Euphemisms as Substitutes for Verbal Taboos in Igbo Language Dynamics

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Oyeka, C.N.
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Ihafa: A Journal of African Studies
Some Igbo words and expressions are hardly used openly, especially in mixed company. Such lexemes refer to in this study as verbal taboos play crucial roles in the understanding of certain aspects of the world view in Igbo society This paper examines and describes the various categories of some of such words, the reason(s) behind their avoidance, and the strategies involved when the concepts referenced in such words or expressions must be employed. Data comprising one hundred and fifty of the taboo words/expressions were elicited through oral interviews from two hundred Igbo native speakers representing various individuals without recourse to age, sex, educational background, occupation, and location. The respondents were randomly selected and interviewed based on convenience random sampling. The researcher equally relied on her intuitive knowledge of the language. The theoretical framework adopted for the analysis is Politeness and Face approach as proposed in Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987). Findings show that the open usage avoidance of the words/expressions in question is conditioned by cultural and religious norms of the society; and that euphemisms are mostly used as replacements for the avoided lexemes in certain contexts. The adoption of new lexemes, however, also brings about changes in the context of use of the items in the language.
Taboo; euphemism; politeness; language change; Igbo society