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1.0       Background to the study

The world cannot do without language because language is an indispensable tool through which human beings share their opinions and ideas. Language, as a tool of communication is used to convey intended meaning. According to Agbedo (2009), language is the pivot on which all human activities ranging from the most prosaic to the most profound revolve. It provides the unique medium through which the belief system, world view, moral values, and virtually all the basic ingredients of  any given society, are passed on from generation to generation.

Amadi, Anyanwu  and Izuagba  (2001) describe language simply as  a complex and arbitrary system of vocal sounds used by man for communication in a given community. Hence, De Saussure, in Hartzaler (1965) notes that communication is the essential thread that runs through all the activities of human beings. For him, language is a natural ability; it is common to every normal human being. In other words, all normal human beings are naturally disposed to the   use of language for the purpose of communication.

In the light of the foregoing, language cannot be used in isolation. It is always within a community that language has meaning. Thus, language is affected by the norms and values of the members of the community where it is used.

This means, therefore, that the cultural background of a society determines how words are used in order not to deviate from the societal beliefs. What is permissible in a particular culture may not be permissible in another culture. Since language is very vital in communication in every society it is understandable that the duty of a sociolinguist include seeing how language is related to society, observing how language is specifically being used in particular contexts and thus contributing towards the improvement of the  roles  which language plays in their societies.

Sociolinguistics on the other hand, as defined by Hudson (1980), is the study of language in relation to society. What it really suggests is that sociolinguistics takes into account the social aspects of language as a means of human communication. This, according to Agbedo (2000)  is in contradistinction to the asocial orientation of theoretical linguistics which seeks to explain and analyze only the structure that is to work out the rules operating in a language to the exclusion of the social contexts in which it is learned and used.

The role of sociolinguistics and sociolinguists therefore requires a consistence analysis of the use of language to ensure that this tool which is meant for positive communication of meanings and ideas is not used as a tool for abusing others’ when the latter is the situation, one talk about abusive language.

According to Shawn (2011) human beings in every culture make use of profanity when they get upset. Fellow (2004) is of the view that people use abusive languages when they are angry, while Ruchira (2004) notes that people use abuse languages to get noticed, because if bad language is not used, no one will know that one is angry over something. Nemaniaboskov (2010) reports that abusive language and swearing is basically used when people have nothing better to say, when their mind lack the right disposition to unfavourable conditions people will often automatically jump to abusive language and swearing so as to fill the void. Thus, language used in public life is seen as a frequent target for ridicule, whether by parliamentary sketch writers making fun of minister’s speeches or in fictional works such as the television Yes minister.

Yet, the content of the language used by government and public bodies is important. It directly affects people’s lives. Language is used by those in government and those who want to be in government to explain clearly what the basis for a policy is, or to provide guidance on getting access to the range of public services. Language, therefore, determines how politicians and public servants relate to the people they are serving

In Nigeria, the use of abusive language in daily news is more on two basic issues- viz the menace of corruption, and insecurity which have bedeviled the country for a long time. People often use a tirade of abusive words to register their disgust. Even President Goodluck Jonathan is not exempted  from abuse.

The Guardian Newspaper of 28th August, 2012 carried a story that affirms the president as the most abused president. This indicates that the people’s reaction to the problem of corruption is one of the major sources of use of abusive language in Nigeria. People’s reactions to the issue of insecurity are another source of the use of abusive language. That is because abusive languages are likely to arise when the citizens of a country are not provided the security they so need and deserve from the government.

Jideofor (2009) posits that hate speech   houses abusive language. Futhermore he says   that hate speech is so pervasive in Nigeria that it is doubtful if there are many Nigerians that are completely free from the vice. According to him, it is ironical to note that people who usually complain of being insulted by other ethnic groups often use more hateful words in describing the groups they feel have insulted them. Hate speech brings about stigmatization and discrimination because hate speech brings about abusive language.

Some individuals and groups in Nigeria openly relish the freedom to rain insults on others and in doing so, appropriate to themselves the role of ethnic and religious champions. Hate speech is often the gateway to harassment and violence. It is also a precursor to serious harmful criminal acts. It is doubtful if there will be hate motivated violent attacks on any group without hate speech because of the tendency of the latter to exacerbate ethnicity and crisis.

Since the tripartite duties of sociolinguists are to see how language is related to society, observe those areas that language plays vital roles in communication, and contribute where necessary for a better tomorrow, this study  is poised to find out the sociolinguistic profiling of abusive language in  Nigeria, with particular emphasis on the print media.

1.1       Statement of the problem

Evidences abound of the harms done by use of abusive language in Nigeria with respect to daily news. Of  the several reasons that have been found to account for the harms caused by use of abusive language,  emotional torture and  lost  of  life and properties have been attributed to be the most critical. The situation is worsened by the various ways people relish words on others which cause discouragement, tribal fight, disunity, inferiority complex,  psychological trauma, psychological disorder, dissatisfaction, quarrels, fight, sickness, psychological imbalance, suicide, religious intolerance and party opposition. However, literature shows that the issue of insecurity and corruption are the basic cause of these problems and if solution is not sought, more harm will occur. Thus the problem of the study lies on the use of abusive language by Nigerians in the print media, which in the long worsensthe problem rather than provides solution to the problems in the country.

1.2   Purpose of the Study 

The objectives of this research work is to carry out a sociolinguistic investigation of the use of abusive language in Nigerian print media with a view to finding out:

  1. The kinds of issue that attract abusive language.
  2. Why people use abusive language
  3. The people whom these abusive languages are directed
  4. The group (tribe) that uses abusive language more in Nigeria
  1. The kinds of abusive comments used and their implications.

1.3      Research Questions

In the study the following questions will be answered:

  1. What kind of issue attracts abusive comments?
  2. Why do people use abusive language?
  3. Who are these abusive languages directed to?
  1. What group (tribe) uses  abusive languages more in Nigeria
  2. What kinds of abusive comments are used and what are the implications?


1.4       Scope and Delimitation of the Study

Abusive languages are used almost in all spheres of  life in Nigeria but the study will focus on abusive languages present in  two basic issues in  the country viz  insecurity and corruption as they manifest in four  Nigerian print media: Guardian, Daily sun, Nation and Daily Trust Newpapers. The study will  make use of online comments from the copies   of these dailies.


1.5      Significance   of the Study

The findings of the study would be of benefit to all Nigerians who want change as a constant phenomenon.  In  other  words, it will bring about an attitudunal change among the polity in use of abusive language.    The impressions people have on issues that are wrongly tackled shall be corrected.

The study will also help many Nigerians to learn how to use language without being biased and without attacking another’s character or reputation. It will help our citizens to learn how to give compliment to people and practice positive talk in discourse. This is because a problem known is a problem solved. As Brown and Levinson(1987) said that “the negative face is the basic want of freedom from imposition, whereas the positive face is the basic desire of appreciation and approbation of one’s want”. Therefore, the findings will help Nigerians to practice responding rather than reacting, and also practice the expression of genuine gratitude for all the virtues in one’s life because words have more power than we imagine, that is to say that  words go forth with power and authority that can be uplifting, comforting, healing, encouraging, creating, destroying,  depressing and discouraging.

The boundary between love for one’s ethnic identity (ethnocentrism) and ethnicity (which is conflictual in character) could however be thin if good words are used but when ethnic identification makes one to see other people as the cause of one’s marginalization there is every tendency that the person will resort to abusive use of language. So, the findings will help Nigerians to be careful in their choice and use of language in order to promote  social cohesion and development because words are powerful.

1.6       Limitations of the Study

The nature of this study made the analysis diversified. Again the use of colloquial words  in the comments really posed a problem in articulating. Also the use of pseudo names made some comments to lack objectivity. The researcher takes a long time before she understands people’s comments and their activities. These problems were solved through the use of contextual meaning to those colloquial words.  However  through the contextual meaning the intent and purpose of the commentors were harnessed.

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