A Critical Discourse Analysis of Threat: A Case Study of Asari Dokubo’s Utterances

A Critical Discourse Analysis of Threat: A Case Study of Asari Dokubo’s Utterances


This study seeks to investigate the highly sensitive utterances of threat by Asari Dokubo in his struggle for the political and economic emancipation of the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria; utterances that clearly portray his ideological leaning. Our analysis is linked to Norman Fairclough(1995) as quoted in Horvath Juraj(2010) that texts portray ideology which in turns are ‘open to diverse interpretations’(Horvath Juraj:2010). Selected utterances of Dokubo are analyzed and the findings reveal his political and regional sentiments.


Discourse analysis is generally an umbrella term for the many traditions by which discourse may be analysed. It is a critique of cognitivism that developed from the 1970s onwards, although it has its roots in the ‘turn to language’ in the 1950s (Woolgar, 1988). Whereas cognitivism speaks of objective, observable, knowable reality, on the other hand discourse analysis speaks of multiple versions of reality, multiple ‘truths’, which are constructed through texts, therefore there are correspondingly multiple versions of analyses. Here, language is viewed as a social performance or a social action – it is productive and constitutive (language both creates social phenomena and is representative of social phenomena). The method explores power relations from a critical standpoint in an attempt to make sense of the social world by providing new critical insights – a positive contribution to both theory and research.

According to Van Dijk (1998a) Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a field that is concerned with studying and analyzing written and spoken texts to reveal the discursive sources of power, dominance, inequality and bias. It examines how these discursive sources are maintained and reproduced within specific social, political and historical contexts. In a similar vein, Fairclough (1993) defines CDA as discourse analysis which aims to systematically explore often opaque relationships of causality and determination between (a) discursive practices, events and texts, and (b) wider social and cultural structures, relations and processes; to investigate how such practices, events and texts arise out of and are ideologically shaped by 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. (p. 135) To put it simply, CDA aims at making transparent the connections between discourse practices, social practices, and social structures; connections that might be opaque to the layperson. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) is a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context. With such dissident research, critical discourse analysts take explicit position, and thus want to understand, expose, and ultimately resist social inequality.

1.2 Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical Discourse analysis is a branch of Critical Linguistics which analyzes a text in connection with the social context of that text. Norman Fairclough(1989:24) sees it as ‘the whole process of social interaction in which a text is just a part’. It is the consideration given to a text in relation to the social context that surrounds it. The critical discourse analyst considers a text as an entity of the social and cultural relations that informed such a text. Van Dijk (2001) considers it to be ‘a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context’.
When analyzing a discourse, the speech act of an utterance is usually put into consideration. This goes to expose the intention of the speaker (illocutionary force) and the effects the utterance has on the hearer (perlocutionary act).

1.3 Theoretical Background

1.3.1 The Speech Act Theory

In this study, we shall adopt the speech act theory to analyze Dokubo’s utterances. The speech act theory introduced by a British language philosopher, J. L. Austin in 1962 in his ‘How to do things with words’ and further developed by American philosopher, J.R Searle concerns itself with the fact that the speaker’s utterances produce so much effects and consequences on the hearer. Keith Allen (2012) believes that the speech act as a pragmatic exercise is created ‘when Speaker makes an utterance U to Hearer in context C and must be interpreted as an aspect of social interaction.’ When an utterance is made, there is a meaning that is naturally attached to it which experts in pragmatics called the locutionary act. Again, it is a fact that when someone speaks, there is a force in him that makes him to produce such an utterance. This is considered to be the illocutionary act or illocutionary force. The utterance is made to achieve a certain effect or result on the hearer. This is the perlocutionary act. Searle claims that there are five major types of actions that human beings can performed by the use of language. They are: representative, declarative, directive, expressive and commissive. For the sake of this study, we shall particularly base our analysis on the commissive aspect of the speech act theory. This is a speech act theory which commits the speaker to some future course of action. This could be a threat, a promise, a vow, a bet, a guarantee, an offer, warning, etc. Dokubo’s utterances majorly fit into the category of threat. In social context, his utterances could be termed an incitement. Already, Dokubo understands very well, the schemata of his audience, in this case, Nigerians. He knows that each time he issues a threat, the chances are that, the unarmed Nigerians are either thrown into fear and confusion or his group (the Niger Delta militants) are reinforced and encouraged to take up arms against the state. John Gary Stobbs(2012) succinctly puts the idea of schemata theory thus: ‘there is a shared cultural, historical and social schema that is used by the speaker to create a common understanding of an ideology. The speaker will utilise the schemata of the hearer. By using shorter utterances, the speaker allows the hearer to form a coherent understanding. The short utterances are complete in themselves but also build towards an overall conclusion.’

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