LINGUIST List 8.831

Wed Jun 4 1997

Review: Omar - Linking Openings to Closings...

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Message 1: Review: Omar - Kiswahili conversations

Date: Wed, 04 Jun 1997 11:46:11 +0000 (GMT)
From: Steve Nicolle <>
Subject: Review: Omar - Kiswahili conversations

Omar, Alwiya S. (1993) 
Indiana University Linguistics Club Publications, Bloomington Indiana
Paper, 52 pages $6.00

Reviewed by Steve Nicolle <>

In this short book, Alwiya Omar analyses conversational openings 
(COs) and conversational closings (CCs) in Kiswahili as spoken in 
Zanzibar. She bases her study on a wide range of naturalistic data, 
participant observation, and previous analyses in other languages 
(English and Wolof). This book should appeal to students of 
Kiswahili, and linguists interested in Conversation Analysis, 
Sociolinguistics and Pragmatics.

After a brief introduction to general cross-linguistic features of 
COs and CCs, the author discusses two previous analyses of COs: 
Irvine's (1974) study of Wolof COs, in which participants in an 
exchange adopt differing roles depending on perceived relative 
status, and Schegloff's (1968) analysis of turn-taking in English 
COs. She then discusses the conditions under which different types of 
CO occur in Zanzibari Kiswahili, including a discussion of the role 
of phatic inquiries and phatic responses. 

There then follows a detailed account of the effect of age as a 
sociolinguistic parameter in Kiswahili COs. Where there is a socially 
significant age difference, the younger participant initiates the CO 
and the older participant responds and adopts the role of 
Questioner, whereas same age participants compete for the 
Questioner role. Different age COs in Kiswahili resemble Wolof in so 
far as dissimilar roles are involved, and English in that they follow 
an alternating sequence of exchanges, however same age COs violate 
both of these conditions because of competition for the role of 
Questioner, which may result in overlaps and repetition.

Omar then discusses CCs in Kiswahili, classifying linguistic features 
according to whether they occur in pre-closing stages and/or 
terminating stages of CCs. Unlike English, in which features are 
rigidly ordered (Schegloff & Sacks 1973), the order of features in 
Kiswahili CCs is not rigid, and the equivalent of 'goodbye' is 
optional. CCs are not as elaborate or constrained as COs in 
Kiswahili, but Omar identifies a number of features common to both, 
including the use of phatic inquiries and responses.

Although the theoretical contribution of this book is modest, 
involving a straightforward adaptation of previous analyses to 
Kiswahili, Omar's conclusions are well supported through some 40 
examples (ranging from transcriptions of conversations between 
close friends to a 'wrong number' telephone call) together with many 
pertinant observations arising out of the author's status as a 
participant-observer. In addition to the quality of the data 
presented, the book is highly accessible, written in a clear and 
engaging style, and with the main findings conveniently summarised in 
tabular form.

It is also exceedingly brief (a mixed blessing) and touches on a 
number of issues which Omar unfortunately does not have space to 
develop here. There are some interesting observations concerning 
sociolinguistic change in COs between female Zanzibari participants, 
differences between Zanzibari and mainland Tanzanian Kiswahili, and 
the influence of religion (Islam) on COs in particular. Omar 
concludes by raising questions about COs and CCs in institutional 
settings, and has elsewhere (e.g. Omar 1992, 1993) discussed 
differences between COs and CCs produced by native and non-native 
speakers. The effects of gender, geographical location and religion 
on COs and CCs would also merit further consideration.

In sum, Omar has written a modest but interesting book, based on an 
insightful analysis of high quality and methodically presented data.


Irvine, J. (1974) 'Strategies of status manipulation in the Wolof 
greetings' In R. Bauman & J. Sherzer (Eds.) Explorations in the 
Ethnography of Speaking (pp. 167-191). Cambridge: CUP

Omar, A. S. (1992) 'Conversational openings in Kiswahili: the 
pragmatic performance of native and non-native speakers' In L. Bouton 
& Y. Kachru (Eds.) Pragmatics and Language Learning: Monograph Series 
Volume 3 (pp. 20-32). Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois

Omar, A. S. (1993) 'Closing the conversation in Kiswahili: a 
description of the performance of native and non-native speakers' In 
L. Bouton & Y. Kachru (Eds.) Pragmatics and Language Learning: 
Monograph Series Volume 4 (pp.104-125). Urbana-Champaign: University 
of Illinois

Schegloff, E. (1968) 'Sequencing in conversational openings' American 
Anthropologist 70: 1075-1095

Schegloff, E. & H. Sacks (1973) 'Opening up closings' Semiotica, 
VIIII: 289-327

Reviewed by:
Steve Nicolle, Research fellow in Communication Studies, 
Middlesex University, England
(Currently employed on a project investigating the cognitive 
processes and social contexts involved in verbal communication, with 
particular interests in Relevance Theory, phatic communication and 
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