardhaugh (2006), Yule (2006), Osisanwo (2003) Olateju, Oyebode & Ademilokun (2014) to mention a few contain materials that will be synthesized for the purpose of this research. Chapter Two of the study will discuss areas of language study such as discourse analysis, pragmatics and sociolinguistics. The working theory for data analysis has its foundation in Hyme’s ethnography of communication but was essentially developed by Canale’s (1983) in a four-component of communicative competence. Although there are various perspectives on communicative competence beyond Canale, the analysis in Chapter four of this study will be narrowed to the four components: grammatical competence, discourse competence, sociolinguistic competence and strategic competence.

The materials used for this research are limited to five newspaper columns in five major national newspapers namely: ‘Return of Austerity’ by Steve Nwosu in the Column “Frank Talk” of Daily Sun (2014); ‘The Republic of Deception’ by Tony Afejuku in the column “In and Out” of Nigerian Tribune (2016); ‘Father and Son’ by Sam Omatseye in the Column “In Touch” of The Nation (2016); ‘On the Matter of the dog named Buhari’by Abimbola Adelakun in the column “Thursday with Abimbola Adelakun of The Punch (2016); and The Mark Zuckerberg Visit’ by Reuben Abati in The Guardian (2016).

1.6   Significance of the Study

The relevance of the ethnography of communications in language studies and communication today cannot be overemphasized. It helps linguists, communicators and philosophers of language understand the workings of language beyond grammatical structure or form in every identified speech community. It also underscores Hymes’ objective for the investigative SPEAKING model which was developed to examine the diversity of speech in real situations or language in use.  However, before developing this model, he had conceived the notion of communicative competence in reaction to Chomsky’s idea of linguistic competence and performance. Chomsky (1965) elaborates his idea of competence and performance with the terms “grammaticality” and “acceptability”. According to him a language user’s competence is directly related to the level of grammaticality of his use of the language. In addition to that, he aimed to tie performance to his idea of “acceptability”. Hymes (1972) argued that study of language must go beyond Chomsky’s notions to accommodate socio-cultural dynamics that impact on language.

Hymes’ act of SPEAKING Model, which was consequently developed to perform studies in ethnography of communication, also relies on measurable socio-cultural parameters to the communicative competence in various speech communities. This model has played a crucial role in helping sociolinguists to have a holistic understanding of language use in numerous speech communities all over the world. However, other theories that have been developed in continuation of research communicative competence have been used as much as the act of SPEAKING Model. One of such is Canale’s (1983) model of communicative competence when recognizes four components that can be used to examine communicative competence in any speech community. This provides a meaningful justification for this research endeavor.

1.7 Theoretical Framework

The theory proposed for this study is Canale’s Model of communicative competence which is founded on Hymes’ work on ethnography of communication as well as communicative competence. According to Canale (1983) “Communicative Competence refers to both knowledge and skill in using this knowledge when interacting in actual communication”. Canale is careful to use the phrase “actual communication” instead of communicative performance. This owes to the fact that performance in communication entails numerous variables that are unrelated to linguistics but must be factored when describing performance.

Canale and Swain (1980) therefore recognized that a comprehensive framework for analyzing communicative competence must entail three components. First, communicative competence must entail knowledge of the rules of morphology, grammar and phonology. Secondly, it must

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