Humor and Pragmatics of Jenifa’s Diary

Humor and Pragmatics of Jenifa’s Diary

1.0 Introduction

The interdisciplinary relationship between linguistics and other fields of studies have been witnessed in Psycholinguistics, Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Computational Linguistics, Linguistic Anthropology, Neuro- Linguistics – the list is indeed endless. The closest or nearest way linguistics connects to literature is in the field of stylistics – which in the crude sense involves the application of linguistic knowledge to literary analysis. However, this marriage between linguistics and literature can be advanced even to the field of Pragmatics. Thus, just as Ayodabo’s ‘A Pragma-Stylistic Study of Abiola’s Historic Speech of June, 24, 1993’ essay dabbles into the benefits of combining Pragmatic and Stylistic analyses which he blends into ‘Pragma-stylistic Study’; one can also see a profitable venture in merging Pragmatics and Literary Analysis which can form a blend of ‘Pragma-literary analysis’ to create a symbolic benefits for both disciplines. In such a study, one can apply pragmatic theories to literary texts – a meaningful venture indeed.

The idea that language is used to do a lot of things, and that the meaning of forms used to accomplish such acts is highly dependent on socio-cultural context, was introduced into the discussion of Linguistic meaning by Malinowski (1923) and Firth (1968). Ever this time, Sociologists and Sociolinguists have been particularly concerned with the use of language to negotiate role-relationship, peer-solidarity, the exchange of turns and the saving of face in conversation (Ayodabo 1997:132).

Language reveals man’s socio-cultural beliefs and thoughts. This study is a product of the writer’s fascination with Funke Akindele’s (popularly called Jenifa) use of grammatical blunders in her speech forms as a deliberate meaning shift in her popular television sitcom, ‘Jenifa’s Diary’ to use humour in communicating certain social realities. In these utterances, several acts are performed, and there is the possibility of the actor’s deliberate attempt to humour or project the Yoruba speakers’ phonological problems in their use of English as a second language (ESL). This study is also premised on the belief that “any description of linguistic form should incorporate a knowledge and description of the broader social context of the text. In doing so, a language user needs to deploy his competencies to identify and understand entailments, implicatures, explicatures, presuppositions, and Mutual Contextual Beliefs (MCBs) through inference by invoking the relevant contexts and competences that produce them” (Ayodabo

So far, little appears to have been done on pragma-literary analysis as a theory of text analysis. Instead much works abound in Pragmatics, Stylistics, Literature and Conversation/Discourse Analysis as separate entities. The identification of a marriage point between Pragmatics and Literature has thus generated this study.

1.1 Pragmatics: Speech Act Theory

Pragmatic theory has drawn inspiration from logic. It draws mainly upon philosophy of language and ‘the theory of speech act’ in particular, as well as the analysis of conversations and of cultural differences in verbal interaction. Just as the rules governing semantic interpretation respect the classes of syntactic structure, the operation that turns discourse into acts might also be called a pragmatic interpretation of utterances (Dijk cited in Ayodabo 1997:133).

Blakemore (1982:18) opines that Pragmatic Theory is concerned with the mental structure underlying the ability to interpret utterances in context. The suggestion that Pragmatic Theory involves abstracting away from the particular properties of the situation in which it is put to use is not meant to conflict with the generally accepted view that Pragmatics is the study of utterances or sentences in use. The whole point of Pragmatic Theory is to explain how the context is used in the interpretation of an utterance.

According to Kempson (1986: 561), Pragmatics is the study of the general cognitive principles involved in the retrieval of information from an uttered sequence of words. Lawal (1995) sees Pragmatics as evolving as a result of the limitations of Structural Semantics to capture satisfactorily the sociological and other non-linguistic dimensions of verbal communication.

What is usually meant by saying that we do something when we make an utterance is that we accomplish some specific social acts (e.g. making a promise, request, giving advice, etc.) usually called speech acts (Dijk 1992:195), or more specifically, illocutionary acts. Dijk adds that a global differentiation between the various kinds of acts involved is made by the distinction between a locutionary act, a propositional act, and an illocutionary act, and in some cases, a perlocutionary act.

Speech act theorists have classified speech acts in different ways. Austin (1962), the forerunner of this field, classified them into five categories of ‘verdictives,’ exercitives, commissives, ‘behabitives’ and expositives. Searle’s (1969) categories is based on the argument that Austin’s classification is deficient, in that there was too much overlap in Austin’s (1962) classification, based on that observation and some others, Searle (1969) came up with the classes of Assertives, Directives, Commissives, Expressives and Declaratives, with various sub-categories and definitions (Ayodabo 1997: 134).

In Sadock’s (1974) view, the most straight-forward way in which our intended locution can be communicated is to mention directly what we are doing in making a particular utterance. He adds that the factors that determine whether a particular illocutionary acts succeeds are termed ‘felicity conditions’, maintaining that in the majority of cases, the illocutionary force of an utterance is not signaled by a perfomative formula. Bach and Harnish (1979) criticized certain aspects of earlier theories, claiming that intention and inference are basic elements to understanding. They also came up with the notion of presumption. In their opinion, both linguistic and communication circumstances are presumed. They recognized two main categories of illocutionary acts: communicative, with four main categories of constatives, directives, commissives and acknowledgements, and non-communicative class with two subcategories of effectiveness and verdictives.

Trauggot and Pratt (1980), classified illocutionary acts into Representatives, Expressives, verdictives, Directives, Commissives, and Declaratives, the sub-categories of which they also defined and explained. The centre-point of their theory as noted by Ayodabo is that a speaker’s communicative competence includes not just knowledge of what illocutionary acts can be performed in the language, but also, how, when, where and by whom they can be performed (134).

Adegbija’s (1982) major grouse with previous speech act theories is that they relegated the pragmatics of a situation of social interaction to the background. He states that at every stage of discourse, both speaker(s) and hearer(s) have to mobilize appropriate areas of the pragmatic, social, syntactic, semantic, and lexical competencies in order to be able to participate effectively in the interaction at hand. Leech (1983), writing under ‘varieties of illocutionary function’, classifies illocutionary functions into four types of competitive, convivial, collaborative and conflictive. To leech, a perlocutionary act is performed by saying something.

Allan (1986), relying heavily on the works of Austin (1962), Searle (1969), and Bach and Harnish (1979), observes that language comes into existence only because someone performs an act of speaking or writing. He presents a scheme for analyzing the meaning of a speech act, in which there is a hierarchy among the acts, that is, the perlocutionary act presupposes a denotational act which presupposes a locutionary act which presupposes an utterance act. Allan’s (1986) classification follows Bach and Harnish’s (1979) work in terms of identifying ‘interpersonal acts’ and ‘declaratory acts’. He however justifies the major category distinction between interpersonal and declaratory acts by sub-classifying interpersonal acts into constatives, predictive, commissives, acknowledgements, directives, authoritative; and declaratory acts into effective and verdictives, totaling eight categories of speech act, as against five found in Austin (1962), six in Searle (1975), and four of Bach and Harnish (1979).

Lawal (1992) identifies the pragmatic mappings of general factual knowledge of the world, local factual knowledge, socio-cultural knowledge, and knowledge of context as useful for constructing meaning out of an utterance. He adds that an understanding of the mapping helps to illustrate that a pragmatic interpretation of utterances goes beyond the meaning of lexical components and the structural semantic relations among them. Lawal’s (1995) ‘Aspects of Pragmatic Theory’ focuses on both the surface structure of an utterance as well as the background structure.

Ayodabo’s (1997) work was able to espouse the aspects of pragmatic theory captured by Lawal and how these can be applied to texts. Ayodabo noted that illocutionary acts, typically, do not come alone. They are part of a sequence of actions in general, or of a sequence of speech acts in particular. This sequence must satisfy the usual conditions for action sequence. Thus, it may be required that the final state of some speech act is a necessary condition for the success of a following act. In this sense, an illocutionary act may be an auxiliary act (135).

Just like another in general, Dijk (1992:238) opines that speech act sequencing requires planning and interpretation. In other words, certain sequence of various speech acts may be intended and understood, and hence function socially, as one speech act. Such a speech act performed by a sequence of speech acts is called a “global speech act” or “macro speech act.” (Ayodabo, 136)

Sequences in monologue or dialogue conversations may be assigned a global speech act through some conditions. Firstly, as Dijk says, by “deleting irrelevant or predictable information” (239). For such speech acts as well as for actions in general, this would mean that preparatory and auxiliary speech acts may be deleted, as well as those component speech acts which, taken together, desire the essential component of the resulting global speech acts. Similarly, Dijk adds that expressions of mental states and context descriptions may be deleted, although they may determine the acceptability of the speech act. Finally, those speech acts establishing, maintaining and concluding the sequence, that is the communicative interaction in general, may also be dropped in macro-interpretation.

1.2 Pragmatics and Literary Style: What Contributions?

Texts arise in specific social situations, and according to Kress and Hodge (1985:18), they are constructed with specific purposes by one or more speakers or text in concrete situations of social exchange. Any description of linguistic form appears to be inadequate without immediate and direct relations to the social context. The forms and functions of language are therefore not separable, bearing in mind that circumstance.

Style is really only definable in terms of the operations carried out by the producers and receivers of texts. When modern linguistics began to emerge, as Ayodabo cited Dressler (1993:16) as opining that, it was customary to limit investigation to the framework of the sentence as the largest unit with an inherent structure. Whatever structures might obtain beyond the sentence was assigned to the domain of stylistics. When we move beyond the sentence boundary, we enter a domain characterized by greater freedom of selection or variation and lesser conformity with established rules.

Perhaps, it may not be out of place to say that pragma-literature is derivable from the pragmatics of discourse which deals with the systematic relations between structure of a literary text and its context. The delimitation between pragmatics on the one hand and literature on the other hand presents an interesting discussion. The pragmatic condition would pertain to appropriateness of an utterance, whereas literary (or literary analysis) variations define the effective choice of diction in literary texts where the audiences are involved in the perlocutionary level. That is the point in the study of language use at which pragmatics, literature and sociology intermingle.

The contribution of pragmatics to literature, therefore, would be in the area of appropriateness phenomenon. Even with Quintilian’s (an early theoretician) four qualities of style, appropriateness still has a place, the other three being correctness, clarity and elegance. The appropriateness of language in literature is in the aspect of literary device called diction – which is the writer’s choice of words. One may begin to ask how appropriate is the writer’s diction in the conveyance of the ‘supposed’ message or thematic concerns to the audience? One thing is for sure – the literary writer has a stock of choiced vocabularies or dictions to pick from; whichever choice he makes directly or indirectly affects the transmission of his message to the audience. A study in pragma-literature should help the writer to understand the implications of his language choice and how it may affect his audience’s ability to deduce meaning in any given context.

Persistent and continuous attempts should be made to understand the dialectical relationship between linguistic choice and the social, economic, political and cultural environment determining this choice especially in literature. The writer is the macro-subject of a literary work who mediates between objective reality and its imaginative reconstruction. This role of the writer, according to Babatunde (1997:119), can be best analyzed and understood by studying how imaginative and realistic use of language functions to reveal the place of certain literary objective factors in mediating between man and his understanding of the external world. Babatunde goes on to list such objective factors as biography, class orientation, ideology, and political affiliation and orientation.

In his essay on ‘linguistic realism in emergent Nigerian dramatic literature’, Babatunde (1997:119) presents the role of linguistics in literature. Such terms as realism, naturalism, impressionism and other related concepts in the literature, he provides a working definition of realism that enables us see how a category of Nigerian playwrights use language to mirror the situation around them. The concept of realism is very important to literature because it forms the bedrock for which modern day literary artists mirror their environment. Simply put, realism described the degree to which literary works portray the basic realities of their times as a function of the perceptive power and the ideological insight of the writers. Babatunde cited

Leyifor (1985:58) as articulating realism succinctly:

Realism would apply to those plays that deal with ‘real’ people in ‘typical’ situation, with plots that seem credible or probable; a relation to the daily rounds of life and cycles and passage of time within a given human community (119).

Realism therefore implies accurate imitation of actual situation as a symbolic expression of the complexities of life of human responsibilities and heroic conduct. Realism as a mode of perception and creativity accommodates the objective and subjective vision of life. Indeed, as proposed by George Lukacs, realism examines how the slice of life is cut. Commenting on the usefulness of Lukacs’ view, in spite of the objections raised against it, Oko (1986:146) submits that:

His central category unites aesthetics with the historical or social moment. His theory of type defines type not as the average, as in naturalism. The type is nearly individual as in modernists’ subjectivism. The type is a unity of the subjective experience that holds also within its heart the highest condensation of general experience (cited in Babatunde 1997: 120).

A writer of the realist mode presents individual experience as an index of group and collective experience. The experience of the individual is continually shaped by the economic, political and social circumstances of his existence. The experience either limits or enlarges his opportunities.

Chidi Amuta (1989:128) has unidentified three types of realism in African literature: “animistic”, “ethical” and “socialist” realism. It is the concept of “socialist realism” that is relevant in this study for the emergent literary dramatists who are interested in linking the social environment of the character to their language and acts.

1.3 Pragmatics and Humour

The tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement can be termed humour. The term derived from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humours (from Latin – body fluid) controlled human health and emotion. Most people are able to experience humour ̶ be amused, smile or laugh at something funny ̶ and thus are considered to have a sense of humour. The hypothetical person lacking a sense of humour would likely find the behaviour induced by humour to be inexplicable, strange or even irrational. Though intimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which a person finds something humorous depends on a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context. For instance, young children may favour puppet shows or cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, whose physical nature makes it accessible to them. By contrast, sophisticated forms of humour such as satire require an understanding of its social meaning and context and thus tend to appeal to the mature audience.

Many theories exist on what humour is and what social function it serves. The prevailing types of theories attempting to account for the existence of humour include psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humour-induced behavior to be very healthy; spiritual theories, which may for instance, consider humour to be a “gift from God”; and theories which consider humour to be an unexplainable mystery, very much like a mystical experience (Raymond Smullyan 2014:1). The benign-violation theory, endorsed by Peter McGraw, attempts to explain humour’s existence. The theory says, “Humour only occurs when something seems wrong, unsettling, or threatening, but simultaneously seems okay, acceptable or safe” (2).

Humour can be used as a method to easily engage in social interaction by taking away that awkward, uncomfortable or uneasy feeling of social interactions. Others believe that the appropriate use of humour can facilitate social interactions. Humour is a ubiquitous, highly ingrained and largely meaningful aspect of human experience and is therefore decidedly relevant in organizational contexts, such as the work place. The significant role that laughter and fun play in organizational life has been seen as a sociological phenomenon and has increasingly been recognized as also creating a sense of involvement among workers (Wikipedia: 2014). Sharing humour at work not only offers a relief from boredom, but can also build relationships, improve camaraderie between colleagues and create positive effect. It may also relieve tension and can be used as a coping strategy. Sharing a laugh with a few colleagues may improve moods and bring out quality of work.

Humour has a medicinal effect of decreasing stress, reducing tensions, killing boredoms and prolonging people’s life span. The financial benefit of humour is an understatement. Rich comedians are making a living off cracking jokes in Nigeria today. Humour can be made out of the most serious events or situations. For instance, Nigerian stand-up comedians today make jokes out of national situations or ridicules public figures to create jokes. A case in point is the former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, whose idiosyncratic language use has provided much reference points for Nigerian comedians at all levels. However, some of the jokes created out of this language situation have not been taken likely when they are used out of context. This explains the strained relationship between the former first lady and veteran standup comedian, Ali Baba. Context in humour is vital and this is where pragmatics may come in.

In literature, humour is mostly satiric as writers try to lampoon, satirize or use sarcasm to change certain societal excesses. The driving force of every humour is language or one of the basic aspects of humour is language. Language can be manipulated for stylistic and humorous effect. However, a joke made or words spoken as humorous must be context based. Jokes and humorous statements can stir up trouble if not applied to the right context. Therefore, the place of humour in pragmatics will be the application of humorous languages in their appropriate social context.

Our data for this study is drawn from Funke Akindele’s Jenifa’s Diary, a recent popular television sitcom that tells the story of Suliat, a razz village hairdresser who heads to the city to try and gain admittance into university, after feigning sickness to con money out of an admirer. She is squatting with her cousin, Toyosi in the University hostel. The show is built on addressing issues of gender and domestic violence, the pressure of Nigerian ladies to keep up with the life of the high and mighty and how university girls indulge in all kinds of social excesses to live the life of the rich.

What makes this show appealing are the grammatical blunders, sometimes deliberate meaning shift that characterized some of the Nigerian home videos to drive home their message. This process creates a lot of humour that keeps the viewers glued to their television. The most compelling thing about Jenifa’s Diary is the appropriate social context that goes with the intended humour. Apart from the language blunders, the typical Yoruba accent that goes with the pronunciation of every syllable gives the show its humorous effect.

2.4 A Pragmatic Framework of Analysis

For this study, we are relying heavily on Lawal’s (1995) ‘Aspects of a Pragmatic Theory’ because the model has tried to accommodate some elements of the previous theoretical methods of Austin (1962), Grice (1975), Searle (1976), Bach and Harnish (1979), Levinson (1980), Adegbija (1982) and Lawal (1992).

Figure 1: Aspects of a Pragmatic Theory

Humor and Pragmatics of Jenifer’s Diary

Although Lawal (1995) states that the model identities five hierarchical contexts of an utterance, it is obvious from the model in figure 1 that there are six contexts. The most fundamental is the language itself. This linguistic context is followed by the situational context which is the topic of discourse and the factors of the physical event, including concrete objectives, persons and location. The psychological context, according to Lawal (1995) refers to the background of the mood, attitudes, and personal beliefs of the language user. Following that is the social context, which is said to be concerned with interpersonal relations among the interlocutors. The fifth is the sociological context which describes the socio-cultural and historical settings. The ultimate context which is cosmological, appears to be the broadest, in that it refers to the language user’s word-view, and the implicit references to the world or aspects of it, and to certain universally established facts.

The next column houses an equal number of hierarchically patterned levels of background knowledge or competence necessary for the production and interpretation of language in use. The various levels of contexts mentioned earlier on are symmetrically related to the corresponding competencies. Some or all of these competencies can be employed as pragmatic mappings to interpret/decode and classify an utterance into a particular speech-act type, and to give an appropriate response or reaction. In doing this, the language user deploys his competencies through inference to identify and understand presuppositions, implicatures and mutual contextual beliefs (MCBs).

Speech acts are also hierarchically organized and are somewhat related to the contexts and competencies that produce them. The most basic is ‘locutionary’ whose identification and comprehension depend on the purely linguistic constraints of the lexical, morphosyntactic, phonological, phonetic and micro-semantic structures of the sentence. Locutionary acts are thus described as the speaker’s overt linguistic behaviour, and the competence and context relative to their interpretation are also referred to as ‘the surface structures’.

From the various theories of speech acts reviewed, it is inferred that illocutionary act is a higher-order act which can be direct or indirect, intended or unintended and conventional or non-conventional, depending on the highly variable vagaries (Lawal 1995) of the context of communication. Illocutionary acts occupy a primary level of non-linguistic functions which language users performed with words; the ultimate level of the speech act of perlocutionary acts which are the conventional or non-conventional, intended or unintended consequences of utterances.

However, for this study, the contexts and competencies of the linguistic, the situational, the psychological, the social (Lawal 1995) and the socio-cultural (with the belief that the socio-cultural context operationally subsumes Lawal’s ‘sociological and cosmological contexts’ are employed to explain the various acts performed in the speech event.

2.5 Methodology this Study

Which is a descriptive one is a pragmatic examination of the language use of Jenifa’s Diary. A particular episode of the show has been selected, recorded and transcribed bringing out the language of Jenifa which will be analysed pragmatically. Out of the total utterances made by the lead actress Jenifa, a selection of 80 utterances will be examined against their pragmatic features to draw out the social context that underlies each language use.

A sample analysis was done after the entire utterances had been broken into sentences and each sentence was observed for the presence or absence of performatives. Only sentences that are performatives were (randomly) selected for analysis. Thus, the analysis concentrated on both the implicit and explicit performative clauses. In the case of multiple sentences in the speech that are performatives, clauses which occur within the structure of noun phrase share in the primary illocution of their governing clause, and so were taking to contribute nothing to the illocutionary force of the utterance in which they occur. Also, adverbial adjunct clauses share in the primary illocution of their governing clause and contribute nothing to the illocutionary force of the utterance. Coordinate, conjoined and appositive clauses were taken to have their own primary illocution. However, if such clauses are of the same clause or sentence type, they were treated as sharing in the primary locution of the first clause in the sequence.

Each sentence (utterance) tagged ‘sample’ was analysed pragmatically by stating the direct illocutionary act(s) it performs (and the indirect, where applicable). Next, the context/competencies were deployed to identify and understand presuppositions, implicatures and MCBs through inference.

The next stage is a consideration of the frequency of occurrence of the speech acts, with the view to identifying the possible macro speech-act.

2.6 Analysis and Results

The text was divided into eighty (80) sentences (utterances) which were numbered one to eighty (1-80) (see appendix). The sentences for analysis were numbered sequentially as they appear in the recorded utterances of Jenifa’s utterances in Jenifa’s Diary. Based on Dijk’s (1992) position, we have deleted certain sentences. Again, we have randomly selected only ten sentences that are in present tense and out of these, five (5) sentences have been presented here in terms of detailed analysis.

Sample 1

Correct tipper there have gif me if I finish head (sentence 3)

Illocutionary act:

a) Direct: Constative (Assertive) – stating

b) Indirect: Constative (Condition) – describing


a). Linguistics: Basic competencies in the grammar and semantics of the sentence is required. Background knowledge on Yoruba English Language Phonology is also required here.

b). Situational: The speaker, Jenifa, has described the condition under which she receives tips from her business, by stating that she gets good (correct tipper) tips from her customers in her hair stylist work. However, this condition for giving is not explicitly stated to the listener(s). She only describes this condition by stating that she gets the tip if she finishes customer’s hair. The maxim of Quantity is not met here because the condition stated or described is not as informative as is required (for the current purpose of the exchange). This is because the listener(s) is not informed of the condition(s) that warrants the tip. In other words, we are not aware if it is her customer’s satisfaction with the services she renders that brings about the tip(s). So we cannot ascertain if she is a skilled hair stylist or not. As a matter of fact, the utterances (1 and 2) that precede our sample, sentence (3) goes to prove that the saloon where Jenifa works has the rich as its customers hence giving out tips may just be a way with the rich to demonstrate or maintain class.

c). Psychological: The speaker felt excited that her newly found job comes with collecting tips which she states to the lister(s). She is therefore unwilling to abandon her newly found job for whatever purpose. The sentences that come after sentence (3) make this idea clear e.g correct tipper there haf tip me, I will come and leaf there (sentence 4); anybody wey no dey Lekki Phase 1, he no half anything (sentence 5); so na that saloon in the highland I will dey (6); educason I know daz what you want to talk about (sentence 7); about my educason, I know dat is why I came Lagos (sentence 8); but no worry shebi is money I used to buy the phone, is money I use to do efritin (sentence 9).

This gives the idea that “money answereth all things” even for Jenifa.

a) Social: A relationship of friends/co-workers/critics versus a struggling uneducated girl exists.

b) Socio-cultural: The listener(s) needs to understand that Jenifa ran away from her local village settlement with little or no education background in search of a better leaving condition for herself. Thus, she is willing to work anywhere that pays extra.

Sample 2

I will do is later.

Illocutionary act:

a) Direct: Constative (commissive) – promising

b) Indirect: Constative (commissive) – commit to future actions.


a) Linguistics: Basic competence in the grammar and semantics of the English language is required. The identity of the speaker is known and she is an agent for herself, and she takes responsibility for enforcing the illocution.

b) Situational: The speaker was making a promise to the listener (Although implicitly). The listener wants the speaker to prepare breakfast but she declines, promising to do it later, for whatever reason best known to her.

c) Psychological: The speaker was not in the mood to prepare breakfast so she declines the suggestion by the listener. Although she promises to commit herself to a future action of preparing breakfast.

d) Social: The relationship between the listener and the speaker was that of a promising roommate versus a hungry roommate.

e) Social-cultural: The speaker and listener share the responsibility of cooking for each other since they come from a society where roommates carry out such responsibility. Knowledge of the workings of such a social setting is required here, plus the sanctity placed on promises being made in two-party relationship.

Sample 3

I no fit cooker for you today (sentence 12)

Illocutionary act:

a) Direct: Constative (assertive) – stating

b) Indirect: Constative (negative) – challenging, refusing, repudiating, promising, committing.


a) Linguistic: Basic understanding of the semantics of the sentence is required to understand that Jenifa is predicating her statement upon a time factor of “not wanting to be late to work”.

b) Situational: The speaker refused to cook breakfast for her roommate because of time constraint and the fact that deductions from salaries are made whenever workers come late to the saloon.

c) Psychological: The speaker believes that her refusal to cook breakfast is justified on the premise that she will be late to work, and that her roommate will bear with her refusal for the day especially since both of them would not want the speaker’s salary to be deducted.

d) Social: The relationship between the speaker and listener is that of a worker/an uneducated roommate/ a friend versus a hungry roommate.

e) Socio-cultural: The speaker and the listener share in the knowledge of punctuality to work and deductions from salaries as punishment for lateness. The sentence that precedes this statement makes the idea clearer. E.g. wo Toyo let be going; in the saloon they comot small if you late, you here (sentence 11). The indirect illocutionary act is a promise to do the cooking another day. This is implicitly performed.

Sample 4

I wish you best in the exam (sentence 13).

Illocutionary act:

a) Direct: Constative (wishing) – Stating

b) Indirect: Constative (Praying) – hoping, expressing faith, believing, advising.


a). Linguistic: Basic semantic competence at the sentence level is needed especially, listeners needed to understand the meaning and correlatives of such lexical items as ‘wish’ and ‘exam’ with regard to their positive connotations.

b). Situational: An uneducated saloon stylist hurrying to work after refusing to make breakfast for her student roommate is wishing her success in her exam.

c). Psychological: The tone of the utterance is final, because it ends Jenifa’s stance on not wanting to cook breakfast since she is late for work and must leave immediately; prayerful, wishing her friend success in her exam; advisory, warning her not to engage in exam malpractice but to trust her competence. The sentences that follow the above statement make these ideas clearer e.g. you hear, no do giraffing o (sentence 14); come and lock the door (sentence 15).

a) Social: The relationship is that of an uneducated hair stylist/worker/friend/roommate versus a hungry student/roommate, preparing for the day’s exam.

b) Socio-cultural: There is shared knowledge on the importance of hard work, praying for someone about to engage in a future task, the punishment that go with exam malpractice, and the need to be punctual to work.

Sample 5

I ask you question, you come dey harassment me (sentence 36).

Illocutionary act:

a) Direct: (i) Constative (asking) – Stating

b) Indirect: (ii) Constative (protesting) – Claiming, declaring, maintaining, judging assessing.


a) Linguistics: Semantic and grammatical competences are basic for the understanding of the speaker’s utterance; the audience needed to sympathize with the speaker on the behaviour of the listener to the negative connotations between ‘question’ and ‘harassment’.

b) Situational: Jenifa protested the listener’s negative attitude of embarrassing her because of her urge to know (asking questions). she sees the listener’s action as tantamount to flouting the maxims of relevance and manner. All she wanted to know is if the young man going upstairs is madam’s boyfriend. However, the reply she got from her colleague

is not in line with the responses she expected.

c) Psychological: The tone of the utterance is harsh, aggressive and confrontational because the speaker, Jenifa felt embarrassed by her colleague’s remark and was unwilling to be treated in such an embarrassing manner.

d) Social: The relationship is that of co-workers/colleagues/critics versus a discontented uneducated co-worker.

e) Socio-cultural: Knowledge of the cordial relationship between co-workers is known to have been breached. The speaker saw her question as something that requires subtle and clear response but this is not the case in her colleague’s reply; thus, the speaker protests against this behaviour. The sentences that precede and follow the speaker’s statement make this breach in cordial relationship between colleagues clearer e.g.

– come what is your problem? (sentence 35)

– See me see harrassmentasion o (sentence 34)

– Ah dat bobo na manager bobo? (sentence 37)

– Fight is in my body well well (38)

– Is because of the environmentasion we dey (39).

– Das why I no want to fooled you (40).

– See if you try anything rubbish ehh, I will beat you like conga drum (41).

All these go to show Jenifa’s distaste for being embarrassed by a colleague.

2.7 Frequency Distribution of Speech-Act Types in Jenifa’s Diary

Speech ActFrequencyPercentage

Table 4.1 reveals a speech with a great use of Constative acts. Constatives constitute 64.7% of the entire acts identified in the sample analysis. Directives constitute 23.52% while predictive acts and commissive acts, constitute 5.89% and 11.8% respectively.

2.8 Discussions and Conclusion

The analysis reveals that Jenifa’s utterances contain both ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ speech acts. This is not strange because Allan (1986a) has observed that there is evidence that all utterances contain ‘direct’ as well as ‘indirect’ illocutions.

Out of the ten sentences isolated for analysis only five (5) were fully analysed pragmatically. In the five sentences, however, ten (10) speech acts are identified as being performed out of which five (5) are indirect illocutions. There are more acts than the sentences because a sentence is capable of containing more than one act – hence we have five sentences and ten acts.

Direct speech acts identified in the performative sentences are in the main categories of constatives, and directives. All these categories are recognized by Bach and Harnish (1979), Allan (1986a); while indirect speech acts identified are in the classes of constatives, directives, statives, declaratives and commissives.

On the whole, Jenifa has used constatives of the assertive, negative, disputive, descriptive, claiming, promising, etc. This, in essence, means that Jenifa, in communicating with her listeners, used language in the entire utterances to state, judge, assess, object, negate, promise, repudiate, claim, maintain, warn, challenge, etc.

The effect of humor is felt in the stylistic manipulation of the morphological and phonological structure of words and sentences’ pronunciation, deliberately created for aesthetic and humorous purposes. This provides the audience with the desired sense of humour and laughter by which her message is put across.

From the analysis, it is obvious that the trend of the speech acts reflects a great use of constatives, less frequent use of directives, an instance of predictive and two instances of commissives. This pattern is informed by the nature of the utterances and their main purpose. The speaker, an uneducated village hairstylist struggling to fit into the Lagos life style especially in a university environment where she lives with her student cousin needed to state certain facts, negate ideas, describe the nature of her work, disagree with certain unwarranted behaviours, and condemn certain actions. Jenifa’s utterances are tied to the Yoruba world view and her personal honesty as a girl from a descent home. This is what makes her promises to be trusted by her roommate and the audience as opposed to the idea of false lifestyle of other university girls living in the hostel, living a double-standard life.


Adejebija, E. E. Speech Act Analysis of Consumer Advertisement. Bloominaton Indiana University, Ph.D. Dissertation, 1982.

Adegbaija, E. E. ‘A Comparative Study of Politeness Phenomenon in Nigeria: English, Yoruba and Ogori’. Multilingual, 8 – 1, 57 – 80. 1989.

Adejabija, E. E. ‘I, major – General X: ‘Discourse tacts ‘ in Military Coup Speech in Nigeria. Text 15(2), 253 – 270. 1995.

Allan, K. Linguistic Meaning. Vol. 1. London: Routledge and kegan Paul Plc. 1986a.

Allan, J. L. Linguistic Meaning. Vol. 2. London: Routldge and Kenga Paul Plc. 1986b.

Austin, J. L. How to do Things with Words, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1962.

Bach, K. and Harnish, M. H. Linguistic communication and speech Acts. Cambridge: IMT Press. 1979.

Blakemore. D. Understanding Utterances, oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

Coulthard, .M. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. London: Longman.1993.

Dressler, .W. and Beaugrande, R. Introduction to Text Linguistics. London and new York: Longman. 1992.

Enkvist, N.E ‘On Defining Style: An Essay in Applied Linguistic’ In enkvist N.E., Spencer, J. and Gregory, M.J Linguistic and Style. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1964.

Firth, J.R . Selected Papers: 1952-54. Edited by F.R Palmer, London: Longman. 1968.

Ghadessey, M. Register Analysis: Theory and Practice . London and New York. Pinter Publishers. 1993.

Grice, H.P. ‘Logic and conversation’, in P. Cole and Jerry Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics III: Speech Acts. NY Academic Press. 1975.

Kress, G. Linguistic Process and Socio-Cultural Practice. Geelong. Deakin: University Press. 1985.

Kress, G. and Hodge, R. Language and Ideology, London and Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1979.

Joel, Olatunde Ayodabo. A Pragma-Stylistic Study of Abiola’s Historic Speech of June 24, 1993 in Stylistics in Theory and Practice (ed) Adebayo Lawal: Paragon Books Illorin. 132149, 1997.

Lawal, R.A ‘The Use of English Dictionary’. In Olu Obefemi (ed.) New Introduction to English Language. Ibadan: Y-Books. 1992.

Lawal, R.A ‘Aspect of Pragmatic Theory’ unpublished paper. Institute of Education, University of Ilorin. 1995.

Lawal, R.A Bade Ajayi and Wumi Raji ‘A Pragmatic Study of Selected Pairs of Yoruba Proverbs’ in Journal of Pragmatics 21 635-652. 1997.

Leech, G. The Principles of Pragmatics. London: Longman Group UK Limited. 1983.

Levinson, S.C. Speech Act Theory: The State of the Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1980.

Malinowski, B. ‘The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Language’ Reprinted in Ogden and Richards. (eds.) 1946. Pp. 296-336. 1923.

O’Barr, W. ‘Boundaries, Strategies, and Power Relations: Political Anthropology and Language’ in o’Barr willam & O’Barr Jean, E. 1976, (eds.) Language and Politics 19:405-418. 1976.

Ozimede, M. ‘Rhetorics and Political Communication as Speech Act,. Review of English and Literary Studies, vol.2.No.2. 1985.

Saddock, M.J. Towards a Linguistic Theory of Speech Acts. NY: Academic Press Inc. 1974.

Searle, J. Speech Acts Theory.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1969.

Searle, J. ‘Indirect Speech Acts’ in cole, P & Morgan, J. (Eds.) 1975 Syntax and Semantics. New York: Academic Press.1975.

Sola, T. Babatunde Linguistic Realism in Emergent Nigerian Dramatic Literature, in Stylistics in Theory and Practice (ed) Adebayo Lawal: Paragon Books Illorin. 199-131, 1997.

Threadgold, T. Talking about Genre: Ideologies and Incompatible Discourses’ Cultural Studies, 3, 92-118. 1989.


1) High lands is where the big boys and the big girls is in my salon.

2) Correct big boy big girls their come there

3) Correct tipper there haf gif me if I finish head

4) Correct tipper there haf tip me, I will come and leave there

5) Anybody way no dey lekki phase I, e no haf any thing

6) So na that saloon in the high land I will dey

7) Educason I kwon daz what you want to talk

8) About my educasion I know dat is why I came Lagos

9) But no worry shebi is money I used to buy the phone, is money I use to do efritin

10) I will do is later

11) Wo toyo let be going in the saloon they comot small if you late, you hear.

12) I no fit cooker for you today o

13) I wish you best in the exam

14) You hear no dey giraffing o

15) Come and lock the door

16) I here ma (I am here ma)

17) Good morin ma

18) I want to talk the truth

19) Hold up plenty, ah! Loba tan

20) Manager what do you want me to do

21) I talk loud you say I talk loud

22) I talk small you say I talk small

23) As I dey came traffic…

24) I acceptable it / – I want to know if its greeting style, make I copied

25) Ma I come / – Adaku se o gbo joku ni?

26) U get death sentences? u eat like this big big food like say e go soon die.

27) Ehh dat is why you want to killed yourself

28) Manager is called you

29) E wo no pu ma ka

30) Cordelia, e go good make you go hospisu o

31) See if you died work is continuasion

32) Body is not a wood now

33) Go hospisu treatment yourself, kpele sogbo

34) Cordi who is da man

35) See me see harassmentasion o

36) Come what is your problem I ask you question you come dey harassment me. – ah dat bobo na manager bobo?

37) Dat kind of bobo is in my speck

38) Fight is in my body well well

39) Is because of the environmentasion we dey

40) Das why I no want to fooled you

41) See if you try anything rubbish eh, I will beat you like conga drum

42) Me local girl? ,just thank your star

43) See this sky e big for every bird to flew

44) But any bird wey flew reach me with him wing anyhow, I go break it

45) Anty make it done well well so e go fine

46) Make the laxer e don it, (oh you mean the relaxer)

47) Oh yes it should relax

48) The weapon go sleep well u know say your head nasra (natural)

49) What it is? My name is not be, my name e Janifa

50) You want to buy me food? Alrice

51) Me I no be like Pelumi that he 419 u o.

52) I can do luns say food because of friendship but for luns, I no do o.

53) Thread make u weavel am for me

54) I thought they haf not finis

55) E is welcome

56) I safe the tip inside my bag.

57) Is like you see me Joking

58) Is one saloon boy i9n our saloon he like to buy me tinz

59) He like me but …………… chance ke? Noo…

60) The boy have tonasion in is mouth.

61) Better, big deal plenty

62) Im haf tonasion me haf tonasion if we are marry – what will born tonasions is ah ah inye o da.

63) E d one dat saw it to spend

64) Because I tell him if you are buying me something because of lofer (mon mon) but if you are buying me something because of friendship sake, alright.

65) Is concerning this weavon of a tin

66) Sorry na our bus e enter dis (ditch)

67) So manager why you no tell me today is your baiday so I for order Correct cake for you?

68) I will slap your mouth na

69) You no get respect abi

70) Stop to dey toaster me

71) Is it man dat you are talk to like dat?

72) Even if e toastered you shebi you can keep it in your hearth, is a secris tin

73) E wona na wojn ko to toast

74) You are welcome, I appreciation

75) He is the three man I see today that go and see manager O, Response manager get dem plenty na

76) Is she a fishers of men?

77) Why madam have am for many boyfriend?

78) Adaku why is you crying na?

79) You e told me l ater? Okay O

80) No dey cry o na puplic you dey o

Leave a comment

Open chat
How may we assist you please?
× How can I help you?