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Title: Evaluating interethnic conflict in the press
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Title: Evaluating interethnic conflict in the press
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Language: English
Creator: McGarry, Richard G., 1953-
Copyright Date: 1990
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Full Text








Copyright 1990


Richard G. McGarry


In the process of writing this dissertation, I have

been cared for by many who have, in large and small ways,

encouraged me to believe that the process is not as

dehumanizing as some would believe, listened to me when I've

needed to rant and rave, supported me with helpful

suggestions, chided me to be more diligent during "slump"

times. Most of all they have just been there! To these I

give my most heartfelt and sincere thanks.

I want to individually thank members of my dissertation

committee for their comments, support, and direction for the

past two years: Andrea Tyler, Chauncey Chu, Robert Scholes,

Donald Williams, Olabiyi Yai. Special thanks go to my

chairman, Haig Der-Houssikian, for his tireless work and

support on this dissertation project. His mentoring has,

indeed, enabled me to better appreciate Africa and

linguistics. His support has made the process of graduate

studies both humane and enjoyable.

But of all those who have had some involvement in this

effort, my wife Carter deserves the most credit. Her

patience with my impatience, her forbearance with my

discouragement, her sharing in my victories has made the


process worthwhile. It is to her I dedicate this




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS................................. iii

LIST OF TABLES................................... viii

LIST OF FIGURES.................................. ix

ABSTRACT..................... ...................... x


ONE INTRODUCTION............................ 1

The Otieno Case ............................ 4
The Study................................... 6
Pragmatic and Semantic Variables......... 6
Morpho-Syntactic Features................. 10
Methodology.............................. 12


ANALYSIS.................................. 14

Macrocontext.. ........................... 15
Ethnicity and Interethnic Conflict......... 16
Ethnicity, Westernization, and Law
in Kenya............................... .21
The Role of Communication in Interethnic
Conflict............................... .34
The Role of Swahili and English in Kenya. 46
The Role of the Press in Kenya.......... 52
Conclusion.................................. 59
Notes...................................... 60

ANALYSIS............................. 61

The Nature of Schema Theory ................ 63
The Nature of Human Cognition and
Semantic Hierarchies ..................... 74
A Cognitive-Based Analysis of Two
News Texts............................... 95

Notes ..................................... 103

FOUR TEXTUAL FEATURES........................ 104

Review of the Literature.................. 106
Definitions..................... ........... 116
Structure of Press Discourse................ 122
Position and Topic Continuity in
Press Discourse........................ 122
Initial position....................... 123
Medial position........................ 128
Final position ......................... 132
Summary................................. 136
Syntactic Structure and Topic
Continuity............................... 137
Analysis of Syntactic Devices............ 139
Referential infinitive/zero anaphora... 139
Clitic pronouns, verb agreement/
pronouns ...... ...... ................. 141
KA tense................................ 143
Definite NP ............................ 145
Passivization.......................... 149
KI tense ............................... 153
Summary............................... 155
Logical Connectors......................... 156
Topic Continuity and the Press.............. 158

PART II: APPLYING THE MODEL................... 160

FIVE PRESS DISCOURSE DATA.................... 160

Objectives................................. 161
January 6, 1987............................ 165
Taifa Leo................................ 165
Daily Nation ............................ 188
March 26, 1987............................. 197
Taifa Leo................................ 197
Daily Nation............................. 203
May 16, 1987............................... 208
Taifa Weekly............................. 209
Daily Nation............................. 216
Conclusion.................................. 219
Notes..................................... 220


Nature of the Study........................ 223
Experimental Procedures.................... 229
Results and Discussion..................... 231
Attitudes Toward the Press................. 231
The Otieno Case............................ 235
Experimental respondent #1: Embu/Kikuyu.. 238

Experimental respondent #2: Luhya/Luo.... 241
Experimental respondent #3: Kikuyu....... 247
Experimental respondent #4: Luo.......... 249
News Story Recasts......................... 251
Experimental respondent #1............... 252
Experimental respondent #2................ 255
Experimental respondent #3................ 259
Experimental respondent #4................ 263
Summary......... ........................... 267
Comparisons ......................... ...... 267
Summary .................................... 275

SEVEN CONCLUSION............................. 277


A TAIFA LEO, JANUARY 6, 1987.................. 280

B DAILY NATION, JANUARY 6, 1987............... 283

C TAIFA LEO, MARCH 26, 1987.................. 287

D DAILY NATION, MARCH 26, 1987............... 289

E TAIFA WEEKLY, MAY 16, 1987................. 292

F DAILY NATION, MAY 16, 1987................. 298

G RESPONDENT QUESTIONNAIRE................... 301


I SWAHILI CONTROL RESPONDENT #2............... 306


K ENGLISH CONTROL RESPONDENT #2............... 308

L EXPERIMENTAL RESPONDENT #1................. 309

M EXPERIMENTAL RESPONDENT #2.................. 311

N EXPERIMENTAL RESPONDENT #3.................. 314

O EXPERIMENTAL RESPONDENT #4.................. 316

REFERENCES........................................ 319

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................. 328



Table page


FOR ENGLISH AND SWAHILI................... 95

4.1 SYNTACTIC CODING HIERARCHY .................. 139





Figure page

5.1 TAIFA LEO, JANUARY 6, 1987.................. 176

5.2 TAIFA LEO, MARCH 26, 1987................... 199

5.3 DAILY NATION, MARCH 26, 1987................ 207

5.4 TAIFA LEO, MAY 16, 1987..................... 212

5.5 DAILY NATION, MAY 16, 1987.................. 218

RESPONDENT #1................................ 254

RESPONDENT #2...... ...... ................ 258

RESPONDENT #3............................ 262

RESPONDENT #4............. ................ 266

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Richard G. McGarry

December, 1990

Chairman: Dr. Haig Der-Houssikian
Major Department: Linguistics

A tripartite model for analyzing interethnic conflict

in the press is presented and discussed. This consolidated

model interrelates pragmatic/contextual elements with

cognitive and morpho-syntactic variables in order to

establish subtle bias in what is commonly considered

"objective" news reporting. A series of articles, covering

the "Otieno case," from two Kenyan newspapers, the Swahili-

language daily/weekly, Taifa Leo/Weekly, and the English-

language newspaper, Daily Nation, serve as the primary data

base for the study. Elicited respondent data confirm the

model's basis in reality.

Such contextual features as the nature of ethnicity in

Kenya, the character of interethnic conflict between the

Kikuyu and Luo ethnicities, and the role of the press in

Kenya are presented vis-a-vis the Otieno case. A reader's

perception of a news story in terms of cognitive framing,

i.e. networks of foregrounded and backgrounded concepts, are

assessed as are a variety of linguistic strategies, such as

the positioning of topics in thematic paragraphs and morpho-

syntactic coding, inasmuch as they affect topic


The model is applied to news text data. It is

demonstrated that subtle bias exists in Nation newspapers'

coverage of the Otieno case, with Taifa Leo/Weekly favoring

the application of traditional, ethnic law to burial

matters, and Daily Nation supporting civil, secular law.


In any news story, journalists use a variety of

linguistic strategies to report events and situations as

they themselves have experienced them or as the event has

been reported to them. Invariably, writers of news

discourse relate events from a particular point of view,

which has the cumulative effect of emphasizing certain

topics, themes, and/or events while deemphasizing others.

Readers, in turn, are able to process this form of written

communication by interrelating pragmatic/contextual

variables with linguistic features which enable them to

discern which topics, themes, and/or events are most

important or relevant in that particular communicative act.

The investigation of these pragmatic and linguistic

strategies employed within the context of written discourse

forms the basis of discourse analysis.

The field of discourse analysis, especially as it

relates to cross-cultural communication, is relatively new.

Historically, researchers have taken two distinct approaches

to discourse analysis. As will be thoroughly discussed

below, certain literature (most notably Giv6n, 1983b, 1983c,

1984; Hopper & Thompson, 1980; Kuno, 1976; and Li &

Thompson, 1976 to name a few) has emphasized the

relationship between discourse and syntactic structure.

Pragmatic features were seemingly deemed nonlinguistic and

not considered. Other research (namely Levinson, 1983;

Sperber & Wilson, 1986; and van Dijk, 1981, 1983, 1985a) has

largely focused upon pragmatic-cum-semantic variables

without regarding the morpho-syntactic features generated by

context. Few attempts have been made to unify the two

approaches. Moreover, few studies (save those of van Dijk)

have specifically analyzed press discourse. Studies of news

texts have been based largely upon homogeneous

circumstances, that is, press discourse written and read by

individuals from the same linguistic background. Little

substantive research has been carried out involving the

analysis of press discourse in linguistically heterogeneous


The research undertaken in this study combines

pragmatic, cognitive ("schema theory"), and morpho-syntactic

elements into a single, workable model of discourse analysis

which can be applied to written discourse cross-

linguistically. I intend to demonstrate the efficacy of

this tripartite model through its application to press

discourse, specifically to Swahili- and English-language

news texts from Kenya. This study deals with the efficiency

of the model to make certain predictions regarding written

discourse alone. Although the analysis of oral discourse is

an important and necessary topic for further study, it is

not my intention for any predictions made by the model to be

transferred to spoken discourse although research in this

area would be useful.

The purpose of this study is bifocal, having both

linguistic and sociocultural goals. First, I want to

establish the usefulness of the model itself. Second, by

applying the model, it is my intention to establish the

nature of how conflicts between ethnic groups are reported

in the Kenyan press. Building a unified model of discourse

analysis for the purpose of examining intratextual and

intertextual relationships in a specific context will

greatly aid our understanding of the language of interethnic

conflict, and will provide a useful heuristic which can

potentially be applied to a variety of contexts in which

interethnic conflict is reported in the press (cf. Gumperz,

1982; Green, 1989).

I propose to test the viability of this model of

discourse analysis by employing data from three main

sources: two written sources, the Swahili-language daily

Taifa Leo (and Taifa Weekly) and the English-language Daily

Nation, and from oral responses from Swahili and English

speaking participants. The latter data will be used to

establish the validity of the model to predict the kinds of

information readers will use to process newspaper discourse

(cf. Chapter Six).

It will be my goal to analyze the perception these

media have of the Luo ethnic group, inasmuch as it reflects

the society as a whole. Both Swahili and English lend

themselves uniquely to this task because they are

interethnic and international languages. In other words,

these languages are used, with a few exceptions, in largely

heterogeneous circumstances. Moreover, an additional

benefit of comparing Swahili texts as the primary data base

with English texts as "control" data is to establish

similarities and differences between the discoursal

structures of the two languages.

The Otieno Case

The context around which this study is based pertains

to a controversial court case involving burial rights which

arose in Kenya in December, 1986, and continued through the

first half of 1987. The "Otieno case" began when S.M.

Otieno, a Luo and a prominent Nairobi attorney, died, and,

at the behest of his wife, Mrs. Virginia Wambui Otieno, was

to be buried on his Upper Matasia farm. Mr. Otieno's

brother, Mr. Joash Ochieng' Ougo, objected and elicited the

help of the Umira Kager Clan, to which he and Mr. Otieno

belonged, to help in the dispute. Their objections were

based on the custom that Luo are traditionally buried in Luo


A lawsuit was filed by Mrs. Otieno in the Kenyan High

Court seeking custody of the body of her late husband. The

High Court, through Mr. Justice Frank Shields, handed down

the ruling that the Umira Kager clan had no locus stand

("legal standing") to claim Mr. Otieno's body and bury it in

Luo territory. As a result of the judgment, they filed an

appeal in the Court of Appeals of Kenya, and were

subsequently given joint custody of the body with Mrs.

Otieno to bury it at Nyalgunga in Luoland. Mrs. Otieno,

however, objected, claiming that she was the sole "next of

kin" and was entitled to bury the body on their property in

Upper Matasia, according to various statutes in the Law of

Succession of Kenya. The Court of Appeals heard Mrs.

Otieno's petition, but let the earlier ruling stand.

Neither Mrs. Otieno nor her immediate family attended Mr.

Otieno's funeral in Nyalgunga.

The Otieno case raised many issues of interest to the

people of Kenya. Among them were the conflict between

traditional law and civil secular law, the role of ethnicity

in Kenyan society, particularly interethnic relations, and

ultimately the Luo vs. Kenya. The case, although settled

legally in favor of traditional law, continues to evoke

strong emotions and debate.

The Study

In my master's thesis (McGarry, 1988), a discourse

pragmatic model of analysis was developed and applied to

written discourse in order to ascertain which topics were

deemed by writers to be most salient and which topics least

salient. The model was based upon topical positioning

within the structure of a "thematic paragraph" as well as on

a variety of syntactic devices which comprise a continuum of

topic identifiability and continuity. This model proved a

useful pilot project for evaluating syntactic variables

within the particular English-language press discourse

tested. This study greatly expands the scope and breadth of

the pilot study, analyzing the interrelationship between

pragmatic, semantic, and morpho-syntactic variables.

Pragmatic and Semantic Variables

The notion of pragmatics has traditionally been a

difficult one to define, perhaps due to the fact that it is

largely amorphous. There are few neat "pigeon holes" into

which linguistic categories can be placed and analyzed.

However, a serviceable definition of pragmatics is offered

by Green (1989). Pragmatics is "the study of understanding

intentional human action. The central notions in pragmatics

must then include belief, intention (or goal), plan, and

act" (3).

With this definition in mind, a complete analysis of

discourse must be viewed in terms of a variety of

communicative contexts, an important facet in the purview of

pragmaticss." First, in terms of written discourse, writers

make assumptions about what the reader is likely to accept

without challenge. These presuppositions comprise what can

be termed "the common ground" of the participants in a

written communicative event. Suppose, for instance, a

journalist writes about a fire at a dwelling in east

Gainesville. It is likely that the writer will assume the

reader will accept as true the existence of the dwelling in

question, and, that on a particular day, the dwelling caught

fire and burned. Moreover, it is assumed that the reader

knows what a "fire" is, and is aware that "Gainesville" is a

place/city wherein people live. These latter

presuppositions are what Brown and Yule (1986) call

"conventional implicatures." In other words, a

"conventional implicature" is what a writer can imply (and a

reader can interpret) based upon the meaning of the words

themselves as they are used in particular communicative


Second, there are certain norms which are expected of

language users in most every context. Grice (1975) terms

these "conversational implicatures." According to Grice,

writers should 1) make contributions which are true,

contributions for which there is adequate evidence; 2) be

only as informative as is required (don't write too much or

too little); 3) be relevant; and 4) avoid ambiguity and

obscurity (cf. Sperber & Wilson, 1986).

Given these pragmatic principles, the sociocultural

context of a linguistic event must be considered.

Sociocultural context comprises what Gudykunst and Kim

(1984) term "cultural influences," i.e. the values, world

view, and mores of the writer and reader. Additionally,

sociocultural context includes such influences as group

membership and role relationships.

Chapter Two discusses and analyzes a variety of

pragmatic/contextual issues including the notion of

ethnicity, interethnic conflict, the relationship between

ethnicity, westernization, and law in Kenya, and the role of

the press in Africa and in Kenya.

Donald Horowitz (1985) in Ethnic Groups in Conflict

posits that interethnic conflict is, at its essence, a

matter of the comparison of distinctive linguistic,

religious, cultural, and/or national characteristics.

Horowitz further suggests that what solidifies a people's

sense of ethnicity is the human need for familiarity and

community, the desire for family ties and reciprocal

emotional support. Membership in an ethnic group,

therefore, enables important cultural variables to be

maintained within a socio-political context. These

variables define who a person is in society in terms of who

are their relations as well as who members of out-groups


Language is an important tool for the maintenance of

ethnic identity (cf. Fishman, 1977; Bourhis & Giles, 1977;

Giles, Bourhis & Taylor, 1977). World views, values, rules,

and norms of particular groups may be revealed through

language in communicative events. Interethnic conflict

occurs when participants in a communicative event interpret

each others' messages vis-a-vis conflicting knowledge

schemataa" (frames) (cf. Goffman, 1974; Tannen, 1979;

Gumperz, 1982).

Most of the ethnic groups in Kenya are speakers of

Bantu languages. The majority of this population is

comprised of three closely related groups: the Kikuyu, the

Embu, and the Meru. The Luo, a Nilotic people, constitute a

substantial minority of Kenya's population. The remaining

few non-Bantu groups are virtually outside the mainstream of

Kenya's sociopolitical life, despite the fact that the

current President, Mr. Daniel arap Moi, is a member of one

of these minorities.

In light of the fact that the Luo are a Nilotic people

with a unique and different world view from their Bantu

neighbors, it is not surprising that conflicts between

Bantu-speaking ethnic groups and the Luo arise on a regular

basis in every sphere of Kenya's sociopolitical life.

Chapter Three discusses semantic variables in written

discourse production and interpretation. Here, the

cognitive notion of "frame" is addressed. Framing is

essential to understanding the semantic component of the

model. It has been suggested by many (Abbott, Black, &

Smith, 1985; Deane, 1989a; and Glenberg et al., 1987) among

others) that a frame is an organized network of concepts

derived from one's prior experience and knowledge of the


In this chapter, frames are analyzed vis-a-vis two

important semantic hierarchies, one from Silverstein (1985)

and the other, Kuno's (1976) concept of "empathy."

Silverstein argues that a concept will be highly

instantiated depending upon the degree of animacy it

possesses. Empathy, meanwhile, is normative in evaluating

the attitudes of writers toward participants in an event.

By utilizing certain syntactic and semantic elements,

writers are able to direct readers' focus toward

participants in a news story and away from others. These

elements encompass a wide range of syntactic and semantic

structures, including case roles, agency, tense, aspect, and


Morpho-Syntactic Features

Chapter Four is pivotal in that it analyzes topic

continuity/identifiability from two angles, topic

positioning within "thematic paragraphs" and morpho-

syntactic structures which enhance topic continuity.

Topic positioning within the thematic paragraph

structure is an important determinant of topic continuity

and identifiability. Through the analysis of data from

Taifa and Daily Nation, it will be demonstrated that certain

participants in Swahili and English are more identifiable to

readers if they are placed in the initial position in the

thematic paragraph. Likewise, more backgrounded material

tends to be placed toward the end of a paragraph.

In terms of morpho-syntax, certain devices such as

anaphors and nouns + demonstratives (Swahili) or definite

articles (English) code old, instantiated information.

Devices such as passives in both Swahili and English

represent deviations from standard word order, and are often

used to code less identifiable or new topics, although not


These insights into topic continuity/identifiability

are significant in terms of reporting interethnic conflict.

Topics writers who choose to highlight have the potential to

be persuasive to readers. Writers can manipulate certain

viewpoints by stressing a particular topic over another, or

by coding a particular topic as continuous, more

identifiable than another. By analyzing topic continuity in

news reports regarding the "Otieno" case, patterns

concerning the sociopolitical situation in Kenya can be



Chapter Five reports the results of the application of

the model to data sets from Taifa and Daily Nation, while

Chapter Six analyzes data from respondents.

The methodology employed in Part II of this study

involves three steps. First, a set of six articles,

selected from the Otieno case corpus in Taifa and Daily

Nation, is analyzed and compared vis-a-vis the model

presented in Part I. These samplings were selected from the

corpus, and cover the scope of the case. Since the goal of

this study is to analyze and evaluate discourse strategies

used to convey objective information to the reading public,

editorials and letters to the editor have been purposely

excluded from the data base due to their overt bias. The

goal of this chapter is to analyze this sampling of

newspaper texts in order to evaluate writer intention.

Second, data from a variety of African respondents are

analyzed and compared in order to establish whether or not

the model has any basis in reality. In other words, to what

extent do the claims made in Chapter Five of the study

correspond with data elicited from actual newspaper readers?

The respondents were asked to recast a sample text from

Taifa and/or Daily Nation. From these recasts, foregrounded

and backgrounded topics were ascertained and compared both

within each group and on an intergroup basis, as well as

with the conclusions reached in Chapter Five.

Third, the respondents' feedback is evaluated in terms

of any linguistic, cognitive, and/or cultural factors which

may influence the way in which the stories are recast.

These variables play roles in the way interethnic conflict

in the press in processed and understood.



For an analysis of press discourse to be inclusive, it

is necessary to investigate a variety of communicative

contexts out of which a particular news event arises.

Specifically, an analysis of the extra-linguistic context

surrounding a news story concerning an interethnic conflict

situation enables the investigator to glean valuable

information concerning the sociopolitical climate impacting

the situation. Moreover, it is possible, through an

understanding of contextual features, to obtain informed

hypotheses regarding the intentions of news writers covering

circumstances of interethnic conflict, and may additionally

enable the investigator to partially predict the reactions

of readers to news stories.

Contextual information consists of two interrelated

components: "macrocontext" and "microcontext." Macrocontext

can be defined as those sociocultural features which have a

direct impact on the communicative event. These include

(among others) the world view of the culture in question;

values, beliefs, and norms which establish the culture's

place vis-a-vis the world community; and the range of group

memberships (both real and perceived) which establish

solidarity among individuals in a culture. Microcontext

represents those individuated networks of beliefs, values,

presuppositions, and knowledge participants in a linguistic

event utilized to insure successful communication.

Microcontextual variables will be discussed in the following

chapter on cognitive features of discourse analysis.

The goal of this chapter is to discuss a variety of

macrocontextual variables inherent in the Kenyan culture for

the purpose of investigating how these variables affect news

discourse, specifically reports concerning the Otieno case.

It must be kept in mind that the intent of this chapter is

to describe those salient features of the Kenyan culture and

to draw general conclusions concerning their effect on news

discourse. Conclusions and/or generalizations are only

partial at this stage. In subsequent chapters, the full

effect of sociocultural variables on the language of press

discourse will be clarified.


Certain macrocontextual features are important in the

Kenyan culture and must be defined and evaluated. Among

these are the general nature of ethnicity and interethnic

distinctiveness; the relationship between ethnicity,

westernization and law in Kenya as it affects Kenya's two

largest and most powerful ethnicities, the Kikuyu and the

Luo; the role of language in interethnic relations; the role

of Swahili and English as the de facto national languages of

Kenya; and the role of the press in Kenyan society.

Ethnicity and Interethnic Conflict

Throughout the literature, the concept of "ethnicity"

has been described in terms of a complex perceptual network

manifest in sociopolitical reality. Horowitz (1985) posits

that ethnic solidarity grows out of the human need for

familiarity and community. Membership in an ethnic group

enables important cultural variables to be maintained within

a sociopolitical context. Likewise, Parkin (1977) argues

that ethnicity has a strong perceptual component which is

evidenced in ethnic groups comparing themselves (positively

or negatively) to their neighbors. According to Parkin, an

individual within a collectivity "recognizes" his/her

membership in that collectivity vis-a-vis its

distinctiveness from neighboring collectivities. Reflective

of the perceptual nature of ethnicity, Yinger (1983:395)

supplies the following definition:

Ethnicity is not an attribute, but a variable.
(It) is a segment of a larger society whose
members are thought, by themselves and/or others,
to have a common origin and to share important
segments of a common culture and who, in addition,
participate in shared activities which the common
origin and culture are significant ingredients.

A collectivity's cognizance of their "glorious past" as

well as their function within the culture greatly determines

the types of behavior expected of group members. Self

definition is only one component of the determination of a

group's perceived function in society. Yinger argues that

ethnicities ascertain their function in a society through

out-group opinions of in-group solidarity and behavior.

Kenyan ethnicities, such as the Luo and Kikuyu, are

ethnicities by definition because they each have an origin

in common, they think of themselves as an in-group and

others as out-groups, and because neighboring collectivities

consider them ethnic entities with established values and

modes of behavior. (Out-groups may even distinguish unique

physical characteristics which set them apart from the

remainder of society. A good example is the valuation given

to Luos by Bantu ethnicities concerning their custom which

prohibits circumcision. Not only do certain Bantu groups

characterize Luos as the "uncircumcised," but they hold Luos

up to ridicule for being "cowards" [cf. Berg-Schlosser,


A final definition of ethnicity comes from Fishman, in

a 1977 study of the interrelationship between ethnicity and

language. According to Fishman, ethnicity provides

individuals with a recognition of their unique place in

society, acting as a filter through which individuals or

collectivities understand who they are vis-a-vis their

neighbors. Fishman points out that there are both "stable"

and "changing" aspects of ethnicity. Specifically. he

describes three such notions: "paternity," "patrimony," and


Paternity pertains to an individual's biological

origins, or kinship. (Hereafter, "kinship" will be used.)

As Fishman (1977) argues:

Ethnicity is, in part, but at its core,
experienced as an inherited constellation acquired
from one's parents as they acquired it from
theirs, and so on back further and further. (17)

The role kinship plays in the life of an individual or

collectivity is extremely vital. Kinship ties provide

substantive support in times of conflict within families or

communities. Kinship ties enable individuals to call on

others for help and communities to enlist the aid of

neighboring communities during crises. Most importantly,

kinship ties create and sustain relationships built on

mutual support and intimacy.

A second aspect of ethnicity discussed by Fishman

(1977) is "patrimony," which refers to a system of fairly

well defined behaviors. According to Fishman, the concept

of ethnicity is multiplicitous. It is a state of being as

well as a system of behaviors wherein members of an ethnic

group define who they are.

The third notion of Fishman's definition of ethnicity

is what he terms phenomenologyy." Phenomenology refers to

the significance individuals or collectivities attach to

their behavior. In other words, phenomenology is "how

ethnicities view ethnicity" (23).

The studies cited above support the notion that

ethnicity is both rooted in the cognitive/perceptual

framework of individuals and collectivities, and is manifest

in sociopolitical reality. To use a well-worn phrase,

ethnicity is partially in "the mind of the beholder." To be

sure, one's inclusion in an ethnic group is dependent to a

great degree upon factors of paternal or (in the case of

some cultures) maternal heritage. But the salience of

ethnicity, the degree to which an ethnicity asserts its

exclusivity from other groups within a society, is

contingent upon whether individuals in the group believe

themselves to be members of the group in contrast to being a

member of a neighboring group. This is an important factor

to consider in our discussion of interethnic conflict.

In the pilot project for the present study (McGarry,

1988), I argue that in sociopolitical entities, there are

interest-group collectivities, "ethnicities" in Rothchild's

(1986) terms, which organize their collective existences

around particular values, norms, and rules. Within that

same sociopolitical entity there are other well-defined

collectivities which possess significantly different values,

norms, and rules. When these groups come into contact with

one another and vie for political power and their share of

market goods, conflicts arise. Rothchild (1986) contends

that interethnic conflict arises from differences in

perspective concerning nonnegotiable and negotiable issues.

"Nonnegotiable" issues, in Rothchild's theory, are

ideological in nature, including such notions as world view,

belief systems, etc. "Negotiable" issues, on the other

hand, include tangible goods and services for which

individuals "negotiate" on a daily basis. Horowitz (1985)

holds a similar view of the origins of interethnic conflict.

He posits that interethnic conflict is, at its essence, a

matter of comparison of distinctive linguistic, religious,

cultural, and/or national characteristics or a

misunderstanding of the behaviors of those considered out-

group members. The causes of interethnic conflict,

therefore, are both intricate and manifold. Almost any set

of events or circumstances wherein individuals from

different ethnic groups come into contact with each other

can potentially initiate a conflict situation.

I believe Rothchild is essentially on target in his

negotiable/nonnegotiable distinction. Those conflicts which

have arisen on account of value or world view differences

appear to be both longer lasting and of greater intensity.

The Otieno episode is a prototypical instance of a

nonnegotiable conflict. Not only was the conflict the focus

of attention for nearly six months while various court

challenges were heard, but issues arising from the conflict

are still being debated in the Kenyan Parliament, in Kenyan

university law and government classrooms, and in homes

throughout the nation (although with the exception of two

lead stories immediately following the resolution of the

court case, the Kenyan press (English and Swahili) has

chosen to avoid this issue (Kimani wa Ngoju, Kazungu, and

Ndwiga, personal correspondence).

Ethnicity. Westernization, and Law in Kenya

The Otieno episode was essentially a conflict between

two competing legal systems, traditional, customary law and

civil, secular law. However, it is likely that the case

would not have been so ardently contested had the litigants

not been members of ethnicities with a history of conflict.

The conflict between Mrs. Otieno and the Umira Kager Clan

was representative of a larger historical struggle between

the Luo and the Kikuyu ethnic groups, as they were

influenced by western cultural postulates. In this section,

I will discuss the interrelationship of ethnicity,

westernization, and law in modern Kenyan society, especially

as it has impacted Kikuyu and Luo groups.

The notion of "ethnicity" is highly prominent in Kenya

due to there being a number of large, powerful groups who

vie for political and economic power. According to the

latest Kenyan census figures available (Kenya Population

Census, 1979)1, of the 15.3 million residents, 75% of the

population belongs to five ethnic groups: Kikuyu and Kamba

(Southern Bantu), Luhya (Western Bantu), Luo (Western

Nilotic), and the Kalenjin (Southern Nilotic). Two of the

largest and most powerful ethnic groups are the Kikuyu and

Luo, with the Kikuyu representing approximately 20.9% of

the population and the Luo 12.8%.

Of particular interest is the fact that whereas the

percentage of the Kikuyu population increased from 20.1% to

20.9% in the years 1969-1979, the percentage of the Luo

population actually decreased. Census figures (1979)

indicate that there were 2,201,632 Kikuyu in 1969. In 1979

the total number of Kikuyu increased by 45.48% to 3,202,821.

In that same time period, although the actual numbers of Luo

increased from 1,521,595 to 1,955,845 (28.54%), the

percentage of the Luo population (against the entire Kenyan

population) actually decreased somewhat from 13.9% to 12.8%.

The significance of these statistical factors becomes

readily apparent when analyzed in their sociocultural

context. The Kikuyu and Luo ethnicities are derived from

widely divergent backgrounds, possess distinct world views

and values, speak unrelated languages, and compete with each

other for goods and services in a nation which ranks in the

lower quarter of the world's nations in terms of "modernity"

(an aggregation of such socioeconomic variables as Gross

National Product (GNP), food supply, medical care, infant

mortality, etc.) (Berg-Schlosser, 1984). As the Kikuyu

population increased at a rate greater than that of the Luo

group, demands for goods and services also increased

proportionally. Increased demand, in turn, created the

situation wherein Kikuyu politicians called for incremental

increases in the allotment accorded their constituents. Luo

politicians, in response to the threat of increased direct

competition from their historical Bantu rivals, took a

number of courses of action available to them. They first

demanded the government augment the apportionment given to

their constituents, and they strengthened the intranational

trade network with the neighboring Luhya group, which,

although Bantu in its origins and language, have

historically felt some affinity with their Nilotic neighbors

(cf. Parkin, 1977; Berg-Schlosser, 1984).

The scenario above typifies the ethnic struggle in

postmodern Kenya, especially in light of Larmouth (1987),

who argues that an important factor in the maintenance of

ethnic identity is economic development. In a multi-ethnic

nation, such as Kenya, if one group is more economically

advantaged, the less advantaged group will either try to

identify in some way with the advantaged group or attempt to

assert their own identity.

Berg-Schlosser's (1984) comprehensive study of Kenya's

seven major ethnicities serves as an appropriate resource

for a further description of the Kikuyu and the Luo and the

inherent competition between them. According to Berg-

Schlosser, the Kikuyu tend to be a homogeneous group both

socially and culturally, although somewhat less traditional

than many of their Bantu and Nilotic counterparts. The core

of the Kikuyu world view, as argued by Cavicchi (1976),

rests in a strong belief in God as creator of the ewarth and

the Kikuyu people, and mutual respect and acceptance of all,

"even foreigners" (184). Quoting Jovenale Getao, a teacher

in the Catholic Mission Limuru, Cavacchi states,

On inquiring about the Kikuyu way with the old
people, I have come to understand that the Kikuyu
who know the true Kikuyu-was do not insult their
medicine man. The way I think about it all is
this: Let us develop a true mutual understanding
with the Great-ones (elders) and small ones. (183)

Further, Cavacchi indicates that following the "Kikuyu

way" is to adapt to meet changing conditions, even if those

patterns of living are foreign ones. This value inherent in

the Kikuyu culture perhaps facilitated Kikuyu adoption of

certain western values, as will be discussed below in

greater depth.

Kikuyu society is patrilineal. Leadership is based

upon age wherein elders have the right and duty "to preserve

and interpret the tradition, make rules for new

contingencies, direct military defence, administer justice,

and generally regulate the conduct of the affairs of the

community" (Cavacchi, 1976:17). In marriage, wives become

members of their husband's mbari, clan, and to that clan she

owes her allegiance (Cavacchi, 1976).

In terms of economic wealth, there is evidence of wide

stratification among Kikuyus residing in rural areas vs.

their urban counterparts, especially upper- and middle-class

Kikuyu business people in Nairobi (Berg-Schlosser, 1984).

As the dominant ethnic group in modern Kenya, and as active

participants in the political and business arenas, the

Kikuyu are often the object of envy and hostility among

neighboring ethnicities because of their power and position.

The dominant position of the Kikuyu in modern Kenyan

society resulted largely from their contact with westerners.

Kaplan et al. (1976) indicate that, during the colonial

period, Kikuyus became westernized more rapidly than any

other ethnic group in Kenya. This was due to the fact that

Nairobi, situated approximately half-way between the two

terminii of the East African Railroad (Mombasa and Kampala,

Uganda), is in the environs of Kikuyuland. Kaplan et al.

point out that many Kikuyu left their homesteads to work as

laborers on "white-owned" farms. Moreover, when colonial

schools were established, Kikuyu children profitted greatly.

In fact, Kaplan et al. report that by the late 1970's, twice

as many Kikuyu children were enrolled in school than Luo


Of the Kenyan ethnic groups, not only did Kikuyus reap

the most benefits from weternization, they also bore the

greatest extent of the racism inherent in colonialism

(Kaplan et al., 1976). Their mistreatment by the British

incited their calls for political change and fomented the

Mau Mau revolt, in which Kikuyus had a powerful voice.

After independence, Kikuyus "aggressively" bought land and

businesses, further establishing their role as Kenya's

dominant ethnic group as well as further arousing hostility

from other ethnic groups with which the Kikuyu were

competing for goods and services (cf. Kaplan et al., 1976).

A somewhat surprising statistic brought forth by Berg-

Schlosser (1984) concerns the Kikuyu's view of the social

and political role of women in Kenyan society. Sixty-two

percent of the Kikuyu respondents indicated that women

should have less freedom. Further, 42% said that women

should be less active in the political arena. These

statistics are somewhat surprising given that Kikuyus are

usually perceived as being among the most "progressive"

ethnicities in Kenya (Kimani wa Ngoju, personal

correspondence)2. Actually, when questioned about their

sense of traditionalism ("It's better to stick with what you

have than try new things that you really don't know about"),

a large percentage of Kikuyus (33%) responded positively,

which corresponds to Cavicchi's (1977) field research

wherein he found that,

There appears to be some agreement among the
Kikuyu about the necessity of preserving the
national or tribal tradition. (121)

In contrast to statistics showing fairly high levels of

"conservatism" among Kikuyus vis-a-vis the role of women in

society, a substantially lower percentage of Luo, usually

perceived as being "more traditional," indicated that women

should have less freedom (51% vs. 62%). Moreover, only 30%

of the Luo respondents said women should be less active in

politics. In terms of "traditionalism," percentages for

Luos and Kikuyus were identical.

In sum, although, as Berg Schlosser has indicated, the

Kikuyu ascribe importance to traditional values (cf. Mugo,

1982), their early and extensive contact with British

colonials enabled them to embrace many western cultural

postulates (especially business values). As will be

illustrated below, this factor further served to heighten

the conflict between Kikuyus and Luos. In turn, this

conflict intensified the matter over who would bury Mr.

Otieno and where he would be buried.

The Luo world view appears to be guided by a strong

desire to preserve a sense of harmony within the community,

which is not unlike their Kikuyu counterparts. Ocholla-

Ayayo (1980) argues that Luos place a great deal of

significance on such values as stability, seniority in the

family, tradition, kinship, peace, and cooperation. This

world view is manifest in a multiplicity of religious and

social relationships.

Having once been pastoralists, Luos seek to live in

harmony with their surroundings. The land and Lake Victoria

provide the primary food source for themselves and their

cattle. Elements of nature, especially the sun, hold a

certain esteem among Luos, especially the elderly. As one

Luo respondent in Sytek (1972) stated,

Long ago they worshipped only the sun. .when a
person was sick or dying we prayed to the sun to
heal him. The sun knew all, even the stealthiest
of acts. .We appealed through it for rain
through prayers, but an individual did not pray to
the sun to help him individually. (173)

This respondent added that when the "white men" came,

bringing with them a western-type cosmology, the Luo concept

of the created order changed also.

When the white man came he brought a new idea of
God along with him. From that time, the belief
that God created the earth was adopted, and that
belief still prevails today. .It is the white
man's foreign ideas that discredited the sun's
might. (173)

In terms of social relationships, the Luo community

consists of a network of kinship relations called wat. A

wat relation is one created by common ancestry and by

marriage. Okoth Okombo (1987) indicates that this system of

relationships is a "transitive" one. If individual A is a

wat to individual B, and individual B is wat to individual

C, then individual A is also in a wat relationship with

individual C. Okoth Okombo argues that wat relationships

are constantly expanding, especially through marriage. The

act of marriage can create a new wat relationship between

two non-wat families.

In addition to wat relationships, there is an inner

kinship core relationship called anvuola. Anvuola

relationships are established by ancestry alone. More

specifically, since every Luo clan society is patrilineal,

every individual becomes a member of his/her father's

anvuola. A maternal uncle, for example, is a wat but not an


Although marriage creates wat relationships, it cannot

establish anvuola ones. A bride is anvuola in her clan of

birth, but not in her marriage family. The woman may be

treated (and often is in intraethnic marriages) as if she

were anvuola, but in fact she is not her husband's


Children fathered in extra-marital relationships by men

who are not married to the mother, while being tolerated and

in many cases accepted by the mother's husband and his

kinspeople, nevertheless do not have an anvuola relationship

with his/her mother's husband. These children, therefore,

cannot participate in the important dala (establishment of a

"home") ritual, and are denied leadership positions in the


Luo kinship patterns determine the extent to which an

individual is considered a member of an out-group. This

becomes highly apparent in light of the Otieno episode,

considering the relationship between Mrs. Otieno and her

husband, S.M. Otieno, and the relationship between Mrs.

Otieno and her husband's clan. In the Luo conception of

kinship, Mrs. Otieno is considered a member of her father's

clan, her mbari in the Kikuyu social system, which is a

network of families who have a common patrilineal origin

(cf. Berg-Schlosser, 1984). Before her marriage to Mr.

Otieno, Mrs. Otieno's relationship to the Luo community was

that of an out-group member. Upon marrying Mr. Otieno, she

became a "wat" relative to her husband and his family. To

the Luo, Mrs. Otieno's relationship to her husband was non-

anyuola, that is, Mrs. Otieno was viewed as a member of an

out-group and not her husband's kinswoman, and therefore

could not, by traditional law, inherit her husband's


Although the Luo world view and notion of kinship is

not significantly different from the corresponding Kikuyu

notions, what is significant, and at the heart of the Otieno

conflict, is the domain of the Kenyan Judicial system (based

upon "western" English Common Law) over cases involving

traditional "next of kin" rights.

As the press reported, the Otienos lived as

"Westernized Africans" during their marriage. They were

members of and regularly attended the All Saints Church

(Presbyterian Church of East Africa) in Nairobi. They

adhered, to some extent, to the theological constructs of

Christianity, which underscores the essential unity of

husband and wife. In other words, in the neo-orthodox

Christian concept of marriage reflected in the theology of

the PCEA, the wife becomes her husband's kinswoman and vice


When Mr. Otieno's Luo clansmen filed suit in the court

system of Kenya, they claimed that they and not Mrs. Otieno

were the rightful "next of kin." The judgment by Mr.

Justice Shields is revealing of the conflict of world views

(cf. Weekly Review, January 9, 1987).

The defendant's (Umira Kager Clan) case is that
the deceased was a Luo and he must be buried in
accordance with Luo customs and traditions. Mr.
Kwach for the defendants sought to distinguish
(between Bantu groups) and the Luo who are Nilotic
people, but he has failed to show how this
difference affected the reasoning of the court.
(Therefore), the custody of the remains of a
deceased belongs to his personal representative of
next of kin, and it is only he or she who has
locus stand to enforce the views of a deceased as
to its place and manner of burial. . The
defendants' (Luo) case is that the deceased was a
Luo and he must be buried in accordance with Luo
customs and traditions. . I can see nothing in
the Judicature Act or elsewhere in our law which
imposes a duty on a personal representative to
bury a Luo or a member of any other tribe in
accordance with tribal custom and in the tribal
homeland. (5)

The notion of kinship, or specifically, "next of kin"

reflected in Justice Shield's judgment is radically

different than that of the Luo's (and Kikuyu's) concept.

British Common Law extends certain rights to the spouse by

marriage, because, in the western conceptualization,

marriage creates a kinship relationship. By contrast, in

traditional cultures like the Luo and Kikuyu, "next of kin"

relationships are created only through patrilineal ancestry.

It is little wonder that Luo emotions were inflamed by

Justice Shield's decision, and not particularly surprising

that one of the most significant and hotly contested

conflicts in modern post-independence Kenya resulted from

this case.

Berg-Schlosser (1984) discusses a number of other

important characteristics of the Luo which further confirm a

sense of rivalry between them and other ethnicities,

especially the Kikuyu. He showed that although many Luo

migrate to large urban areas (Nairobi or Mombasa) for

employment, 87% of all Luos live in their ethnic area. He

also indicated that Luos tend to be less trusting of their

neighbors, relying instead upon kinship networks for mutual

support. Of the Luo respondents surveyed, 31% said they

trust most people, compared to 32% of Kikuyus (not a

significant difference). However, 21% of the Luos said they

trusted no one whereas only 15% of the Kikuyu respondents

indicated that they trusted no one.

The degree of mistrust among Luos is likely due to in-

fighting between political factions aligned according to

ethnic loyalties. In the years just after independence

(1963-1966), Luos and Kikuyus shared power in a single

powerful political party, the Kenya African National Union

(KANU). After 1964, Kikuyus largely dominated KANU.

Dissatisfied, the Luo representatives broke away and formed

the Kenya Political Union (KPU) (cf. Miller, 1984). These

historical events are reflected in the Luo's lack of a sense

of national pride.

Berg-Schlosser (1984) found that 16% of the Luos

surveyed were proud of their political achievements as

compared with 41% satisfaction among Kikuyus. Forty-seven

percent of the Luo respondents indicated that they were not

proud of anything vs. just 11% of the Kikuyu respondents who

were not proud of anything. In a separate but related

survey which measured both national pride and degree of

criticality of the government, Berg-Schlosser discovered

that 19% of the Luo respondents were proud and not critical

of the government. Thirty-nine percent of the Kikuyu

respondents indicated they were proud and not critical. In

terms of those respondents who were not proud and critical

of the government, 21% of the Luos responded positively as

compared to only 3% of the Kikuyu respondents.

As is apparent from the circumstances discussed above

the importance of ethnicity in Kenya augments the potential

for a situation such as the Otieno episode to arise.

Traditional world views and complex systems of social

relationships as well as the extent to which members of a

particular ethnic group appropriate western postulates

influence the way in which the western-style legal system on

which "modern" Kenyan law is established is interpreted and


The Role of Communication in Interethnic Conflict

The discussion above has demonstrated the relationship

between ethnicity and westernization in Kenyan society. It

is important at this point to consider the role language

plays in interethnic relations. Specifically, a useful

heuristic for evaluating communication in interethnic

relations will be presented and examined. I will not only

further establish the importance of ethnicity in Kenyan

society, but also suggest that during situations of

heightened conflict between groups, ethnicity can well be

perceived as a threat to national unity and stability.

It is not surprising that ethnicity and language are

powerfully linked. Language is the means by which paternity

is expressed and maintained, a link with "the glorious

past." Language enables the heroic accounts of the

ancestors to be passed down from one generation to the next

as well as enabling the inculcation of certain values,

mores, and social rules which are deemed important by the


Language behaviors reflect community behavior in a

number of ways. Certain linguistic behavior, such as

dialectal shifts, may be used in particular instances as

cues to an individual's group membership (Bourhis & Giles,


An example of language behavior revealing community

values can be found in an important study by Bourhis and

Giles (1977). Basing their research on a study by Tajfel

(1974), which claims that members of an ethnic group will

compare themselves positively or negatively to members of an

out-group and will utilize variations in the linguistic code

to differentiate themselves from members of the out-group,

Bourhis and Giles analyzed situations wherein language

learners consciously adapted their speech patterns to either

conform to or diverge from the speech code used by members

of an out group. The convergence/divergence was prompted by

such factors as the sociocultural context of the linguistic

event, the individuals' opinions of out-group members, and

the individuals' established motivations for learning the

second language. They concluded that accent convergence

tends to increase when ethnic group membership and

linguistic distinctiveness are not perceived by the

individual as being essential. Accent divergence, by

contrast, occurs when ethnic membership is accounted as very

important to the individual, and when language is perceived

as an important tool for the maintenance of ethnic identity.

Linguistic strategies such as content differentiation and

dialectal switching were used by certain participants to

emphasize their ethnic identity, allowing themselves to be

psychologically and linguistically distinct from out-group


How individuals or groups view their ethnic membership

is often revealed in the way they view their language. Is a

particular ethnic language considered by its native speakers

difficult for out-group members to learn? Is the language

considered poetically expressive or melodious? Should the

language be adopted for general usage or for specific

purposes by neighboring ethnicities? Should the language

become the regional lingua franca? From the answers to

these queries, levels of ethnocentrism as well as the

potential for interethnic conflict among collectivities are

capable of being deduced and predicted. As we shall see

below, the situation in Kenya is complicated by the national

language status of both English and Swahili.

In a 1977 article, Giles et al. (1977) developed a

framework by which interethnic relations, such as those

between Luos and Kikuyus, can be appraised vis-a-vis


Giles, Bourhis, and Taylor argue that language in

intergroup relations has two vital functions. First, it

serves as a symbol of ethnic identity and cultural

solidarity. Second, it emphasizes and signals in-group

membership under conditions wherein the identity of the

group is somehow threatened. The authors further posit

three criteria for assessing ethnic group vitality:

"status," "demography," and "institutional support." From

these criteria, language's role in the maintenance of ethnic

group vitality can be ascertained.

In terms of the status criterion, Giles et al. (1977)

argue that there are four factors which contribute to the

status of an ethnic group: economic status, social status,

sociohistoric status and language status. Economic status

refers to the extent to which a particular group has gained

control over the economic life of its nation, region, and/or

community. A critical question to consider is, to what

extent does a group have control over its own economic

destiny? Those groups which maintain economic superiority

will, by extension, be those afforded higher status.

With reference to the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic groups, it

makes some intuitive sense to argue that as two of the

largest ethnic groups in Kenya, both groups have a

relatively high degree of control over the economic life of

the nation. The true situation, however, is a bit more

complex. It is true that the two ethnicities together

comprise some 34% of the population, and individuals from

these two groups have historically been active in the

political and fiscal life of the nation. However, although

a large number of urbanized, upwardly mobile Luos and

Kikuyus have successfully accommodated their sense of ethnic

diversity for the greater goal of economic prosperity, Berg-

Schlosser (1984) reports that many Luos are satisfied with

the status of "employee" or "civil servant" while Kikuyus

"are clearly the dominant ethnic group today, both

economically and politically" (234). Even stereotypes of

the two groups are reflective of their relative statuses in

Kenyan society.

The Luo are regarded by members of out-groups as

friendly and peaceful, "hard working and diligent" in

matters of education (Berg-Schlosser, 1984). By contrast,

the Kikuyu are viewed by others as "hard workers" and

industrious, especially in the business sector. Because of

their success, the Kikuyu are seen as susceptible to

corruption, "having many thieves and robbers among them"

(Berg-Schlosser, 1984:66).

Social status refers to the level of esteem a group

affords itself. Arguably, both Luos and Kikuyus afford a

high level of esteem to their groups both within the

boundaries of their ethnic areas and outside their borders.

This is evidenced with respect to the Luos by the existence

of strong clan organizations in Nairobi and Mombasa. Even

in the coastal city of Malindi, far removed from the Luo

areas around Lake Victoria (Western Province), a large group

of Luo women gather each day at the local soccer stadium to

make traditional crafts, sing Luo songs, and dance

traditional dances. Moreover, according to Berg-Schlosser's

(1984) study,

It can be said that the Kikuyu and Kamba, despite
regional variations, traditionally showed the
greatest degree of social unity. Next are the
Maasai and the Luo, who, despite consisting of
distinct "subtribes" in the past, demonstrate a
great measure of cultural similarity and who have
always been known to members of these groups
themselves and to outsiders by a common "tribal"
name. (202)

The third criterion, sociohistorical status, refers to

the extent to which groups have fought to defend and

maintain their ethnic identity. The Otieno episode may very

well be a prototypical illustration of the extent to which

sociohistorical status is important to the Luo ethnic group.

For a period of nearly six months, the Umira Kager Clan

fought to maintain their traditional burial customs, the

primary one of which states that the body of a Luo clansman

must be returned to his ethnic area for interment.

Finally, regarding language status, Giles et al. state,

"language's history, prestige value, and the degree to which

it has undergone standardization may be sources of pride or

shame for members of a linguistic community" (312). Indeed,

both Dholuo and Kikuyu are sources of pride within the

communities in which they are used (cf. Kaplan et al.,

1976). However, the linguistic situation in Kenya is

complicated by the de facto national status of English and

Swahili (cf. below). There appears to be a transfer of

prestige value by Kenya's ethnicities onto one or both

national languages. A very low percentage of Luos, for

example, claim proficiency in Swahili, due in part to its

status as a Bantu language and, during the early stages of

Kenyan independence, the language of lower socio-economic

levels (cf. Whiteley, 1974). In contrast, Luos (and

Kikuyus) generally possess a high proficiency in English,

due largely to its perceived status as the language of

technology and economic success.

Factors of linguistic code prestige are evidenced in

two studies, one observational and the other a formal study

by Parkin (1977). On several occasions during my 1988

summer Swahili field study in Kenya, I visited the Luo craft

guild of Malindi, described above. The guild members all

used Dholuo as their conversational code among themselves.

With outsiders such as myself they preferred English to

Swahili, even though 1) they lived in a predominantly

Swahili-speaking area, and 2) I attempted to converse with

them in Swahili. Although they praised my level of

"fluency" in Swahili, the women in the guild would use

English with rare intermittent code switching to Swahili.

Parkin (1977), in an important study of multilingualism

in Nairobi, contends that code switching between English,

Swahili, and ethnic languages has both socioeconomic and

ethnic components. English, according to Parkin, is the

"high diatype" in bilingual conversations, reflective of its

status as the language of education and commerce. Swahili,

by contrast,

is likely to emerge as a middle diatype by seeming
to transcend two kinds of social particularism:
the localized particularism of a single ethnic
group connoted by the use of the vernacular: and
non-localized particularism of high socio-economic
status connoted by use of English. (206)

Demographic criteria play an essential role in the

assessment of ethnic group vitality. Under the heading

"demographics," Giles et al. (1977) distinguish three

subheadings: "group distribution," "group numbers," and

"institutional support."

The vitality of an ethnic group is determined by the

extent to which a group is tied to an ancestral homeland,

and the extent to which that home area is a vivifying

sociopolitical entity within the nation. Likewise,

widespread distribution of an ethnic group often leads to a

low sense of vitality. In the case of the Luo ethnic group,

their attachment to their ethnic area remains strong (Berg-

Schlosser, 1984). This is evidenced by the distinction made

between a "house" and a "home," an important issue in the

Otieno case.

Okoth Okombo (1987) points out that Dholuo has two

words that represent the English equivalent "home." The

first, dala, denotes both the physical structure and the

ritual involved in blessing the structure. Dalas can only

be constructed in Luo territory. By contrast, an ot denotes

a physical structure only. There is no ritual involved in

the construction of an ot. A Luo can possess an ot anywhere

in the world, but can only own a dala in Luoland.

Consequently, in his testimony before the Kenya Court of

Appeals, Omolo Siranga, the Umira Kager Clan representative

in Nairobi, stated, "Luos have houses but no homes in

Nairobi." Therefore, Luo kinspeople are tied to their

ethnic area because their "homes" are there. When a Luo

kinsman dies, the body is returned "home" for burial.

The group numbers criterion refers to such elements as

birth rate, mixed marriages, immigration, and emigration.

Specifically concerning language behavior in mixed marriage

situations, Giles et al. argue that,

subordinate groups are likely to maintain a higher
degree of vitality when their language retention
ratio is high, and when instances of
ethnolinguistically mixed-marriages is low or
favorable to the subordinate group. (314)

Although the authors' point may have general validity,

competition between individual and group goals may be an

overriding factor affecting ethnic vitality. In the Otieno

case, for example, it was revealed in the courtroom

testimony of Mrs. Otieno that she and S.M. predominantly

spoke English at home, intermixed with Swahili. Her

testimony also revealed that S.M. was "a cosmopolitan who

adopted a Western type lifestyle" (S.M. Otieno, 1987:105).

In other words, the Otienos' lifestyle could be

characterized as one befitting persons whose values

reflected such Western postulates as individual attainment

and economic prosperity. Although the Otieno marriage was

heterolinguistic and ethnically mixed, their individual

goals as successful "westernized" citizens in a post-

colonial state superseded their distinctiveness as members

of a particular ethnic group.

According to the "institutional support" criterion

discussed by Giles et al. (1977), those ethnicities with

more highly organized political, social, and religious

structures will tend to be more viable than those which are

loosely organized. Further, groups which are heavily

represented in the institutional hierarchy of the community

and/or state have a higher degree of vitality than those

poorly represented.

Both the Kikuyu and Luo groups score highly in this

area. Both have historically taken an active role in

national politics since the advent of the colonial era.

Occasions of interethnic conflict between Kikuyus and Luos

have been occasioned by competition for ascendancy in the

political arena. The formation of the predominately Luo

KADU (Kenya African Democratic Party) from KANU (Kenya

African National Union) resulted from among other things

political disagreements along interethnic lines (cf. Ogot,


Having established functional criteria for analyzing

the vitality of ethnic groups in a sociopolitical context,

the Giles et al. discuss the notion of cognitive

alternatives. Ethnic groups will perceive their stability

or instability in terms of the extent to which the group

believes its social position can be changed or reversed. In

cases where no cognitive alternatives exist (i.e. in cases

wherein little change in the sociopolitical status quo is

perceived), group members may well adopt individual actions

as a means of attaining a positive social identity. Self-

oriented actions, according to Tajfel (1974), bring about a

positive social identity because individuals tend to compare

themselves with other members of the in-group rather than

with members of the more powerful out-group.

Further, Tajfel posits that ethnic groups themselves

can attain a positive change in their self-identity by: a)

assimilating culturally with the dominant group, b)

redefining the negatively-valued characteristics of one's

own group as positive, c) creating new criteria for

intergroup comparison, and d) competing directly with the

more-powerful out-group.

Luos, for example, have effected a positive self-

identity by directly competing with Kikuyus in both the

political and economic sectors. Luos have also succeeded in

establishing new criteria of comparison which conform to the

sociocultural situation. Although urban Luo businessmen

work alongside their Kikuyu counterparts toward the goal of

achieving a higher standard of living, they rarely adopt

their cultural postulates. Rather, urban Luos and Kikuyus

embrace certain Western values which enable them to achieve

their individual goals. Berg-Schlosser (1984) indicates

that urban Luos are often seen wearing stylish Western

business suits which give them the appearance of successful


With respect to language use, minority groups which

desire to build a more positive image may either adopt the

linguistic characteristics of the dominant group or vary

their language so as to be distinctive. Dominant groups, by

contrast, will maintain their characteristic speech code

when no threat is perceived to their dominance. Should a

threat be perceived, members of the dominant group may vary

their speech style to symbolize their distinctiveness.

The situation in Kenya is complicated by the existence

of two de facto national languages, English and Swahili.

These languages and the sociocultural context in which they

are used is the subject of the following discussion. Among

the salient questions considered are, how was Swahili chosen

as a national language? On what occasions is Swahili

preferred to English? English to Swahili? And what

cultural values are inherent in the use of the two


The Role of Swahili and English in Kenya

The prominence of Swahili as a national language,

according to Gorman (1974), increased after Kenyan

independence in December, 1964. The parliamentary

celebration of independence was occasioned by a speech in

Swahili by President Kenyatta. It was on that occasion that

a prominent member of Parliament, Dr. Waiyaki, commented (in

Gorman, 1974),

There is no question now of deciding whether or
not Swahili will become the national language.
The President of the Republic decided for us and
we are committed to accept Swahili as the national
language. (446)

As a national language, Swahili has the distinct

position of promoting a sense of national identity for many

Kenyans. Speaking and/or writing Swahili is symbolic of an

individual's membership in the Kenyan Republic. As an

African language, Swahili carries for individuals the

connotations of "solidarity" as Africans, "brotherhood" in

an independent republic free of colonial rule, and

"neutrality" as Kenyans rather than Kikuyus, Luos,

Mijikenda, etc.

Despite its de facto status as the national language of

Kenya, the reality of Swahili's standing in Kenyan society

is more complex. As Whiteley (1974) points out, situations

of multilingualism abound in Kenya, especially in the cities

and towns, where the means of communication are sufficient,

where personal mobility is high, and where there are

linguistically heterogeneous communities. Eastman (1981:20)

further acknowledges that not only is there a "trifocal

language situation" in modern Kenya (an interplay between

English, Swahili, and numerous ethnic languages), but the

status of Swahili itself has evolved to the extent that

there are two, and perhaps three, distinctive dialects

spoken in Kenya (diglossia). According to Eastman, the high

diatype, known as Kimvita, "is characterized by a strong

grammatical and literary tradition" (20). The low diatype,

used primarily for communication between people of widely

divergent linguistic backgrounds, is an admixture of

standard Swahili and local languages and/or linguae francae.

As Eastman (1984:299) states,

For people who have been educated in Swahili, or
whose parents were and they now have it as their
first language, the general Swahili variety they
mean when they say they know Swahili is the
standard (high diatype). For people who learned
Swahili in multilingual towns or villages as a way
to communicate with people with whom they had no
other mutually intelligible language in common,
the general Swahili variety they mean when they
say they know Swahili is a pidginized (Mixed) form
and, in particular, a form geared to the purpose
they have in using it or to the people with whom
they need to use it. (298)

A third variety, the old standard Swahili (the language

of those who perceive themselves as being Waswahili

("Swahili people") exists. But, as Eastman points out, it

is spoken primarily by speakers whose L1 is Swahili.

Eastman, in a 1984 study, concludes that the growing number

of speakers who both promote and actually use the high

diatype (Kimvita) are educated, non-native speakers of

Swahili, while non-educated, non-native speakers are likely

to use the low "mixed" diatype.

The data presented and analyzed in Chapter Six (see

below), seem to both support and disconfirm Eastman's

conclusions. Two of the experimental respondents, both

highly educated, spoke the high diatype Kimvita. They

indicated, however, that they seldom speak Swahili in

everyday conversation. However, they both stated that they

had taught Swahili, and were more accustomed to using the

"proper standard" Swahili (in this case, Kimvita) with their

students. By contrast, two of the experimental respondents,

also both highly educated, non-native speakers of Swahili,

spoke a pidginized form of Swahili, indicating that they too

rarely use Swahili, and only when communicating with people

from different linguistic backgrounds, especially with

persons of lower socio-economic status. The data appear to

exhibit a pattern whereby the Swahili diatype chosen by

educated, non-native speakers is partially driven by

contextual-cum-pragmatic variables. If a speaker is

conversing with another educated person, and the

interlocutor chooses Swahili as the code, that speaker will

likely use a high diatype (usually Kimvita). At the same

time, if an educated speaker is conversing with someone who

lacks education, the code chosen will probably be a mixed

variety of Swahili. More research needs to be done in order

to confirm or repudiate this pattern.

The choice to use the high diatype of Swahili or the

mixed (low) code is partially determined by ethnic makeup.

According to Parkin (1977), ethnic groups in Kenya continue

to maintain a high degree of distinctiveness. An

individual's ethnicity provides a filter through which

people understand who they are. Moreover, ethnicity equips

individuals with a recognition of their unique place in

society. Consequently, an individual's close friends are

likely to be chosen from among one's own ethnic group. As

Parkin's research demonstrated, this is true even for those

individuals living in large metropolitan areas. The type of

Swahili code chosen, accordingly, will be determined by the

extent to which the group using the code views themselves as

being distinct from out-groups. In other words, as Parkin

discovered, Luo groups in Nairobi will speak a mixed variety

of Swahili, which is interlaced with Dholuo lexemes, when

they wish to assert their group distinctiveness.

In contrast to Swahili's general position as a middle

diatype in a triglossic culture, English represents the

language of progress and education. According to Whiteley's

research on Kenyan multilingualism (1974), few non-Bantu

speakers claim a high degree of proficiency in Swahili

because there is more incentive for them to learn English

than Swahili, especially in cities and towns. Furthermore,

there appears to be a fairly strong aversion among non-Bantu

speakers to learning Swahili. Among Bantu speakers,

although a sizable percentage claim proficiency in Swahili

(over 80%), an equally large percentage claim proficiency in

English. What these findings (supported by Parkin, 1977)

appear to indicate is that Swahili and English are in

competition, with English being appropriated as the language

of upper class professionals and middle class civil

servants, the highly educated, and the upwardly mobile.

Swahili, by contrast, is the language of "blue-collar

workers." Parkin argues that English may even be a long-

term threat to Swahili in the towns and cities due to the

flood of young, educated, English-speaking migrants from

rural areas.

In summary, the position of Swahili in the Kenyan

context can be viewed in two distinct ways, which may, at

first glance, appear paradoxical: 1) Swahili is an important

champion of national unity and African identity, and 2) the

use of Swahili indicates an individual's social status in

the culture. These two facets of the role of Swahili in

Kenyan society were confirmed during my visit to Kenya in

1988. At the University of Nairobi, an auditorium full of

young students listened to political speeches in Swahili

concerning the importance of being "African," the importance

of supporting one's Kenyan identity over one's ethnic

designation. Outside the auditorium, students were milling

about talking to one another in English about a lecture they

had just heard, about the world political situation, and

about their future plans and goals upon graduation from the

university. That very afternoon, back at the hotel, the

manager, who was Kikuyu, was severely berating one of the

employees, a Luo, for his laziness and inefficiency.

Although both regularly conversed with each other in

English, the manager used Swahili to rebuke the employee.

The Role of the Press in Kenya

In the discussions above, it has been demonstrated that

the notion of ethnicity plays a powerful role in Kenyan

society. Moreover, communication among individuals or

groups of individuals is often complicated by ethnic values.

The question remains, however, is ethnicity a significant

issue in the Kenyan press. I will argue, using data from

the Swahili-language weekly, Taifa Weekly, that stories

highlighting national goals supersede ones involving

ethnicity. I will posit that, although stories overtly

concerning "ethnicity" are rare in the Kenyan press, when

incidents involving ethnic groups warrant press coverage,

they are almost without exception the edition's lead story.

In order to establish a basis for analyzing the Kenyan

press' philosophy toward the overt coverage of ethnicity, we

must examine African press values in general. Ochs (1986)

argues that the African press is guided by four predominant

values: "psycho-political security," "ideological kinship

with neighboring countries," "imperatives of national

policy," "serving the national image."

Conditions of political instability in post-colonial

Africa generated among government and press organizations

(which are, in many cases, official "mouthpieces" for the

government or ruling party) the need for reassuring news.

Even in Kenya, where the two largest circulating dailies,

Daily Nation and Taifa Leo, are foreign owned, and where the

press enjoys relative "freedom" to print news critical of

the government, the overwhelming number of stories are

favorable to the government or heavily edited so as to be

fairly devoid of politics. In the main, the Kenyan press

adheres to a philosophy of the role of the press established

by the late President Jomo Kenyatta in a 1978 speech.

The influence for good exerted by the press should
be rooted here in the desire to inform and inspire
the people. The press should positively promote
national development and growing self-respect.
And the press should always seek to coalesce,
rather than to isolate, the different cultures and
aspirations and standards of advancement which
make up our new nation. (in Wilcox, 1987:574)

Although it may be admirable to suggest that the Kenyan

press continues to be guided by such lofty ideals, the

reality of the situation is quite different. Journalists,

especially those who work for the foreign owned Daily Nation

and Taifa Weekly/Leo, are often harassed and imprisoned for

writing stories critical of governmental policy. Ochs

(1988) reports that six journalist from Daily Nation were

detained for six days in 1981 for violating one of the press

control laws. Daily Nation had been critical of the

government's handling of a nation-wide doctors strike.

Shortly afterwards, President Moi stated,

The persistent rebellious attitude of those
concerned with the selection of editorial matters
within the Nation newspapers cannot be viewed as
being in the interests of the state. They can
only be described as sectarian and tribally
motivated. (in Ochs, 1988:21)

Moi's statement is particularly significant in light of

this present discussion. Matters of ethnicity are viewed,

at least officially, as being contrary to national goals of

unity and modernity. It would follow, given the fact that

the Kenyan press prints stories largely favorable to the

government or risk reprisals, that overt news stories

regarding ethnicity would not be among their highest

priorities, unless either the content of the story was out

of the ordinary or involved prominent figures, both

conditions of which were fulfilled by the Otieno episode.

The second value suggested by Ochs is, what he terms,

the "community of interests." Basically what is meant by

"community of interests" is intraregional affinity. African

press organizations feel "an ideological kinship" with those

of neighboring countries, and will more likely highlight

African stories, especially those involving interregional

neighbors, than stories from non-African nations. This

value is significantly manifest in the Kenyan Press. During

the period between January 3 and December 19, 1987, Taifa

Weekly ran 18 front page stories which can be classified as

"foreign" news. Of those 18 stories, only three involved

non-African states. And of the 15 "African" articles, 9

covered situations in East Africa (8 concerning Uganda, with

which Kenya was having a major dispute). The remaining six

articles all pertained to such inter-African conflict

situations as the Libya-Chad war, the assassination of the

President of Burkina Faso, the death of President Bokassa of

the Central African Republic.

I would argue that the third and fourth values,

suggested by Ochs, are interrelated, and for our discussion

will be addressed together. Ochs argues that the African

press places a great deal of emphasis on the "imperatives of

national policy," and "serving the national image."

Editorial policies of many (if not all) African press

organizations favor stories which view the nation in a

positive light. This value appears to hold throughout

Africa, whether the press is considered generally

independent of governmental control (such as the Nation

newspapers of Kenya), or whether the press organization is

the "mouthpiece" of the government in power (such as Kenya

Times, which was established by President Moi as the

official newspaper of the ruling KANU party).

The salience of this value was tested by surveying the

front page articles of the 1987 offerings of the Swahili-

language weekly, Taifa Weekly (see above & Table 2.1). In

all, 196 stories were surveyed vis-a-vis their major topic.

Articles were then categorized as follows: politics,

ethnicity, crime, human interest (which includes disaster



#art. 96 13 36 13 18 13 7
%art. 49 6.6 18.4 6.6 9.2 6.6 3.6
#lead 26 12 6 1 3 1 1
%lead 52 24 12 2 6 2 2

stories (automobile accidents, airplane crashes, fires,

drownings etc.), world events, economics/business, and

others (sports, stories about religion and the church).

The survey revealed that of the 196 articles surveyed,

96 stories (48%) concerned national politics. Moreover, 40

of the 96 stories directly pertained to President Moi's

activities as President of the Republic. The majority of

these included highlights of speeches made to various

political and trade organizations and civic groups.

The full significance of political stories in Taifa

Weekly can be discerned from the number and percentages of

leads afforded to political articles. As Table 2.1

evidences, 26 lead articles (out of 50 editions surveyed) or

52% pertained to political situations.

The survey also revealed some interesting results

concerning the general status of ethnicity in the press.

Table 2.1 indicates that Taifa Weekly covered the Otieno

episode as a lead article (characterized by 80 point type

headlines, and located right under the newspaper

identification banner) on 11 occasions while the case was

making national news (January 3 May 23, 1987). After the

May 23rd edition, ethnic issues were not included in front

page stories again until October 31. On that occasion, the

lead article described a speech by President Moi, wherein he

decried "ethnicity" in politics. Moi indicated that he was

convinced that ethnic partisanship was at the root of

national disunity, and he called on all politicians at both

the national and local levels to cease interjecting ethnic

values into political action. Instead, he said, Kenyans

need to espouse "oneness" and "unity." After this story,

ethnicity was not mentioned again on the front page for the

remainder of the year.

During the Otieno affair, interestingly, Taifa Weekly

continued to run stories describing President Moi's

activities, as well as the ongoing political activities of

the nation. However, not at any time during this period did

Taifa Weekly print reactions by political functionaries

(especially President Moi) to the Otieno episode. It seemed

as if Taifa Weekly wanted (or expected) the reader to

believe that the Otieno episode was a separate issue from

the sociopolitical life of the nation. But as The Weekly

Review intimated in a May 22, 1987 exclusive, the Otieno

episode evoked considerable debate judging from the

reactions of a number of Members of Parliament interviewed

immediately after the final judgment was rendered. One such

Member of Parliament, Dr. Josephat Karanja, MP for Methare,


As soon as Parliament resumes, I am going to put
the burial matter on the order paper again. It is
quite clear that the laws as applied now are
discriminatory to widows. I think we ought to
have laws governing the disposal of people's
remains so as to indicate, whenever possible, who
should be responsible for the burial of a spouse.
. The main thing is to bring customary laws
within the ambit of written laws. I know it is
not going to be easy because people have very
divergent views and backgrounds. (25)

Is ethnicity, therefore, a significant issue in the

press? In general, probably not although I would argue

ethnicity remains a covert issue. However, the complete

answer to this question hinges on the extent to which

episodes in which ethnicity is the most important causative

factor (perceived or real) impact the political system of

the nation. Ethnicity can be used as a convenient defense

for sociopolitical unrest. This was evidenced in a recent

editorial in the English-language daily Kenya Times, the

official "mouthpiece" of KANU. The editorial stated that

the current dissension over the continuance of a one-party

state in Kenya can be attributed to ethnic loyalties,

especially among the Kikuyu (Wanyande, 1990, personal

communication). Moreover, we have seen that the Otieno

affair had an enormous influence on practically every facet

of Kenyan life, politics, law, social customs, not to

mention the "traditionalism" vs. "modernity" debate. It is

significant, that the Kenyan Press, in this case, Taifa

Weekly, chose to report only the details of the trial

itself. Notably absent were stories covering the reactions

to important legal decisions by significant political

figures. What appears to be operating are journalistic

values (manifest in editorial policies) which emphasize

security amid threats to the social fabric of the society,

and a national policy of unity amid diversity.


This chapter has been dedicated to cataloging and

analyzing a variety of sociocultural features inherent in

Kenyan society in general, and in the Otieno episode in

particular. I have demonstrated that ethnicity is an

important factor in virtually every sphere of Kenyan life,

most especially politics. Conflicts between Luos and

Kikuyus, which have deep historical roots, are primarily

exhibited in the political arena as a competition for

political power and in the economic sphere as a competition

for goods and services. The Otieno episode simply brought

into focus deep-seated ethnic rivalries.

I have also shown that ethnicity affects not only

communication between individuals and groups, but it also

influences language choice, especially the choice between

Swahili and English.

Finally, a number of journalistic values common to the

African press were discussed in terms of their pertinence to

the Kenyan press. It was shown that these values affected

the way Taifa Weekly reported the Otieno episode vis-&-vis

political and other events in Kenyan life.

As we shall see as the discussion progresses, these

sociocultural factors directly influence the linguistic

analysis of press discourse. Moreover, as will be

demonstrated in Chapter Six, values pertaining to ethnicity

as well as opinions concerning the role of the press in

society motivate newspaper readers' interpretation of

stories relating to the Otieno episode.


'According to Wanyande (communication), the 1980
official Kenyan census, slated to be published soon after
the data was compiled, was declared null and void by the
government due to counting irregularities. Population
figures of some ethnicities were inflated to increase their
representation in the Kenyan Parliament. Therefore, the
census figures of 1979 are the latest published population
statistics available.
2This may be a partial explanation for the fact that
Mrs. Otieno received very little overt support from Kikuyus
(Kimani wa Ngoju & K. Kazungu, personal correspondence).
During the protracted Otieno episode, neither the Daily
Nation nor Taifa Leo/Weekly made any mention of community
support in the form of harambees (fund raising events) on
behalf of Mrs. Otieno. Both newspapers did, however,
mention clan fund raising activities for legal services
incurred by Luo litigants.


While the focus of Chapter Two was on those contextual

variables which influence communicative events, Chapter

Three examines the role of human cognition, specifically

"schema theory (framing), in the understanding and

interpretation of discourse.

Events in the lives of human beings do not occur in

isolation. The very nature of an "event" presupposes that

it was experienced by one or more persons who interpreted

the circumstance in a particular way vis-a-vis their own

world view. The Otieno episode, for instance, would

probably not have generated such controversy had various

individuals not understood the event from widely conflicting

view points. In other words, what created saliency in the

Otieno episode was neither the death of Mr. Otieno nor the

necessity of interring his body. Rather, what made a

commonly occurring, natural event a controversy was what the

witnesses to the event perceived as being important, i.e.

traditional Luo law in direct conflict with Western law.

Therefore, to fully understand an event, it is necessary to

not only have a broad understanding of the context in which

the event happened, but also to comprehend how events are

interpreted and analyzed by human beings. To accomplish

this it is necessary to understand the nature of human

cognition. How is knowledge organized in the human mind?

How are some concepts rendered relevant while others are

deemed relatively unimportant? Some qualification is in

order before the discussion cautiously proceeds. The nature

of human cognition is a vast subject area. Although an

immense literature concerning the nature of human cognition

has been produced, the character and scope human knowledge

is still speculative and controversial. This chapter deals

with a single metaphor, "schema theory" (framing). It is

presupposed at the outset that "schema theory" is simply a

convenient metaphor for explaining how knowledge is

organized in the human mind, but does not define the

totality of human knowledge.

The goal of this chapter is to investigate the nature

of "schema theory" (framing) and its effects on the

production of textual discourse. I will proceed with an in

depth examination of current research into the nature of

schema theory, focusing some attention on how human beings

process the information they perceive. Next, I will

investigate the role of human cognition on the production

and interpretation of written discourse, focusing

specifically on a variety of semantic and syntactic

variables. Further, I will show through the analysis of two

news texts, one in Swahili and the other in English, that

the application of cognitive variables to written discourse

has heuristic value cross-linguistically.

The Nature of Schema Theory

When journalists write stories covering events of

interest, they utilize their knowledge of the world to

interpret those events to the reading public. Likewise, when

people read those stories, they use their knowledge of the

world to understand them (cf. Potts & Peterson, 1989). One

way of discussing how knowledge is organized is in terms of

a networking of concepts called "frames" (Tannen, 1979).

When a certain concept is instantiated by a text, it is

suggested that other related concepts within the frame

network are also instantiated, some more highly activated

than others (Deane, 1989). The point at which the network,

or "frame," is entered determines which concepts are

"foregrounded" and which are backgroundedd." The use of the

term "foreground" in this case refers to those concepts

which, in Chafe's (1987) theory, have been activated in the

mind of the reader and do not require a great deal of time

nor energy to process. Sperber and Wilson (1986) term this

type of information "relevant."

The instantiation of highly salient, relevant concepts

may activate the instantiation of other salient concepts

viz. "spreading activation," a metaphor which attempts to

explain how concepts are connected in human cognition.

According to Deane (1989),

Attention (within a frame) is represented
quantitatively as the degree of "activation" of a
concept; thus, the more active a concept is, the
nearer it is to the focus of attention.
Furthermore, the theory claims, activation tends
to spread from a highly active concept to its
neighbors in the conceptual network. For example,
if I am focusing my attention on a house, I am
also paying attention to its roof, since the two
concepts are connected to each other in semantic
memory. (36)

If an activated concept is mentioned several times, or

is continued throughout the text (usually by means of

anaphorization), it is considered "entrenched" information.

"Entrenched" concepts are considered foregrounded because

they are easy to process since their subsequent mention

continues to keep the concept activated in the mind of the


"Background" information refers to those concepts which

have been activated by the instantiated frame and are

capable of being activated, but only at a cost of time and

energy to the reader.

There has been a plethora of research recently into the

nature of human cognition. Specifically, researchers have

been interested in the representation of concepts in human

memory and the strategies used to store and retrieve those


Tannen (1979) hypothesizes that frames, the

representation of information in memory, are what enable

humans to make sense of events in the world. She argues

that the foundation of the theory that human cognition is

organized in terms of conceptual networks is,

The realization that people approach the world not
as naive, blank-slate receptacles who take in
stimuli as if they exist in some independent and
objective way, but, rather, as sophisticated
veterans of perception who have stored their prior
experiences as an organized mass, and who see
events and objects in the world in relation to
each other and in relation to their prior
experience. This prior experience or organized
knowledge takes the form of expectations about the
world, and, in the vast majority of cases, the
world confirms these expectations, saving
individuals from having to figure things out anew.

To confirm the theory that not only is human cognition

organized in terms of conceptual networks of information

learned through human experience, but that these networks

are organized hierarchically, she asked a group of native

Greek and English speakers to recall events from a short

film they had been shown. She found that the respondents

not only frame the information presented to them, but they

also construct contextual frames which interact and overlap

with the informational frame. These contextual frames

include the respondents' attitudes toward participating in

an experiment, being tape recorded, being interviewed, and

the environment in which they were interviewed. Contextual


frames, she concludes, affect responses to recall tests and

must be considered in the analysis.

Further, Tannen asserts that a person's expectations of

an event impacts their recall of the event. Respondents

cannot recall everything. Rather, they will remember those

concepts and events which are salient to their expectations

of the story. Respondents may exclude an event from recall

that another respondent views as being central, and vice

versa. Tannen found that respondents were selective in what

they chose to omit and include, sometimes choosing to insert

descriptions of events which were not a part of the film.

Selective memory is an important factor in the

production of news texts. A journalist covering an event

cannot possibly report every single detail. Rather, he/she

will include or highlight details which best fit the schema

or slant he/she has decided to convey. The final product,

i.e. news text, will "possess" implicit and explicit

knowledge about the writer's perspective and convey the

writer's sociopolitical perspective on the event (cf.

Freedle, Naus, & Schwartz, 1978; Frederiksen 1978).

For example, a lead article appeared in the May 2, 1990,

edition of the Gainesville Sun which covered a collision

between a bus and a car. No one was seriously hurt on the

bus but a passenger in the car was killed. In the story's

lead, the reporter included the major details of the story

but interpreted the accident from the point of view of the

occupants of the bus rather than the car, even though the

occupants of the car fared far worse than those in the bus.

To understand, albeit partially, why the reporter chose this

particular point of view, it is necessary to consider the

larger context of this particular situation. Two years ago

there was a fatal bus accident in Levy County (adjacent to

Alachua County, of which Gainesville is the county seat).

The Gainesville Sun not only ran the story as its lead in

the edition immediately following the accident, but also ran

a series of articles on bus safety. In other words, in the

aftermath of the Levy County tragedy, the press created a

heightened sensitivity among residents of North Central

Florida to accidents involving busses loaded with school

children. The slant of the Sun's reporter in the May 2

article is reflective of both the serious nature of this

particular accident itself, and of school bus accidents in

general, especially since there was the potential that the

accident could have been much worse.

Tannen concludes that information is not only organized

in terms of conceptual frames, but that these frames are

interactive and hierarchical, some networks being more

central than others depending upon the intention of the


An important study concerning the nature of cognitive

processing was conducted by Shiffrin and Schneider (1977).

Like Tannen, Shiffrin and Schneider argue that human memory

is a large collection of interrelated networks of concepts

which are established though the learning process. These

interrelated networks, according to Clark and Haviland

(1979), are contained within long term memory, and are

available for activation.

Some of these networks and their related concepts are

easier to retrieve than others. Given a particular input,

certain networks will be "automatically" activated every

time that input is present. Activation vis-&-vis "automatic

processing" is extremely fast, almost instantaneous. An

anecdotal example may be illustrative of automatic

processing. Not long ago I had a conversation with a

Tanzanian friend from Bukoba, a town in the northwestern

part of Tanzania near Lake Victoria. I mentioned the fact

that I had met and spoken to "Okoth-Okombo" regarding the

Otieno episode. My friend replied, "Okoth-Okombo should

know about it since he is a Luo." In other words, the mere

mention of the name "Okoth-Okombo" activated into my

friend's consciousness a network of concepts wherein "Luo"

was the most relevant. The reason I believe the name alone

activated the network is because my friend neither knows

Okoth-Okombo personally, nor is she familiar with Okoth-

Okombo's work on the Otieno episode.

Shiffrin and Schneider (1977) further distinguish a

second type of processing they term "controlled processing."

Controlled processing is the temporary and sequential

activation of a network of concepts into short term memory.

Because, as Shiffrin and Schneider speculate, human beings

are limited capacity processors, only one such network can

be activated at a time without interference from other

concepts (cf. Chafe, 1980). In contrast to automatic

processing, controlled processing, according to McLaughlin

(1987), is not "a learned response," and is not accomplished

without costs in time and energy.

According to Shiffrin and Schneider (1977), concepts

become automaticized, i.e. available to be automatically

activated given the right input, through first being

regulated by controlled processing. In other words,

concepts must be activated in short term memory repeatedly

in order for them to be learned and become an established

part of a person's conceptual framework. Once a concept

becomes ensconced within a conceptual network in long term

memory, that concept has the potential of being activated by

automatic processing with relatively low time and energy


Research by Abbott et al. (1985) support and extend the

work of Shiffrin and Schneider. According to Abbott et al.,

information is organized in memory such that readers have

access to relevant information while ignoring unimportant

material. The authors term this organization "scripts"

which corresponds to the "conceptual nodes" proposed by

Shiffrin and Schneider. "Scripts" represent the knowledge

of commonplace, well-practiced stereotypic events persons

have experienced over time. When one concept is activated,

others are also accessed. Chafe (1980) designates this

process "idea unit" activation.

Consider one such script, "reading the newspaper." For

example, a regular reader of one or both of the Kenyan

dailies, Daily Nation and Taifa Leo, "knows" that the

headline together with the first paragraph of a story, or

"lead," summarizes the main point of the article. It is

probable that the reader also "knows" that the lead article

occurs on the front page, midway down, bordered by a

photograph. Moreover, the lead story's headlines are larger

than those of the other stories on the page. Therefore,

when a reader picks up a newspaper, his/her attention is

immediately drawn to the lead article's headline and lead,

because he/she "knows" how to read a newspaper, i.e. how to

glean the most important information without expending an

abundance of time and energy in the process. Scripts, such

as reading the newspaper, are significant in human cognition

because, without some mental representation of stereotypical

actions and events, humans would expend a significant amount

of time executing even the most mundane task.

How scripts are arranged in memory is a question with

which Abbott et al. deal significantly. They argue that

three possibilities exist. The first is that information is

serially ordered in memory. That is, "each event is linked

to prior ones in time" (182). When an event is accessed,

related events prior and/or subsequent to the accessed event

are also activated. A second possibility exists that

scripts are organized hierarchically. Events are broken

down into component superordinate actions called "scene

headers." These are further divided into sub-actions which

consist of detailed actions pertaining to the scene header.

The third possibility is that scripts are multiply

organized, that is arranged both serially and

hierarchically. Abbott et al. argue that representations of

scripts in memory are ordered hierarchically as opposed to

serially. They show through a series of memory tests that

people tend to remember events mentioned "high in the story

hierarchy." In other words, their subjects recalled

superordinate categories far more frequently than

subordinate categories.

Research by Clements (1979) supports the findings of

Abbott et al. According to Clements, activated information

is ordered hierarchically. "An old topic (i.e. information

which has previously been instantiated) retains the level of

its previous mention, while a new topic (i.e. information

which has just become activated through controlled

processing) is placed one level below (instantiated

information)" (290). Clements further argues that writers

choose participants/entities a reader may easily activate

and keep instantiated (through automatic processing). The

choice of these easily instantiated entities, according to

Downing (1980), is often based on such "subjective"

cognitive factors as: the writer's background (and/or

editorial policy of the newspaper), the writer's perception

of the background of the reader, the writer's attitude

toward the event or person being discussed, and the writer's

goal in producing and maintaining objectivity.

A study conducted by van Dijk & Kintsch (1983)

demonstrates the relationship between human cognition and

written discourse. According to van Dijk & Kintsch,

concepts are represented in memory as networks. Upon

encountering new information, a reader will search

(unconsciously and instantaneously) his/her memory for the

concept or a related concept. If the concept or a related

one is found, it will be activated into short term memory

along with related, relevant concepts. The concept will

remain active as long as the discourse continues to

highlight it. If, on the other hand, a search of the

reader's memory does not produce the concept frame, the

reader will attempt to incorporate it into his/her memory

store (cf. Dell, McKoon, & Ratcliff, 1983). New information

has a higher probability of being processed if it becomes

relevant information in the discourse, or if the concept is

related to a relevant topic.

Regarding instantiated information, van Dijk & Kintsch

posit that participants/themes referred to more than once


are likely to be more accessible in terms of less processing

time, and are more likely to become integrated into the

reader's long-term memory store (cf. Morrow, 1985).

Participants which are referred to a single time will likely

not be processed into long-term memory. Van Dijk & Kintsch

conclude that the process of discourse comprehension, that

is, searching long-term memory for related concepts and

integrating new information into the cognitive network

system, "results in a mental representation of the utterance

which is a model of the state of affairs being described"


The conclusions reached by the research reviewed and

analyzed above are appealing from that standpoint that they

all support the notion that human knowledge ("knowledge of

the world") is organized in terms of networks of

interrelated concepts, or "frames." The notion of framing

is significant in that it serves an important link between

events in the real world, persons' perceptions of those

events, and the manner in which texts are composed and

interpreted. The following section will discuss the

connection between cognitive conceptual networks and

semantic hierarchies employed in news text production and


The Nature of Human Cognition and Semantic Hierarchies

To illustrate how cognitive framing functions in press

discourse, consider the following scenario. Suppose a

Kenyan reader or a reader knowledgeable about Kenyan culture

reads the following article in the Kenyan press describing a

traffic fatality.

(1) Dereva wa jeshi afariki ajalini Lamu
(adapted from Taifa Weekly, Monday, July 18, 1987)

Dereva wa jeshi aliuawa na engine wanne
wakajeruhiwa vibaya wakati lori waliokuwa
wakisafiria lilipopinduka katika Mokowe karibu na
Lamu, alhamisi.
Kulingana na habari, dereva anayetolewa Juma
Okoth-Ogendo alifariki papo hapo hali wengineo
walipelekwa hospital ya Lamu na kulazwa wakiwa na
majeraha mabaya. Wawili kati yao walipewa matabibu
dharura na kusafirishwa kwa ndege hadi Mombasa
jana kwa matabibu zaidi.
Kilichosabibisha ajali hiyo hakijulikana au
mahali halisi ajali ilipotokea.
Waliosafirishwa hadi Mombasa walitambuliwa
kuwa Joseph Kanjata aliye muuguzi na afisa katika
Huduma ya Vijana wa Taifa, na Bw. Juma Said.
Wamelazwa katika hospital kuu ya mkoa, Mombasa na
hali yao haikujulikana mara moja.
Majina ya walolazwa Lamu hayakutambuliwa pia.

English gloss:
Army Driver Dies in an Accident in Lamu

An army driver was killed and four others
badly injured when the truck in which they were
riding overturned in Mokowe near Lamu, Thursday.
According to reports, the driver, identified
as Juma Okoth-Ogendo, died at the scene while the
others were taken to Lamu hospital and were
admitted with serious injuries. Two of them were

given emergency treatment and flown to Mombasa
yesterday for further treatment.
The cause of the accident is not known nor the
exact location where the accident occurred.
Those taken to Mombasa were identified as
Joseph Kanjata who is a medic and an officer in
the Huduma wa Vijana wa Taifa, and Mr. Juma Said.
They were admitted to the central regional
hospital, Mombasa, and their conditions were not
immediately known.
The names of those admitted in Lamu were not
identified either.

The mention of the accident (aiali) in the headline

activates an "accident" frame which is informed by the

readers past experiences with accidents. In other words, a

number of conceptual networks will be automatically

activated when aiali is mentioned. It is likely that the

reader's accident frame consists of three interrelated

networks, represented in (1).




As the reader scans the article, and as details about

this particular accident are revealed, networks of relevant

and backgrounded concepts are built by means of controlled

processing. It is likely that the most highly relevant

concepts are "participants" due to their status as paragraph

topics. These concepts are topicalized as subjects of the

majority of the sentences. As a result of mentioning the

main participants in the accident, other salient concepts in

the participant frame are activated and have the potential

of being called up into the reader's short term memory. The

network in (3) is illustrative of the instantiation of

concepts in the participant frame.





\ V1 4 .

*The arrows indicating the activation of relevant concepts
have been included in the diagram. The dual arrows
designate highly relevant concepts within the frame network.
The single arrows designate relevant but secondary concepts.
Backgrounded participants are indicted by a single line.
These diacritics will be used hereafter.

It is immediately apparent that Tannen's (1979) notion

of levels of framing is important. Tannen suggests that

language users not only produce frames instantiated by the

immediate context, but also construct contextual networks

which overlap and intertwine with foregrounded, relevant

concepts. These frames include attitudes, values, and role

relationships, concepts from the sociocultural context of

the writer and reader.

Knowledge of the world and knowledge of context play an

essential role in the construction of conceptual networks in

that they determine which concepts will be relevant and

which will be backgrounded. In terms of the article above,

the driver who was killed is identified as JUMA OKOTH-

OGENDO. Prior/learned knowledge of Kenya and its ethnic

groups enables some readers to identify Mr. Okoth-Ogendo as

a member of the Luo group. Depending upon the depth of the

reader's knowledge of the Luos, further instantiations in

the frame are possible, such concepts as LAKE VICTORIA or

KISUMU (important sites bordering or in the Luo ethnic area)

and NILOTES (designation of the Luo people re. the language

they speak). The same can be said of the ethnic information

of those injured in the accident, i.e. the concepts GIRIAMA

linked to JOSEPH KANJATA and SWAHILI linked to JUMA SAID.

These concepts are secondary to the story, i.e.

backgrounded, and constitute semi-active information

(capable of being accessed) in the reader's mind. In order

for these backgrounded concepts to become relevant

information, the writer would have to mention one or more of

them a number of times, coding them syntactically as highly

continuous or identifiable topics (cf. Chapter Four). With

further mention, reader may be able to processing these

concepts with relatively little time or effort.

Having this notion of framing in mind, the question

arises, are there concepts which by their very nature are

easier, less costly to process? In other words, are there

certain concepts belonging to particular semantic categories

which are highly relevant and are more easily processed by

the reader? Two recent theories, one proposed by Michael

Silverstein (1976), and the other by Susumu Kuno (1976),

have important implications for the production and

interpretation of textual discourse based on cognitive

principles. Their heuristics can easily be applied to both

Swahili and English discourse.

In an important study on the semantic features of

split-ergative languages, Silverstein (1985) proposes a

hierarchy of features which, when applied to languages

exhibiting features of split-ergativity, accurately predicts

those instances where ergative-absolutive case markers will

be used, and those instances where nominative-accusative

markers will be used.





Although Silverstein's hierarchy is a useful predictor

of case marking in split-ergative languages, it has wider

applications. I would suggest that it is a useful bi-

directional heuristic for explicating the nature of

conceptual relevance in human cognition. If, according to

the Silverstein hierarchy, first and second person indexical

pronouns as well as proper and human nouns are more likely

to be marked in the ergative case (representing the semantic

agent of a transitive verb), it is highly probable that

these participants would be entrenched or foregrounded in

the reader's mind. Likewise, those participants lower on

the hierarchy, marked absolutive (semantic patient/syntactic

subject of an intransitive verb), would be less likely to be

foregrounded or instantiated in the reader's mind.

The predictions which the Silverstein hierarchy allows

us to make correspond nicely with the heuristic developed by

Kuno. Kuno (1976) proposes a "hierarchy of empathy," which

is a representation of the writer's attitude toward the

participants in an event. "Empathy" can be likened to

"camera angles," whereby a writer will choose to focus upon

a certain participant in one instance and another in a

different context. Kuno, in a study he co-authored with

Kaburaki (1977), gives the following examples to illustrate

the concept of empathy:

(4) a. John hit Mary.
b. John hit his wife.
c. Mary's husband hit her.
d. Mary was hit by John.
(Kuno & Kaburaki, 1977:627)

In (4a), the writer chooses to report the event

"objectively," that is, the camera is placed at some

distance from John and Mary" (627). Without the context to

further explicate the sentence, neither participant is in

more obvious focus that the other. However, in (4b), "John"

is in closer focus due to the fact that he is mentioned by

name. The reference to "Mary," on the other hand, is made

in terms of John. The focus is reversed in (4c). The

writer has chosen to put Mary into sharper focus by

referring to her by name as a possessive referent in the

initial NP. "John" is viewed vis-a-vis Mary. Finally,

through passivization in (4d), the writer expresses an

attitude toward the participants by fronting the object into

the grammatical subject position, and by backgrounding the

logical subject in a by-phrase. The camera is placed closer

to Mary than John.

Through his work with both Japanese and English, Kuno

proffered certain assumptions regarding the nature of

empathy in discourse. Concerning the issue of old and new

information, he asserts the following:

(5) It is easier to empathize with arguments already
in the active file of the writer (topicalized
arguments) than with arguments just activated or
introduced into the narrative.

The reader will have much less difficulty focusing upon

participants which, after having been introduced into the

narrative, are mentioned several times. Readers are capable

of automatically processing continuous or highly

identifiable participants, while participants just

introduced into the narrative require processing time.

Kuno's contention is supported by Lorch, Lorch, and Matthews

(1985) who experimentally showed reading times to be

significantly shorter if a newly introduced topic is

directly related to the preceding topic. Conversely,

reading times were notably slower when the new topic had no

relation to the preceding topic.

To illustrate, consider the following example from McGarry


(6) Mr. Otieno is survived by a wife, four sons, five
daughters, six foster children, and two

This sentence appeared midway through the December 20,

1986, Daily Nation article which announced the death of the

prominent Nairobi attorney, Mr. S.M. Otieno. The first

mention of Mr. Otieno in the story's lead creates a

conceptual frame work in the reader's mind which includes

the identity of the main participant, i.e. Mr. Otieno's

name, and the action effected upon him, he died. As the

narrative about Mr. Otieno continues, the reader is able to

automatically process references to him. Moreover, readers

will have little difficulty constructing a "surviving

relations" frame because it is connected, albeit

secondarily, to the highly instantiated, foregrounded

concepts of the discourse, i.e. Mr. Otieno and died. This

interrelationship is diagrammed in (7).

(7) S.M. Otieno < > Died

Kinship Relations Place Cause

Wife Blood Children/Grandchildren Fo ter Children

Four Sons Five Daughters Two Grandchildren

Fronting the "relations," however, renders the sentence

semantically strange because it violates the intended degree

of reader empathy.

(7) ?A wife, four sons, five daughters, six foster
children and two grandchildren survived Mr.

? refers to the violation of reader empathy. The
sentence is grammatical.

The sentence in (7) is both syntactically strange

(because of the length of the subject phrase) and, I would

argue, a bit difficult to process because the participants

identified by the article are not within the scope of the

reader's accessible information, i.e. they are not

components of the reader's long term memory. Therefore,

they cannot be foregrounded, entrenched information. The

reader's frame pertaining to death likely contains the

concept that dead persons are survived by their relatives.

However, the mention of the death of Mr. Otieno in the

narrative does not automatically instantiate his wife,

children, foster children, and grandchildren into the

reader's active memory. Reviewing a number of obituaries in


Daily Nation (1987), I found that writers generally listed

the deceased first followed by his/her survivors.

By extending Kuno's hypothesis, it is possible to

derive a more complete theoretical perspective with which to

analyze participant/theme entrenchment and relevance within

written discourse. Moreover, these extensions enable the

further manifestation of the interrelationship which exists

between Kuno's notion of empathy and the Silverstein


The first extension concerns the status of semantic

participants in a sentence. Kuno (1976) argues,

(8) It is easier to empathize with semantic agents,
next with semantic patients. It is almost
impossible to empathize with participants in by

By extension therefore:

(9) It is easier to empathize with human elements than
with inanimate elements.

Giv6n (1984) argues that agents are usually "conscious"

participants in an event in that they initiate or are

responsible for some type of action. If agents participate

consciously in an event, they must also be volitional

activators of change, since volitionality is a conscious

mental state. Agents, therefore, generally possess the

semantic feature + human and are more highly salient in

terms of frame concepts than those participants which


possess the features human, + animate, or + inanimate.2

The examples in (10) below illustrate the contrast between

human agents initiating change and instruments affecting

objects (cf. Fillmore, 1977).

(10) a. John opened the door.
b. The key opened the door.
c. The wind opened the door.

John, in (10a) functions as the semantic agent in that

he volitionally initiates the action of opening the door.

The door does not open by itself nor does it open by

happenstance. Some human participant has made a conscious

decision to perform the act of opening. In (10b), "the key"

functions as the instrument by which the door is opened.

"The key" did not consciously nor volitionally open the

door. Rather, "the key," according to Fillmore (1977), is

the indirect cause of the action of opening. The case of

(10c) is a bit more complex. As Fillmore postulates, the

role of "the wind" is distinct from either agent or

instrument. It is a self sufficient force neither

manipulates nor is manipulated. The data in (10) suggest

that the most significant participant/themes in terms of

cognitive instantiation are those which directly initiate

some action. The degree of thematic importance decreases

with the lack of initiation and volitionality. This

conclusion concurs with the hierarchy in (11), proposed by

Giv6n (1984):

(11) Topic Saliency Hierarchy

most salient < >least salient

Since, as Giv6n (1984) has suggested, agents are most

likely to become sentential topics, and since it is easier

to emphasize with topical agents than with patients, it

follows that, in languages like Swahili and English,

sentential subjects have the highest potential of becoming

highly entrenched and relevant than sentential objects since

agent topics occur most frequently in sentential subject


In summary, information which possesses certain

semantic features seems to be more capable of being

entrenched in the active memory of the reader than do

participants lacking these features. I would propose the

following consolidated semantic hierarchy which captures

these notions:




The proposed hierarchy in (12) enables us to make

predictions concerning the relationship between a

participant/theme's status in the semantic hierarchy and its

syntactic coding. The first prediction that can be proposed

is that nominals marked in terms of "humanness" or "animacy"

have a higher topical and/or focal status in the syntactic

structure of discourse. This prediction is useful for a

morphologically rich language like Swahili. Consider the










A further class of nouns, the "N" class (classes 9 &

10), have been omitted from the table above. The "N" class

presents particular categorization problems because it is an

omnibus category. Most foreign borrowings are placed in

this category, regardless of their semantic features.

Nominal morphology in Swahili, and in Bantu languages

in general, is classified in terms of features which

distinguish animate from inanimate, count from quantity,

quantity from mass, and mass from abstractive or state


The prediction that human and animate nouns are more

highly entrenched and/or focal is borne out in the following

data sample.

(14) a. Jana, nilimwona rafiki yangu.
Yesterday, 1st subj-past-3rd obj-verb friend my
"Yesterday, I saw my friend."

a' *Jana, niliona rafiki yangu.

b. Baba Juma atamlipia Fatima ada za shule.
Father Juma 3rd sub-fut-3rd obj-benef-fv Fatima fees
nom concord-of school
"Juma's father will pay Fatima's school fees.

b' *Baba Juma atalipia Fatima ada za schule.

c. Mtoto wa Juma alimtega samaki, lakini alimrudisha
child nom con.-of Juma 3rd sub-past-3rd obj-catch
fish, but 3rd sub-past-3rd obj-return-caus lake-loc.
"Juma's child caught a fish but threw it back in the

c' *Mtoto wa Juma alitega samaki, lakini alirudisha

Notice, in (14 a, b, and c), the object morpheme is

present in the verbal complex. That Swahili requires

marking human and animate objects in the verb complex


indicates that a certain degree of focus (empathy) is being

placed upon those participants although they may not

function as the sentential or even paragraph topic (if these

sentences were placed within a discoursal context). The

absence of the object markers in (14 a',b' and c') renders

the sentences ungrammatical.

Conversely, the existence of the object marker in the

verb complex is not required for inanimate objects. In

point of fact, the presence of the object marker in these

cases is highly marked and signals the special focus of

their antecedents. Further, the presence of the object

marker is a signal of special emphasis or focus is being

placed upon the theme grammatically coded as the object.

The object becomes a potentially relevant concept, which can

be foregrounded in the reader's frame if the concept

continues to be mentioned. Consider the data set in (15).

What English accomplishes through such grammatical

operations as left and right dislocation, Swahili realizes


(15) a. umeziharibu suruali hizi.
2nd sub-perfect-object ref. suruali-ruin
trousers these.
"These particular trousers, you have ruined them."

a' umeharibu suruali hizi.
"You have ruined these trousers." (There is no
special emphasis on "trousers.")

b. tutazifuata hizo nyingine baadaye.
1st pl sub-fut-obj ref. hizo-follow those (things)
other later
"Those other things, we will come for them later."

b' tutafuata hizo nyingine baadaye.
"We will come for those other things later."

The sample sentences in (15a & 15b) are both

syntactically and semantically marked. As mentioned above,

Swahili requires that animate objects morphemes be coded in

the object slot of the verbal construct. The infrequent

coding of non-animate object markers in the verbal construct

(such as "zi" above) signals the reader that the object

antecedent is highly focused. In terms of the cognitive

network evoked by (15a), the reader would process the

"trousers" as the most highly instantiated element rather

than the usual "person" who effected the action of ruining

them (Der Houssikian, communication). Likewise in (15b),

"those other things" would be the most highly instantiated

concept in the frame.

The primed forms (15 a' & b') are considered unmarked

in that the objects do not receive special emphasis. In

these examples, the sentential subject is also the topic.

Special mention must be made at this point of the

relationship between the proximate demonstrative adjective

and reader empathy. Consider again (15a') above:

(15a') umeharibu suruali hizi.

Apart from its communcative context, (15a') is well

formed syntactically and semantically. However, suppose the

I ~ ~

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