Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Gendering politeness: Zulu-speaker identities at the University of Natal, Durban

Busayo Ige, Elizabeth de Kadt


This paper investigates politeness, with special focus on the speech act of apologies, in the discourse of some male and female Zulu students at the University of Natal, Durban, in order to explore ways in which language and gender are interrelated. However, rather than simply asking how women and men behave linguistically, we draw on poststructuralist feminist theory as developed primarily by Weedon (1987) and investigate how the realisation of the speech act under consideration contributes to the production of people as `women and men' (Bing & Bergvall, 1996: 19), and to the construction of gendered identities. Extensive data were collected from 12 Zulu-speaking students (six men and six women), when interacting in English with African international students, by means of non-participatory observation and video-taped role-plays. This was supplemented by focus group discussions with further students, in which male and female perceptions of politeness as gendered were explored. On the basis of an admittedly limited sample, it is argued that traditional Zulu masculinity, while still dominant, is now being contested in the university context by some students favouring less tradition-oriented identities. The strategies employed by the female respondents, on the other hand, suggest that Zulu women students may be beginning to reject traditional Zulu femininity in favour of more westernised identities.

(S/ern Af Linguistics & Applied Language Stud: 2002 20(3): 147-161)

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