Linguistic cultural heritage of politeness strategies among the Shona and Ndebele of Zimbabwe

Tsitsi Roselene Bwetenga[1] & Diocleciano Nhatuve[2]

[1]  University of Zimbabwe, Department of Languages Literature and Culture, Email: ORCID 0000-0002-2172-9576.

[2] University of Zimbabwe, Department of Languages Literature and Culture, Email: ORCID 0000-0003-4749-1348.


This paper explores sets of expectations and perceptions underlying the use or not, of a selection of words, phrases and expressions in the Shona and Ndebele languages. The study broaches Leech’s (Leech 1983; 2007) politeness principle on the language of discretion as a result of silent and tacit cultural expectations in relation to interpersonal communication where using language with caution helps to protect one’s words from being misquoted, dismissed, mistranslated or distorted. Through an exploration of Brown and Levinson’s (Brown and Levinson, 1987) politeness theory as well as Kasanga and Lwanga-Lumu’s (Kasanga and Lwanga-Lumu, 2007) postulations on “politeness and apology realisation”, this paper seeks to derive meaning and understanding from hedges and cautious reserves in speech. The use of discreet language reflects a high degree of efficiency in social interaction as speakers take precautionary measures to protect themselves from the negative effect of their sayings or to protect themselves or their interlocutors from any harm caused by their utterances. The Shona and Ndebele languages have phrases/words like “padiki padiki” and “azikhuphi” which are indicative of the effort to conceal with a measure of politeness, the actual detail and truth surrounding an individual’s life. Through an ethnographic survey of the use of hedges by Shona and Ndebele speakers, this paper will contribute towards an appreciation of the language of discretion and hedging as valuable intangible cultural heritage which helps to communicate politely, mitigate face-threats, and also to convey vagueness purposely. These play a pivotal role in expression of ideas/claims and mastery of rhetorical strategies required in conversational circumstances.

Keywords: Politeness Strategies, Cautious Reserve, Shona, Ndebele Languages.


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