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Manipulation in late life

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While youth language constitutes a well-researched field of study, the linguistic manipulations of old people remain understudied. In an innovative approach, the present paper therefore looks at confusing and allegedly unintelligible narratives and conscious linguistic manipulations, silliness and concealing strategies in language as employed by elderly speakers of Kinyabwisha, Kinande, Kihunde and Kiswahili in Eastern DR Congo. A secret cursing register among Banyabwisha, often accompanied by practices of spitting, is analyzed; I also discuss elderly speakers’ confusing stories narrated to younger people, the use of secret modal particles that are restricted to people of old age, and finally I discuss the strategic inclusion of silliness in old speakers’ utterances. All these are analyzed in a theoretical framework of the secret agency and power in language use that mark the agency and wittiness of the elderly in Eastern Congo. With this first overview of elderly speakers’ language manipulations I aim to show that linguistic manipulation is not necessarily age-related, and that concealment strategies in language can occur as agentive and powerful means of social differentiation in later life as well. This preliminary introduction furthermore suggests a strong focus on silliness in linguistic analysis (as also found in Kuipers 2007; Storch 2015, 2017).

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Keywords: age; elderspeak; linguistic manipulation; secrecy; silliness

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2019

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