Original Research

A critical analysis of ‘face’-managing factors in isiZulu idioms

M.R. Masubelele
Literator | Vol 36, No 1 | a1150 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v36i1.1150 | © 2015 M.R. Masubelele | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 August 2014 | Published: 25 November 2015

About the author(s)

M.R. Masubelele, School of Arts, University of South Africa, South Africa


People have an inherent need to communicate. They communicate out of need as well as for leisure. Human speech abounds with unpleasant and undesirable statements that could embarrass and even humiliate those spoken to or oneself. Brown and Levinson assert that unpleasant and undesirable statements have the potential to threaten the ‘face’ or self-esteem of the other person or persons. They define ‘face’ as the public self-image that every member of society wants to claim for themself. Simply put, ‘facework’ refers to ways people cooperatively attempt to promote both the other’s and their own sense of self-esteem in a conversation. As linguistic speech forms, idioms perform a variety of functions in a language. Not only do they make speech more colourful, but they also perform a communicative function in that they tend to soften the embarrassment and humiliation that often accompanies unpleasant and undesirable statements in speech. IsiZulu idioms will be examined in this article to establish to what extent they could contribute to managing ‘face’ issues. Examples of idioms will be drawn from C.L.S. Nyembezi and O.E.H. Nxumalo’s work Inqolobane Yesizwe. The facework theory as espoused by Brown and Levinson will underpin this discussion on isiZulu idioms.


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