A Philosophical Analysis of the Power of Language and its Role in National Cohesion: Stereotype of "Bunyon" among the Kalenjins

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012

20 Pages, Grade: Scholarly Paper



Language is a great asset that God gave to human beings. Language has power to heal and destroy the entire universe. Thus it is imperative that good use be made of it. We use language in diverse ways (to write, speak, reason, abuse, curse etc). Linguists argue that the primary function of language is to formulate and convey information about the world we live in. In other words, language is a very crucial tool in our daily lives. We live and act because of language. The paper philosophically analyzed the power of language in society, and suggested possible ways that can boost peace and cohesion in a cosmopolitan society, such as Kenya. The study focused on the concept of bunyon[1] among the Kalenjins [2] and by extension other ethnic communities of Kenya. Purposive and random sampling methods were employed to identify the study population of 29 informants. Data was collected through oral interviews.

Key words: Stereotype, bunyon, cohesion, power of language and philosophy of language.

Introduction and Literature Review

The study is an investigation and evaluation of the power of language with reference to the concept of bunyon among the Kalenjin community of Kenya. Language has power over all things in the world. The Bible[3] records that with our tongue we can bless and (or) also curse. Kalenjin is a broad term referring to different dialects spread across many parts of the Rift Valley Province of Kenya, especially North Rift.

Sambu (2008) argues that the Kalenjins belong to the Nilotic community. The dialects of Kalenjin community include Nandis, Kipsigis, Pokots, Tugens and Keiyos among others. Historically, Kalenjins are primarily known to be pastoralists and farmers. Currently, their population is estimated to be three million representing almost 10% of the Kenyan population. Their relationship with other Kenyan communities has been characterized (politically, socially etc) by hostility and animosity because of the concept and stereotype of bunyon. In order to understand this concept (bunyon) clearly it is imperative that we define the following terms: Philosophy of language, power of language, bunyon, stereotype and cohesion.

Philosophy of Language

In order to understand this concept, one needs to unmask what philosophy is on one hand and philosophy of language on the other hand. To begin with, it is important to appreciate that philosophy is a broad concept. Generally, it refers to continuous search for wisdom. Kiruki (2004), Njoroge and Bennaars (1987) argue that philosophy has its origin in the Greek language, that is philosophia, a compound word consisting of philos (philleen), which refers to one who loves and sophia which stands for wisdom. So, a philosopher can be simply defined as a lover of wisdom (learning knowledge and truth). In other words, philosophy deals with the investigation of abstruse problems, and is also an attempt to question the existence of almost everything in the universe.

Philosophy therefore involves a continuous process in search for wisdom by philosophers who try to come to terms with life in the world of today. Socrates[4], Plato[5] and Aristotle[6] are examples of great philosophers who have left a remarkable legacy in the world of philosophy. They agued that language must be used to critically examine and evaluate human life furthermore they claimed that language has enormous power and its power must be recognized.

On the other hand, philosophy of language is a critical look at human language based on what it can perform. According to Aristotlen as quoted by Kiruki (2004), man is a speaking being. Not only can a man speak but he also has the word. The word is in the context of logos. Human beings are the only living things who have logos. Philosophy of language is therefore the branch of philosophy that deals with language. Its primary concern includes the nature of linguistic meaning, reference, language use, critical thinking, language learning and creation, reasoning, truth, language understanding and experience. This study is a critical evaluation of language with reference to some of these concepts.

Power of Language

As mentioned earlier language has the capacity to heal or destroy, and construct or deconstruct. As mentioned earlier the Bible (Genesis 11) records that human beings at one point co-operated in an effort to reach heaven, the dwelling place of God. They teamed up together in the construction of the Tower of Babel[7], simply because they spoke in one tongue[8]. It is in this regard that we can argue that, language has power of communication (Kutol, Kandagor and Simotwo 2009). Most linguists agree that language is a tool of communication. Yule (2006) claims that language is simply a tool that allows people to pass information from a speaker to a listener(s). Zeucher, R (1997) defines communication as passing information from one person to another.

According to Wilson (1999), Communication usually takes place within a particular context and setting. So depending on the diction chosen, the society is always affected, either negatively or positively. Laughlin (1989) claims that when you pay attention to language an interesting change occurs. That is, you become aware of the ways that language can shape your perception of the world. He further argues that language is not first an instrument but rather a framework through which we look at and make sense of the world. In other words, through language we give meaning to our experience (s). We are all “located” in language very specifically.

In addition, Wilson (1999) argues that you always adjust your language often unconsciously to fit different situations. To a greater extent it is important that the Kalenjins embrace this concept. They should adjust their language to fit various situations instead of having a stereotype mind, and for that matter the concept of bunyon.

The Concept of Bunyon

Hornby (2007) defines the term ‘enemy’ as a person who strongly dislikes or wants to injure or attack. In other words, it refers to a person who is not good and does not fit to be a member of a given society. Anthropologically, an enemy is a person who does not rhyme with others in a given community. Wilson (1999) argues that all societies have their own unique ways of isolating other communities. In one way or the other, the isolated people become enemies of the said society. In regard to this, we can argue that among the Kalenjins an enemy (bunion) is anyone who doesn’t belong to their community in terms of speech, traditions and culture.


The term stereotype is defined as an image, idea, character that has become fixed or standardized in a conventional form without individuality (Hornby, 2007). This is the picture or concept that Kalenjins have of other Kenyan communities.

According to Mauthner (1849-1923) as quoted by Kiruki (2004):

Language depicts not the world but a worldview. Hence any attempt to infer propositions regarding reality from facts of language, is a form of word-superstition. Each man’s individual senses presents a worldview unique in certain ultimately undeterminable, respects, and so communication by means of language, even if it purports to be more than an exchange of views, is fundamentally illusory. He therefore characterized language as nothing other than just the community or the mutuality of world views.

In other words, the Kalenjins as a community have their own world view of concepts. In this case the concept of bunyon is their world view. It is assumed that all human beings, be it individually or collectively have their own world view or perceptions. In Kenya for example, all communities have their own way f looking at things.


[1] Kalenjin word for enemy. The term is used to refer to anyone who is not a Kalenjin or an alien.

[2] One of the 42 communities (tribes) of Kenya.

[3] Genesis 11:1.

[4] Athenian philosopher who lived between 470-399 BC. He taught Plato. He loved conversation

[5] Greek philosopher who lived between 437-347 BC. Was Socrates student. He taught Aristotle.

[6] Greek philosopher who lived between 354-322 BC. He was a student of Plato.

[7] A tower that was constructed in an effort to reach heaven

[8] Can also be used to refer to language

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A Philosophical Analysis of the Power of Language and its Role in National Cohesion: Stereotype of "Bunyon" among the Kalenjins
Moi University
Scholarly Paper
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ISBN (eBook)
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philosophical, analysis, power, language, role, national, cohesion, stereotype, bunyon, kalenjins
Quote paper
Mosol Kandagor (Author), 2012, A Philosophical Analysis of the Power of Language and its Role in National Cohesion: Stereotype of "Bunyon" among the Kalenjins, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/191206


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