Research articles

Kiswahili riddles: Parallelism and social functions

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 33, issue 1, 2013 , pages: 1–10
DOI: 10.2989/02572117.2013.793933
Author(s): DeoS NgonyaniDepartment of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages, USA


Kiswahili riddles (vitendawili) are children's puzzles presented in the form of precedent statements, queries or propositions eliciting responses, solutions or sequent (Harries, 1971, 1976; Gowlett, 1979; Okpewho, 1992). This article examines the linguistic structure of precedents in Kiswahili riddles. It is noted that the precedents are characterised by parallelism at the phonological, morphological, clausal and semantic levels of language description. This is demonstrated through an analysis of the linguistic structure, including the study of the metaphorical structure using the cognitive approach. The use of metaphors and structural parallelism presents enormous cognitive challenges to children, but is also an invaluable tool to them in acquiring linguistic and cognitive skills. As Scheub (2002: 124) points out: ‘The riddle establishes a model for all oral art’. It is argued that riddles are similar to proverbs in the use of metaphors and in encoding ambiguity and relativity. It is an instructional medium for elegant speech, observation of nature and human behaviour, ambiguity and indeterminacy in life.

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