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Language Practices and the Visibility of Language. Reflections on the Great Divide in the Light of Ethiopian Oral Traditions

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Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 23)

Abstract

It once so happened that an Ethiopian donkey driver met a learned and famous man who quite unexpectedly bowed quite low to him, politely bidding him good morning, endet adderatchu (literally: “how was the night (for you)?” Later, the humble donkey driver told his friends about this flattering incident, only to learn that he had been ridiculed. Since the greeting was phrased in the second person plural (adderatchu rather than the second person singular, addereh) the poor man had been placed in the same category as his donkey. Levine (1972) recounts this anecdote in his book about traditional Amhara culture and about characteristic Amharic ways of playing with language, a type of verbality which is particularly well developed in the poetic tradition of semenna werq — “wax and gold”. This refers to a figurative use of language, originally rooted in the religous poetry gene. Qene couplets can be recognized by their play on overt versus covert sentence meaning The “wax”, or surface mould, hides the latent “gold” of the underlying meaning, whether it be an erotic allusion, ironic critique, a threat or a political message. The wax-and-gold tradition originates in the learned culture of orthodox Coptic schooling. Yet, historically, it has been developed to excellence in the oral contexts of daily bickering. In the everyday language of irony, speakers thus play with language complexity, making use of sentence ambiguities.

Keywords

Phonemic Awareness Language Visibility Language Practice Person Plural Great Divide 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1988

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