Linguistic avoidance and social relations in Datooga
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This dissertation investigates an unusual sociolinguistic practice in Datooga, a Southern Nilotic language spoken in northern and central Tanzania. In Datooga, an elaborate avoidance vocabulary has developed out of a cultural prohibition on women uttering the names of their senior in-laws as well as words sounding similar to those names. While comparable sociolinguistic phenomena have been described in a handful of other societies, this dissertation is the first study of an avoidance register in use. Based on ten months of fieldwork in Tanzania, it explores the phonological basis for linguistic avoidance (i.e., how speakers decide which words to avoid), the linguistic strategies involved in constructing the avoidance vocabulary, and the use of avoidance language in everyday interaction. Through analysis of recordings of naturally-occurring speech, this dissertation shows that linguistic avoidance of this kind operates less systematically than most previous research has suggested, both in terms of the types of words that are avoided, and the tokens of words avoided in speech. The dissertation argues that through the practice of name avoidance, Datooga women take a particular relational stance towards their senior in-laws, positioning themselves as socially removed from yet at the same time obligated to their husband's senior relatives. By means of these respectful stance-takings, speakers also construct their identities as respectful, respectable married women. As such, linguistic avoidance is a key mechanism of social differentiation in Datooga society, through which speakers reproduce ideological distinctions with respect to gender, seniority, kinship, and marital status.