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Cultural Conceptualisations of witchcraft and traditional healing in Black South African English Herbalist Classifieds

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Abstract

The present chapter embarks on the study of culture-specific conceptualisations in Black South African English. It is based on a purpose-built corpus of 300 non-redacted classifieds published in 48 consecutive editions of the South African Daily Sun newspaper. It carries out a collocational and conceptual analysis of titles and terms of address and respect as well as of witchcraft and traditional healing with a view to both traditional cognitive conceptualisation patterns and conceptual elements imported from Western and Eastern Africa in more recent times. This chapter illustrates how the analysis of classifieds can yield linguistic proof for a common cultural cognition of speakers of Black South African English. It exhibits shared cultural categories and schemas such as traditional healers are mediators between the spirits and the living and witchcraft is a powerful and reliable answer to all problems as well as conceptual metaphors such as learning as a journey with regard to the conceptualisation of traditional (South) African healers. This chapter delivers a case in point for the Cognitive-Sociolinguistic and Corpus-Linguistic methodological approaches to World Englishes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a number of good cases in point, see, e.g. Wolf et al. (2017) as well as Callies and Onysko (2017).

  2. 2.

    It is followed by Isolezwe, an isiZulu-language tabloid from Durban, and Sowetan, an English-language tabloid from Johannesburg, with 103,899 and 90,165 daily readers in 2016 respectively (Manson 2016).

  3. 3.

    This insight was provided by a former member of the Daily Sun’s editorial staff.

  4. 4.

    Polzenhagen (2007: 117) discusses ‘retraditionalisation’ as a massive revival of fundamental and common traditional concepts such as the kinship-based model of community and the role of the occult in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. It can be regarded as a term countering the notion of ‘modernisation’.

  5. 5.

    The representation of the classifieds in this chapter is mirroring all details of the original. No corrections or adjustments of any kind have been made, except for a change in line breaks in order to limit the extensiveness of the classifieds. Due to the abundance of orthographical and grammatical variation in the advertisements as well as for the sake of readability, the present chapter refrains from pointing out any such variants through the insertion of the otherwise common editorial remark ‘[sic]’.

  6. 6.

    For comparison: Only one person in a population of 40,000 is a doctor trained in “Western” medicine (Truter 2007: 56).

  7. 7.

    I am deeply indebted to Prof. Johan M. Lenake at North-West University, Vaal Triangle Campus for generously sharing insights into Basotho culture and language as well as for providing me with excerpts from an as yet unpublished manuscript entitled ‘Basotho lore revisited’.

  8. 8.

    Lenake (2016: 5) emphasises: “The term witchdoctor used for a Masotho ngaka is not only derogatory, but also a misnomer. Two words with different meanings have been joint together to discredit our dingaka and the good work they are doing. The term might qualify for a moloi (wizard) whose main task is to bewitch people and make them unhappy in many years. The nkgekge does keep dangerous herbs to ward off the moloi’s onslaught.”

  9. 9.

    Polzenhagen (2007: 136) observes that the “common attribution of wisdom to the older generation is thus reinforced by a pronounced spiritual dimension. In the course of his or her life, a person is not only thought of as gathering experience but also, by virtue of moving closer to worldly death and thus to becoming an ancestor himself, as increasingly acquiring magical power and support.”

  10. 10.

    Geschiere (1997: 10) uses the terms ‘levelling’ and ‘accumulative’ in order to describe the ambivalent functions of witchcraft as potentially balancing socio-economic inequalities on the one hand and enhancing socio-economic status and power for some on the other.

  11. 11.

    The translations provided make reference to the primary sources of a term in the South African context, which does not imply that the term is exclusively used in the languages listed. Baba, for example, is also used in other African languages such as Swahili and Yoruba (Dalgish 1982: 15). All of the definitions and translations provided are taken from Dalgish (1982) and Steadman (2014).

  12. 12.

    Only results for the lemma oil are included here. Lexical items from languages other than English that may or may not refer to specific oils have been disregarded for reasons of consistency.

  13. 13.

    Spelling variants of this item include calabash, calabashi and karabashi and Carabashi. Whether it references to the Calabash vine found in South and West Africa or to the Calabash acceptance-test application used in computing cannot be established on the basis of the data. Both, however, may be plausible and applicable.

  14. 14.

    It is mainly in the descriptions of muthi where cultural hybridity becomes evident, which is why this aspect will be discussed again under Sect. 16.4.3.

  15. 15.

    The promise of ‘same day’ results hereby occurs with 42 tokens in about 14% of all ads.

  16. 16.

    There is a variety of spelling variants, such as, e.g. tokoloshi, tikolosh(e), tokolossi(e), all of which have been subsumed under this entry.

  17. 17.

    In contrast, the analysis of the right periphery does not produce any noteworthy collocational patterns.

  18. 18.

    Spelling variants of this item include shortboys, short boys and short-boys, of which the most frequent has been chosen to represent the item in this paper. Another set of variants for this item include short girls and short women, which have 21 and 5 tokens, respectively. Since from the traditional perspective, female tokoloshes are non-existent (see, e.g. Berglund 1976: 280), these items have been included under short boys.

  19. 19.

    For a more detailed linguistic approach to idiomatic language, see Skandera (2003: 41–47).

  20. 20.

    On the notion of muthi murders and the legislative and legal challenges posed by them, see Minnaar (2003: 73–91).

  21. 21.

    Other frequently occurring magical devices are ‘magic/lucky wallet’ (225 tokens), ‘lucky/magic stick’ (125), and ‘magic ring’ (66). Since all of these show to conceptualise as devices used in the acquisition of wealth, directed by witchcraft, without producing any new collocational patterns, they will not be discussed any further.

  22. 22.

    Again, several spelling variants exist, including woza woza, woza-woza, Woza-woza, Woza Woza, etc. none of which seems to prevail in usage frequency.

  23. 23.

    In some cases, herbalists classifieds also feature references to “numerous ‘muthi-motivated’ uses of human remains” (Ndhlala et al. 2011: 833), which, due to the multicultural and multilingual nature of the descriptions of muthi in the corpus, are difficult to detect and distinguish.

  24. 24.

    Recurring denotations for oils include ajana, amalitoli, amedi, bungutwa, chimanga, chisoni, chitaka, chitimbe, chome, dawana, ganga, indwandwa, jinn, katunga, katogo, liu, mbungutwa, roke, sauda, suka, twa, uchi, woza, zam. Names for powders include chinyamata, kakonokono, kawente, kawena, kawongo, ligando, likwanya, malambe, massamba, mussa, upile, woza woza, amongst others.

  25. 25.

    Making reference to the Ashanti region in Ghana.

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Peters, A. (2021). Cultural Conceptualisations of witchcraft and traditional healing in Black South African English Herbalist Classifieds. In: Sadeghpour, M., Sharifian, F. (eds) Cultural Linguistics and World Englishes. Cultural Linguistics. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-4696-9_16

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