A Thematic Analysis of Linguistic Taboos and Their Corresponding Euphemistic Expressions in Oromo

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Addis Ababa University


This study identifies and describes the linguistic taboos and their corresponding euphemistic expressions among the Oromo of Oromia Regional State. To conduct the study, qualitative method was employed. The main instruments of data collection were focus group discussion, unstructured interview, observation and introspective method. The framework of the study is a pragmatic approach to euphemism and taboo which mainly includes euphemism to context of situation, speech act theory, face, and politeness theory. The data were analyzed and interpreted based on the framework. The findings of the study revealed that in daily communication, the Oromo societies of the research areas are highly intertwined with social taboos. They prohibit uttering taboo words or expressions related to death, disease, woman (pregnancy, menstruation, delivery and virginity), sexual organs, sexual acts, some normal and impaired body parts, excretion and names related to marriage relationship. These tabooed subjects are categorized into: context-specific and generally unmentionable taboos. Context-specific includes non-taboo words and words related to the hearer’s physical or social defect. Non-taboo words are words which have neutral meaning in everyday speech and have got tabooed inference in specific-context. Taboos related to the hearer’s physical or social defects are any words with connotations to the hearer representing his/her physical or social defect. Mentioning taboo terms related to physical impairments and diseases are categorized under this topic. General taboos are unmentionable words which are absolutely forbidden words. Taboos related to death, sexual organs, sexual acts, excretion and name of father-/mother-in laws are categorized under this section. Whatever taboo terms are, the Oromo societies of the study areas use euphemistic expressions to mild, roundabout, indirect, polite, less distasteful, inoffensive, agreeable, tactful, less explicit, to make taboo words comparatively favorable meaning or less unpleasant association whereas the substituted taboo words/expressions are characterized as harsh, blunt, direct, distasteful, painful, unpleasant, indelicate, offensive, or frightening. The Oromo of study areas avoid uttering these taboo expressions to save someone’s face loss through euphemistic expressions and make the speaker or hearer free from any embarrassment or feeling of shock. To do this, they use euphemistic expression strategies like metaphor, metonymic, circumlocution, synecdoche, hyperbolic, understatement, antonymic, onomatopoeia and borrowing. The society of the study areas use distinctive euphemistic expressions for a single tabooed term except some expressions they use in common. In fact, the usage of linguistic taboos and euphemistic expressions are determined by differences of age, gender, relationship, geographical location, context of use and the like. Among the areas this study has been undertaken, taboo words and euphemistic expressions may be reflected as taboo words/euphemisms which are similarly taboo/euphemistic expression in all research areas, taboo words/euphemistic expressions which have meaning extension, taboo words/euphemistic expressions which are taboo/euphemism in one of the research site, and not known or has another meaning in other sites of the study. Finally, to minimize problems encountered by taboo words and euphemism expressions, further research must be conducted by concerned bodies. Keywords: linguistic taboos, euphemism, euphemism strategy, pragmatic approach, negative connotation, transference of meaning.



linguistic taboos, euphemism, euphemism strategy, pragmatic approach, negative connotation, transference of meaning