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LANGUAGE, POWER AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF WOMEN IN OGBUNIKE SPEECH COMMUNITY.
1.1 Background of the Study
The debate is no longer on whether or not African women are oppressed nor is it on whether or not there is gender imbalance in the African cultural milieu. According to Balogun (2010), “there is a consensus on the pervasiveness of these problems in Africa. However, female autonomy, solidarity and empowerment currently occupy special place in gender and development discourse in Africa”. The cry of feminists in Africa today, for the most part, concerns how the crises of women empowerment can be resolved, since there is the strong conviction that the resolution of the problem will lead to a form of development in the society (Balogun 2006, 118). Uchem (2001:14) cites Snyder (1995) who observes that “there is now a widespread agreement about the fact that women are all but excluded from access to and control over national and international resources and about the harm to human well-being that result”. She further observes that a critical look at the real situation globally portends a pervasive and persistent discrimination against women.
For many African writers like Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta, ideologies on the marginalization of women and the inequality in the distribution of power and national resources need to be reconsidered by African women. A few African scholars argue that women are not altogether crushed under the weight of male power. However, the opposite is the case as gender inequality stares us in the face and bestrides the social and cultural terrain with impunity (Onyejekwe 2001, 126). The role of culture in shaping people’s perception and attitude towards the world around them should not be overlooked (Dolphene, 1991). Uchem (2001:15), in the following statement suggests that discrimination against women is sometimes institutionalized by cultures that permit them:
Discrimination is evident ‘from birth’ when girls are less valued than boys; ‘within the family’, when girls are taught the inferior and stereotyped roles considered more appropriate for girls and women; Discrimination against girls and women is so profoundly entrenched in the home and workplace, … that its elimination will require the transformation of the societal structures that tolerate it.
In Igbo culture and in most African cultures, the socio-economic roles of men and women are clearly defined. The man, for instance, is the traditionally accepted head and mouth- piece of the family. The woman, on the other hand, plays a supporting role since she was originally created as “helper” to man. No matter the level of education and sophistication of a woman, her behavior with regard to her daily routine of life is guided mainly by the standards and principles traditionally laid down by the ancestors and passed on through the generations. Uchem (2001) observes that leadership roles in most Igbo families are determined not by personal endowment but by sex, always favouring the men; such that despite global changes and socio economic transformations women are still restricted to and also expected to perform complementary roles such as cooking, and serving during social or family events. Some roles are seen bequeathed to the men by certain cultural practices especially in communicative or speech events. In Igbo culture for example, kola nut breaking is a highly ritualized affair and is considered men’s function (Onyejekwe 2001).
The practice however, varies from one part of Igbo land to another. Women do not perform the kola nut breaking which is full of oration spiced with proverbs. They can be seen in such communicative events but not heard. Umeodinka (2010) asserts that in kola nut breaking speech event, the kola nut is not presented to the women neither are they allowed talking to the kola nut. He further notes that “customarily, in a gathering of women, they normally seek out any man, even if he is a child, to break the kola nut for them” (Umeodinka, 2010:10). Women do not participate in masking practices and they also do not climb palm trees. As Chukwuma (2000) puts it, “the woman is a completer, the finer essence of man, who gives the much needed wholeness, contentment and self-actualization to man”. However, the man needs the woman for his completeness just as the woman needs the man.
Language of power and its social constructions as exemplified in African proverbs tend to show the way the African culture sees women. Do they see women as an object of toil or storm, object of pleasure, object of slavery while the men will look on and relax especially at home? The Igbo culture tends to show that the higher the number of wives you have the higher the number of children that will help you in farming, which in most cases translates into a greater wealth and recognition in the society. Furthermore, the man can be recognized for the “Ezeeji” title. Having said these, our focus will be limited to Igbo proverbs as the source of our data for analysis. We intend to investigate how the Ogbunike proverbs tell us the worldviews of Igbo people as far as women are concerned. Do they give us an understanding or over -view on how the different cultures portray their women? Is there the issue of male dominance in the proverbs? What value do the proverbs give to women in the African societies? Achebe (1962) gives us the popular saying that “proverbs are the oil with which the Igbo man eats words”. Nwadike (2009) notes that “an Igbo man’s reputation as a good speaker or as a successful oral artist, to a large extent, depends on his ability to use “ilu””. Yet the Igbo culture places a restriction on women. Women are not allowed to use proverbs when addressing men. Agbedo (2010) asserts that in Nsukka speech community, women are not allowed to speak in proverbs in the presence of men. If the women must speak in proverbs they are required to take permission by way of quoting the men.
1.1.1 Sociolinguistics: The concept of sociolinguistics and critical discourse analysis
Fairclough (1992: 135) asserts that “CDA is a discourse analysis which aims to systematically explore often opaque relationships of causality and between (a) using proverbs and Igbo social structure, discursive practice, events and texts, and (b) wider social and cultural structures, relations and processes: to investigate how such are ideologically shaped relations of power and struggles over power: and to explore how the opacity of these relationships between discourse and society is itself a factor securing power and hegemony”.
Wardhaugh (2006) in his own view opines that sociolinguistics is concerned with investigating the relationship between language and society with the goal of a better understanding of the structure of language and of how languages function in communication. In addition to this, he opines that the approaches to sociolinguistics encompass everything like considering “who speaks (or writes) what language (or what language variety) to whom and when and to what end. On this note, he posits that studies in sociolinguistics must be oriented toward both data and theory: that is any conclusions we come to must be solidly based on evidence, but also be motivated by questions that they can be answered in an approved scientific way.
Gee (2011:9), observes that the critical analyst is swayed by his interest or passion for intervening in some problems in the world. This kind of posture makes researchers take a stand when doing CDA.
Anagbogu, Mbah and Eme (2010) affirm that sociolinguistic investigation deals with the study of the way language attempts to adapt itself to the needs of society. For them, sociolinguistic studies try to investigate such problems as the causes and effects of the differences that exist among various dialects of the same language. The authors hold that sociolinguistics proffers solution to the linguistic problem of bilingualism, multilingualism and how to design a language programme for children etc. The above opinion of Anagbogu et al (2001) is in line with Ndukwe’s (1977) assertion as cited in Agbedo (2000) that the goal of a sociolinguistic study is a better understanding of the structure of language and how it functions in communication in society.
Fairclough (1993) assumptions in CDA, claims that “ideologies from texts” that it is not possible to “read off” ideologies from texts and that “texts are open to diverse interpretations”.
Busman (1996:439) in his own contribution identifies three areas of sociolinguistic investigation to include the following:
- A primarily linguistically oriented approach which concerns predominantly with the norms of language use (when and for what purpose does somebody speak what kind of language or what variety with whom?)
- A primarily linguistically oriented approach that presumes linguistics heterogeneity, though structured, when viewed within sociological parameters.
- An ethno- methodologically oriented approach with linguistic interaction as the focal point, which studies the ways in which members of a society create social reality and rule governed behavior.
Based on the above areas of sociolinguistics as identified by the Busman (1996:439) concludes that sociolinguistics is that scientific discipline which developed from the co-operation of linguistics and sociology and it aims at investigating the social meaning of the language system and of language use and the common set of conditions of linguistic and social structures.
Agbedo (2000: 169) notes that “sociolinguistics takes into account social aspect of language as a means of human communication”. Holones (1994) in her opinion says that sociolinguistics studies the relationship between language and society. Nwala (2004) has it that sociolinguistics is the study of the relationship between language and society. He goes further to say that sociolinguistics investigates the field of language and society and has close connections with social science, especially social psychology, anthropology, human geography and sociology.
Hudson (1980:4) asserts that sociolinguistics is “the study of language in relation to society”. In line with Hudson’s view, Nwobia (2007:3) says “sociolinguistics is the study of language in social context”. Holmes (1992:16) in his opinion believes that the aim of sociolinguistics is to move towards a theory which provides a motivated account of the way language is used in a community and of the choice people make when they use language. The heart of sociolinguistics therefore is the relationship between the dependent linguistics variable with the independent social variable.
Gumperz (1971: 223) observes that sociolinguistics is an attempt to find a relationship between social structure and linguistic structure and to observe the changes that occur. Wardaugh (1986: 12) notes that “sociolinguistics is concerned with investigating the relationship between language and society with the goal of having a better understanding of the structure of language and of how languages function in communication.
These underscores the oppression of women fostered in Africa, in fact globally, through cultural vehicles such as proverbs, folktales etc. Though the use of proverbs may differ from society to society, what is common to proverbs everywhere is that they touch on a wide array of human concerns of activities. Proverbs are highly regarded in the thinking and communication process of Africans as a whole. Generally, the social functions of proverbs in African cultures have been well documented in folklore scholarship. However, little attention has been directed towards the relationship between proverbs and the oppression of women, and more specifically, how proverbs, as a discourse in which females are portrayed based on stereotypical gender roles and perceptions, continue to frustrate the current efforts towards gender-sensitization and the attendant empowerment of women in the continent (Balogun 2010,22).
The reason for the choice of Igbo proverbs is for specificity of claims, given my intimate familiarity with Igbo language. In the course of this research project, we shall examine some proverbs with gender prejudice against the female folk in Ogbunike speech community.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Schipper (2004) states that “obviously, the ideas expressed in proverbs over the centuries and around the world provoke tensions between the traditional genders, echoes humming in our heads and our own ideas about human rights for both men and women in today’s world”. Although most proverbs about women represent male interests, women have willingly or unwillingly agreed to the dominant perspective, as the interests and loyalties of women’s lives have mostly been connected with the men in their lives. According to Oha (1998), proverbs, as forms of a figurative communication with didactic functions in studied conversations, were found to possess evidences of male attempt at maintaining control over discourse in society. The representations of womanhood in Igbo proverbs are mainly negative: women are typically portrayed as being senseless, morally debased, devilish, childish, and weak. This is as a result of the fact that in the male- dominated African cultures, proverbs are appropriated by men to uphold themselves as producers and custodians of knowledge which women are thought to be incapable of. This female stereotype has even found itself in the works of prominent African writers like Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi (1961) who tend to limit the potentials of women in the society to child-bearing and being erotic lovers. For instance, in Achebe’s “Things fall Apart” (1958), emphasis is placed so much on childbearing and marriage and that women prefer to undergo such harsh treatments from their husbands rather than leave their marital homes while in Cyprian Ekwennsi’s “Jaqua Nana”, there is the image of the sophisticated city girl who is portrayed as a prostitute.
Throughout history, the female sex has been looked down upon by their male counterparts. Men have always employed the privilege of superiority over women. According to Simone Beauviour (1949), “very often this privilege depends upon inequality of numbers. The majority imposes its rule upon the minority or persecutes it. But women are not commonly like the American Negroes or the Jews, there are as many women as men on earth”. One just wonders about the basis of this sex stereotype where women are seen as inferior.
A number of scholars like Uchem (2001), Nwadike (2009), Schipper (2004) and Balogun (2006), have written extensively generally on language, power and social construction in Igbo society, without doing such with the critical discourse analysis. However, they have not written on issues that border on the relationship between proverbs as a social construction and its oppressive impact on women in Ogbunike speech community. Therefore, in this research, we intend to investigate the language power in relations to its social construction in Ogbunike speech community using critical discourse analysis.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The main purpose of this study is to investigate language, power and social construction of women in Ogbunike speech community using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).
Specifically, the study seeks to;
- investigate the language and power in relation to its social construction of women in Ogbunike speech community using critical discourse analysis.
- find out how language is used as an instrument of dominance by male over their female counterparts.
- study how Igbo culture through proverbs portray women in Ogbunike speech community.
- describe how Ogbunike proverbs enact male dominance in the Igbo cultural society.
- explain whether not or Ogbunike proverbs influence the worldview of men and women in the Igbo cultural society.
1.4 Research Questions
This study is guided by the following research questions:
- to what extent are proverbs used in downgrading attitude towards women in Ogbunike speech community?
- how has the social construct of the Igbo language affected social relationship between the male and female sexes in Ogbunike speech community?
- are the women in Ogbunike society beings portrayed in inferior light through the use of Igbo culture and the social construction of Ogbunike proverbs?
- in what ways has male dominance been established through Ogbunike proverbs in Igbo society?
- which proverbs in Ogbunike actually create parity in the worldviews of men and women in Igbo cultural society?
1.5 Significance of the Study
In the theoretical significance, the work contributes to an extant in the knowledge in the field of languages and linguistics. Further, researchers on topics similar to this very one will be able to find this research study as a useful source of reference.
Moreover, in the practical significance, the research study and its findings will be very useful to Igbo language users in helping them use Igbo language especially its proverbs in civilized and un-offensive way.
1.6 Delimitation of the Study
This research work is limited to a specific area in Igbo land, the Ogbunike area, in the hope that using critical discourse analysis to analyze the proverbs of Ogbunike speech community will expose proverbs that use language to manipulate women.