Areal cultural scripts for social interaction in West African communities

Felix K. Ameka and Anneke Breedveld

Abstract

Ways of interacting and not interacting in human societies have social, cognitive and cultural dimensions. These various aspects may be reflected in particular in relation to “taboos”. They reflect the ways of thinking and the values of a society. They are recognized as part of the communicative competence of the speakers and are learned in socialization. Some salient taboos are likely to be named in the language of the relevant society, others may not have a name. Interactional taboos can be specific to a cultural linguistic group or they may be shared across different communities that belong to a ‘speech area’ (Hymes 1972). In this article we describe a number of unnamed norms of communicative conduct which are widespread in West Africa such as the taboos on the use of the left hand in social interaction and on the use of personal names in adult address, and the widespread preference for the use of intermediaries for serious communication. We also examine a named avoidance (yaage) behavior specific to the Fulbe, a nomadic cattle-herding group spread from West Africa across the Sahel as far as Sudan. We show how tacit knowledge about these taboos and other interactive norms can be captured using the cultural scripts methodology.

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