Expressing Entreaty. The Use of Kirundi Kinship Terms

Bachelor Thesis, 2012

103 Pages, Grade: Bachelor of Arts









1.1. Background Information
1.2. Statement of the Problem
1.3. Research Hypothesis
1.4. Aim of the Study
1.5. Motivation and Justification
1.6. Importance of the Study
1.7. Scope and Delimitation of the Study
1.8. Definition of Key Terms

2.1. Kirundi Kinship Terminology
2.1.1. Definition
2.1.2. Criticism on the Existing Related Literature
2.1.3 Description of Kirundi Kinship Terminology Mode of Use of Kirundi Kinship Terminology Linguistic Structure of Kirundi Kinship Terminology Mode of Application of Kirundi Kinship Terminology
2.1.4. Significance of Kirundi Kinship Terminology
2.1.5 Nomenclature of Kirundi Kinship Terminology Consanguineal Kinship Terms Affinal Kinship Terms
2.2. Pragmatics
2.2.1. Definition of Pragmatics
2.2.2. Pragmatic Meaning
2.2.3. Major Issues in Pragmatics
2.2.4. Levels of Pragmatics
2.3. Notion of Entreaty
2.3.1. Speech Behaviour
2.3.2. Request

3.1. Research area
3.2. Description of the Subjects
3.3. Sampling Techniques
3.4. Research Instruments
3.5. Research Procedures

4.1. Data Interpretation
4.1.1. Classification of Collected Kinship Terms
4.1.2. Contextualization
4.1.3. Perfomative Power of the Tokens
4.2. Data Analysis
4.2.1. Muvyêyi (Parent)
4.2.2. Dāwé (daddy, dad)
4.2.3. Māwé (mummy, mum)
4.2.4. Sogóku (Grandpa)
4.2.5. Nyogóku (grandma)
4.2.5. Muvûkanyi (Sibling)
4.2.7. Mwěnewâcu (my brother, sister)
4.2.8. Mushíkānje (my sister= man speaking)
4.2.9. Musâzānje (My brother= woman speaking)
4.2.10. Mwǎna (Child)
4.3. Findings
4.3.1. Power of Kinship Terms in Entreaty Act
4.3.2. Social Parameters of Entreaty
4.3.3 Anthropological Parameters of Entreaty

5.1 General Conclusion
5.2. Recommendations







Many people have contributed in one way or another to the completion of this work. I wish to express my heartfelt and deep gratitude to all of them.

First and Foremost my innermost gratitude goes to Dr Ildephonse Horicubonye, senior lecturer at the University of Burundi, who introduced me to Linguistic pragmatics and, despite his numerous academic responsibilities accepted to supervise this work from the very first step until its present state. His wise criticisms and advice helped me a very great deal.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Makerere University authorities who gave me guidelines for my research dissertation during my immersion course in the University of Makerere.Their availability, effort and patience are praiseworthy.

My special thanks go to my former lecturers in major seminaries, particularly late Father Pierre Nkanira, former senior lecturer at the University of Burundi and Bujumbura Major Seminary, who, first, introduced me to the concepts of linguistics in his course titled linguistic philosophy and Father Antoine Sabushatse, former Rector of Bujumbura Major Seminary and senior lecturer of philosophy of language whose lectures and advice warmed me up and ignited my interest in language use.

My appreciation is extended to Dr Divine Che Neba, former lecturer of African Literature and comparative Literature at the University of Burundi whose lectures and advice opened me to the nature and purpose of university studies.

I am highly indebted to all my former teachers from primary school to the university, particularly the staff members of the English Language and Literature Department for the education that I got from them. Their efforts have really opened me new horizons of life.

Many thanks, more than I could express, are directed to my father and my mother who sent me to school, the Catholic Church for the moral and financial support in the course of my studies and all people who facilitated my studies and contributed to the realisation of this dissertation.


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Table1: The first ascending generation

Table 2: The second ascending generation

Table 3: Horizontal generation

Table 4: The first descending generation

Table 5: The second and third descending generation

Table 6: Interpretation of the chart

Table 7: Generation of parents

Table 8: Generation of fraternals

Table 9: Generation of children

Table 10 : Interpretation of the chart

Chart 1: A display of consanguineal terms( ego= man speaking) 89

Chart 2: A display of affinal terms (ego = man speaking) 93


This is a pragmatic analysis of the Kirundi kinship terminology with the aim of using a linguistic approach to study how Burundians use kinship terms to express entreaty.

It has been noted that Kirundi speakers use kinship terms to address their hearers in order to achieve some targets. Thus, kinship terms embody the power of action that is exploited in interpersonal conversation to express entreaty.

The study was based on the assumption that Kirundi kinship terms do things in actual communication.

Kirundi kinship terms used for entreaty purpose were collected from members of the Kirundi speech community and from available related literature. They were translated into English and classified according to how they are used with regards to the conveyance entreaty. The speech act theory was used to identify the locutionary force (semantics), the illocutionary force (intention) and the perlocutionary force (possible effects) of each contextualized kinship term.

The people’s reactions in relation to deeper implications and possible effects of the kinship terms were obtained through a questionnaire and an interview schedule.

The findings of the study showed that the respondents (100%) are aware of the pragmatic use of kinship terms and use kinship terms to convey entreaty in their everyday life. When they were asked whether they use kinship terms for entreaty purpose, they all agreed (100%) regardless of their age and sex. It was proved, however, that there is a tendency to replace some terms by foreign language equivalents or religious brotherhood terms. Respondents also expressed their views that kinship terms are honorific words and politeness forms which have the power to arouse one’s addressee grant one’s request. Kirundi kinship terms may, therefore, be taken as one major source of reference to study the ethnopragmatics of Burundians. Kirundi kinship terminology should, thus, be subjected to well balanced analysis and interpretation to avoid unnecessary influences. The analysis of Kinship terms is recommended as a powerful tool for people concerned with sociopragmatics. Moreover, Kirundi Kinship terminology constitutes a wide field for linguists interested in studying the power and effects of language in society.


1.1. Background Information

The Republic of Burundi is located in the central Eastern part of Africa. Kirundi is the national language. It is a means of communication among the majority of Burundians. It is, therefore, a key to the survival of people who use it in diverse ways of life. Almost 90% of the population depends on agriculture for living. This is why majority of people live in the countryside where land cultivation and cattle rearing activities are possible. Except for Bujumbura city and province towns where people lead an urban life and have, therefore, developed new life styles because of modern influences (especially Western), other parts of the country are subjected to less external influences. Border provinces, however, have some traits in common with neighbouring countries, that is, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This means that the Burundi society is a virtually small-scale society. The individual plays few roles while many others are subsumed under kinship. Moreover, Burundi is dominantly rural and kinship roles are very important.

The way of living of Burundians like other African nations give the family a significant place. The family is at the centre of the social organization. Due to the strength of relationships among members of the kin, the individual is not as strong as the family. What matters is the family as the saying goes: “Igitó gitābwa iwǎbo”. Translated: “The end of the dull is his homestead”. The members of the local kin group demonstrate complex familial bonds which are expressed through a dynamic cooperation. They exchange food, beer and other commodities. Depending on where they live, some give each other cows on the basis of the patroclient relationship, help each other with field labour, herd in turns the cattle, or help each other in times of quarrel with other people. In some circumstances of life, such as marriage, death, birth, etc, kinship plays a significant role. Likewise, in settling matters, especially at the village (urubǎnza rwó ku mugina), kin members react, for they would not be pleased to see their kin members lose the trial. This is proved right in the saying: “umuryâmbwá aba umwé agatukīsha umuryāngo. Translated: “A dirty person, though he be one is a shame for his family.”

The aforementioned reasons are an evidence of the significance of kinship in Burundi society. They show that kinship maintains an effective solidarity among members of the local kin group. There are, however, social or cultural phenomena, such as geographical mobility, influences of Western cultures and societies which are weakening ties among kinsmen. Due to the fact that this work is a linguistic study, this will not be developed since they are part of social anthropology which is not the concern here.

Due to the fact that kinship is expressed through the family (Raymond 1956:88), it is necessary to elucidate the concept of Burundi family. The notion of Burundi family is polysemic. We distinguish the nuclear family (urugó), the consanguineal family (umuryāngo), the extended family (incutí) and neighbours (abaryāngo). The nuclear family consists of the husband, his wife and their children. On the other hand, consanguineal family goes beyond the nuclear family to include other kin members who have in common the same ancestor. It goes further to include the broad entities, such as lineage and clan. We have, here, for instance, the lineage or clan of abahimá, abajîji, abashûbi, etc. As far as the extended family is concerned, it is a bilateral kinship that includes relatives of both the male and female sides. Finally, last but not least, is the neighbour family. This type of family does not restrict itself to kinsmen only. Rather it includes close neighbours as the saying goes: “umubânyi ní wé muryāngo”. Translated: “the neighbour is the one who is the relative”.

Thus, for the sake of a wide range of kinship terms or broad terminology, this work will combine the first three types of family, that is, nuclear, consanguineal and extended families. Another reason behind this is that neighbours do not have specific kinship terms or labels to identify them by family members.

Kirundi kinship system has developed a terminology which can be classified under three categories: the parents (abavyêyi), fraternals (abavûkanyi) and children (abâna). Parent group includes all terms that are used by ego to refer to or address people in the family considered as his parents. For the group of fraternals, there are terms that ego uses to refer to or address kinsmen who seem to have the same status of sibling with him. As far as the category of children is concerned, there are a number of terms used to label or to interact with kindred socially considered as children to ego.

As put above, Kirundi kinship terminology takes into account both the affinal and consanguineal relatives. This means that we have kinship terms designating kinship resulting from marriage and those resulting from birth. It also considers other criteria, such as generation, sex, age, bifurcation, etc. Kirundi kinship terminology gives to the Kirundi language a vocabulary which deserves a thorough study, for it embraces terms which serve in everyday social communication or interpersonal interactions.

In the use of Kirundi language, kinship terms can be grouped into two sections considering the way they function: terms of reference and terms of address. The terms of reference denote the kind of social relation that exists between relatives. As far as terms of address are concerned, they are actual application of the former in social communication events between kindred. This is what Ngarambe (1975: 360) calls the pragmatics of Kirundi kinship terminology.

In his article, he admits: « Le terme de référence détermine la relation qui, a son tour, détermine l’usage du terme d’adresse ». Translated: “The term of reference determines the relationship which, in turn determines the use of the term of address”.

This assertion means that Kirundi kinship terms convey in themselves patterns of behaviour which are actually realised through the terms of address. On this point, Murdock pinpoints that “part of the reciprocal behaviour characterizing every relationship between kinsmen consists of a verbal element, the terms by which each addresses the other” (1960:97). Both Ngarambe and Murdock limit themselves to the use of kinship terms between relatives. Kinship, however, like other concepts in any language can be used in a context of communication involving other realities than kinship reference or address.

Depending on the intention of the utterer and the context of communication, Kirundi speakers use kinship terms to stimulate their listeners to display the patterns of behaviour denoted by those terms or to imply certain social attributes or considerations to other people outside the communication setting.

The good understanding of this pragmatic use of Kirundi kinship terms is a great necessity as far as the Kirundi language use is concerned. This is because Kirundi is a means of communication among Burundians and or any other person who knows it. They need to know what to say on a particular situation and how to say it in order to communicate effectively in culturally significant settings. This would enable them to achieve their goals, for kinship terms are used in everyday life communication and in all domains of the social and economic life.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

Kinship system is a universal phenomenon. In all languages and communities of the world, people use kinship terms either to address different relatives or to refer to specific systems of family relationships.

In Burundi, kinship terminology includes, for example, terms of reference, such as dātá (my father), muvyârānje (my cross cousin), nyinǎbo (his/her matrilineal aunt), umwîshwá (nephew) and terms of address, such as nyôku! (grandma!), da! (daddy/dad) and mâ! (mummy!, mum!).

Kinship terminology comprises a complex set of usage and patterns of behaviour between relatives. Kinship terms can, however, be used to address or to refer to any person who is not a relative or people who are not related to each other.

In actual social communication, Kirundi speakers use kinship terms to express praise, endearment, commitment or use them in cajoling and hedging each other. This means that depending on what the speaker wants to achieve, he embeds in his utterances a kinship term to cause his hearer feel emotional. Beyond simple emotion, the speaker, in using a kinship term, wants the hearer to solve his problem.

This work is concerned with expressing entreaty by means of Kirundi kinship terms. In other words, this work seeks to explore how Kirundi speakers use some kinship terms in order to make their requests more serious and emotional and get them granted by their addressees.

1.3. Research Hypothesis

This work is based on the following assumption:

In actual social communication, Kirundi speakers use kinship terms to do things.

1.4. Aim of the Study

This work aims at analysing and examining how kinship terms are used to convey entreaty among Kirundi speakers.

1.5. Motivation and Justification

Due to the fact that Burundians make use of kinship terms between relatives and non relatives as well, I was motivated to contribute in providing a pragmatic analysis of Kirundi kinship terminology. I nevertheless, restricted the work to kinship terms that Kirundi speakers use in expressing entreaty. In this way, this work focuses on the functional aspect of the Kirundi language.

Such a pragmatic study of Kirundi kinship terminology stems from my personal curiosity. When I was a secondary school student I was puzzled by the question of my female classmate to me: “Simǒni murámwānje, gúte?”, translated: “Simon my brother-in-law, how are you?” The question was a riddle, for I was perplexed by the peculiar use of the word “murámwānje” (my brother-in-law). In fact, I was not tied by any familial bond to her. I was asking myself why on earth a person who is not my relative would address me that way. Now that the interest grew in me I thought that it would be necessary to clarify the performative power of those terms not only for myself but also for other people.

At first glance, the way kinship terms function in the society seems obvious to such an extent that its analysis would be a waste of time. In reality, they are a real linguistic challenge which deserves a thorough study. Furthermore, people are using Kirundi kinship terms in their everyday life. They, therefore, take them for granted. It is when they undergo a frustration due to a bad interpretation of a kinship term that they realise their complexity and the importance of using them well. A home, for example, is destroyed as a wife overhears her husband calling a woman who is not his relative “muvyâranjé” (my cross cousin).The wife starts suspecting the relation of her husband to the woman between his wife and the stranger.

Researchers have not devoted attention to the pragmatic analysis of Kirundi kinship terminology. Of all the five studies done on Kirundi kinship terminology:

cousins croisés et descendants: les systèmes du Rwanda et du Burundi comparés à ceux du Bas – Congo( Cross cousins and descendants : the systems of Burundi and Rwanda compared to that of Low-Congo),

Pragmatique de la terminologie de la parenté Rundi, (Pragmatics of the Kirundi kinship terminology), La terminologie familiale au Burundi (The kinship terminology in Burundi),

La signification de la famille parentale au Burundi (The meaning of the parental family in Burundi) et Analyse et interpretation des désignations des différents degrés de parenté en Kirundi (Analysis and interpretation of labels of different stages of Kirundi kinship system),

only one is a linguistic work. Others are mere descriptions and analyses fitting either anthropological or sociological investigations. What prompted the researchers to work on the topic was the conviction that Kirundi kinship terminology reflects the Burundi familial and social organizations. Hence, they studied Kirundi kinship structure and nomenclature and came up with intra-family relationships involved in many day- to- day activities, such as economic activities, reproduction, leadership, child care, household activities, sex and education.

These relationships depict the organization of the Burundi society, the identity and the cultural values of Burundians. In their research, Ngowenubusa, Ntakirutimana and Barampama (1970:1-35) put: “Les résultats de cette recherche nous apporteront une meilleure connaissance de l’âme du Murundi et des valeurs qui véhiculent sa culture”. Translated: “The results of this research will bring out the best knowledge of the mind of a Burundian and values that his culture conveys”.

On the other hand, the unique linguistic work done on Kirundi kinship terminology is a lexicological analysis. It aims at collecting Kirundi kinship terms and giving a morpho-syntactic and lexicological interpretation of those terms.

This work is special in that it is concerned with a pragmatic analysis of kirundi kinship terms used in the Kirundi language. It explores Kirundi kinship terms that are used to express entreaty. This work will, then, enable Burundians and Kirundi speakers to use Kirundi well as they incorporate in their speech kinship terms operating as politeness strategies.

1.6. Importance of the Study

Based on the principle of pragmatics - to reconstruct language as a communicative, inter-subjective and social phenomenon, this work completes other works done on the topic of Kirundi kinship terminology. It stretches tentacles to cultural anthropological and lexicological interpretations of Kirundi kinship terminology and builds meanings of those terms considering the context of communication and other social realities. Due to this focus on the communicative performance and aspects of the Kirundi language, Burundians and other Kirundi speakers will find this work significant.

1.7. Scope and Delimitation of the Study

This research is carried out in provinces of Burundi and all respondents are native speakers of Kirundi language. It entails an integration of the speech act theory in the interpretation of kinship terms involved in the expression of entreaty as part of the Kirundi language use. This is in a bid to find out whether or not by using Kirundi kinship terms people do things.

1.8. Definition of Key Terms

For clear understanding, we will define the key terms of the work, that is, “kinship terms” and “entreaty”. According to Charles Winick (1968:302) “kinship” means “the social recognition and expression of genealogical relationships, the latter being consanguineal and/or affinal.” From the above explanation, it is clear that the recognition and expression of the relationships between relatives are rendered possible by verbal elements. These verbal elements are referred to as kinship terms. They are a sort of nomenclature which serves to identify x relative from y. On the other hand entreaty is a serious and often emotional request (Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary, 7th Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2007). In this view point, the use of Kirundi kinship terms to convey entreaty means the way Kirundi speakers use kinship terms in actual communication as a form of politeness strategy to make their requests successful.

This chapter gives an overview of the work. It comprises eight subsections: background information, statement of the problem, research hypothesis, aim of the study, motivation and justification, importance of the study, scope and the limitation of the study and definition of key terms. The section gives insight into how the work looks like. It is, thus, necessary to revise the body of existing knowledge in pragmatics, speech acts, Kirundi verbal behaviour and request pattern and Burundi anthropology.


This chapter seeks to overview and comment on the existing literature related to the topic of kinship terminology. It further demonstrates the necessity of a pragmatic approach and the need to resort to the speech act theory.

2.1. Kirundi Kinship Terminology

2.1.1. Definition

According to G.P Murdock (1960:97)), kinship terms are “verbal elements that express the reciprocal behaviour characterizing every relationship between kinsmen.” This definition highlights the significance of kinship terms in day-to-day communication in all languages and societies of the world. Kinship terms are very important because members of the kin group use them at least sometimes to address a relative or refer to him. Before Murdock, Morgan Lewis cited in Fried, M H (1980: 335) had clarified this significance of kinship terminology in the structure and organisation of family. He defines kinship terminology as “systems of consanguinity and affinity” that deal with “a people’s recognition of their genealogical relationships and therefore describe to us the actual organization of the kinship order”. Later, Radcliffe and Ayisi brought in new concepts, namely norm, duty, and right. Ayisi (1980:37) defines kinship terms as “definite terms” that express “the relationships which exist between individuals, thus conceptualizing the norms and the code of behaviour or the type of interactions, either open-ended or restricted that should operate between these various categories of individuals who are thus connected”. Ayisi shows, here, that kinship terms are more social than linguistic items, for they denote all the social phenomena of society. At this point, Radcliffe (1970) consents that “kinship terms are like signposts to interpersonal conduct or etiquette, with implication of appropriate reciprocal rights, duties, privileges and obligations.”

With regard to the Kirundi kinship terminology, studies have been carried out by a lot of authors coming out with either anthropological or linguistic conclusions.

2.1.2. Criticism on the Existing Related Literature

This section provides information about works done by Burundians and other researchers on the Kirundi kinship terminology and the significance of this vocabulary in the Burundi society.

Many writers, among others George Peter Murdock (1960), Radcliffe Brown (1969), Daryll Forde (1969), Hélène Claudot (1982), M. Angulu Onwuejeogwu (1981), Eric D. Ayisi (1979), and Steven A.. Tyler (1972) have written on kinship terminologies in order to bring out light on their quiddity, classification, social and cultural determinants or reflection of cultural values of society. Besides, a number of studies have been carried out by Burundians and foreigners on the topic of the Kirundi kinship terminology. These include: T. Havyarimana (1989), J.B Nterere (1969), D. Ngowenubusa (1970), Alii (1970), P. Ngarambe (1979), Vinke (1979), J.B Bigangara (1986). Apart from Havyarimana who did a lexicological study, others focused on the anthropological point of view of the Kirundi kinship terminology. Almost all works done on the Kirundi kinship terminology lead to nearly the same conclusion: Kirundi kinship words reveal the familial and social organisation and convey cultural values of Burundi.

In their research conducted in the regions of Mirwa, Moso, Mugamba, Buyenzi, Kirimiro and Imbo; Ngowenubusa, Barampama and Ntakirutimana conclude: “A partir de l’analyse de la structure terminologique, on comprend mieux la structure des relations sociales”. Translated: “From the analysis of the structure of the terminology, we understand better the structure of social relationships”. In the same article (QVS, Vol4, No. 12, 1970), the authors start with the organisation of the nuclear family in order to capture the whole organisation of the extended family, in particular and that of the Burundi society in general. The introduction puts : “Cette synthèse nous permettra de comprendre la place que tienne le père, la mère et leurs enfants au sein du foyer et le rôle spécial que chacun d’eux est appelé à jouer dans la société”. Translated: “This summary will enable us to understand the place of the father, the mother and their children in the bosom of the household and the special role that each of them has to play in the society”.

Complementing their idea, Nterere (QVS, Vol2, No.6, 1969), in his article “La signification de la famille parentale au Burundi” (The meaning of the consanguineal family in Burundi) establishes a relationship between Kirundi kinship terminology and the roles played by members of the consanguineal family. Unlike the previous authors, he does not focus on the affinal family. He vehemently shows how names given to members of the consanguineal family convey the significance of the latter in the organisation of the society.

In the same spirit, another analysis was done by P. Ngarambe (1979:360-363) in his article titled: “Pragmatique de la terminologie de la parenté Rundi” (The Pragmatics of the Kirundi Kinship Terminology). Here, Ngarambe highlights the congruity that exists between Kirundi kinship words and culturally patterned behaviour. In his findings, he demonstrates the pragmatics of the terms of address. In actual communication, address terms go with patterns of behaviour and social attitudes displayed by both the addresser and the addressee. In this way, he shows that Kirundi kinship terms of address do not simply say; rather they do. He applies this phenomenon to the social organisation and comes up with two notions which are fundamental to the Burundi social organisation: Seniority and authority of the male. In his view, Burundi society is centred around the power of the senior over the junior and the authority of the male over the female. He clarifies: “Le Burundi a une structure fortement hiérarchisée où les abagabo viennent chaque fois en première place dans les secteurs-clefs de la société”. Translated: “Burundi has a highly hierarchical structure where men always occupy the first place in key sectors of the society”.

A further analysis of Kirundi kinship terminology was done by T. Havyarimana (1989). For the first time, he did a linguistic study on Kirundi kinship terminology. His work is different from the aforementioned in the way that it seeks to provide readers with a dictionary of Kirundi kinship words. Hence, conclusion related to the scientific study of the Kirundi language rather than cultural or social anthropological outlook. More clearly, from the etymology of Kirundi kinship terms, that is, Kinyarwanda, Kiha and Kifurero (languages spoken in neighbouring countries, respectively Rwanda, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo), he makes a linguistic analysis and interpretation of the forms of kinship words collected from the speakers of those languages. He, therefore, gives lexical meanings of the words used in the Kirundi kinship system.

Finally, in his study on the relationship between semantics and anthropology aiming at capturing the concept of family and marriage in the Burundi traditional society, J.B Bigangara (1986:154) assumes that each kinship term conveys social duties and rights of the person(relative ) to whom it refers. He illustrates this with the meaning of husband (umugabo) as it is vehicled through Kirundi dictions:

Urugó ruramutswa umugabo

The husband is the label of the home.

Ururímwo umugabo ntirugirá umugayo

A household headed by a man is not disdained

Inkokókazi ntíbika isǎke irího

The wife does not speak when her husband is around.

These expressions and many others highlight the power of the husband in the household in particular and that of the man in the society, in general. By demonstrating that man or husband means authority, Bigangara agrees with Ngarambe’s conclusion.

2.1.3 Description of Kirundi Kinship Terminology

The classification of kinship terms has been a bone of contention among scholars of the cultural and social anthropology canon. This is because even though kinship terms conform to the morphological principles of a given language, their classification is not necessarily shaped upon the nature of language. Kinship terms, rather, embrace both linguistic and social features of the speech community. On this point, Murdock (1960:118) admits that “language represents reality and in so far as it is related to social phenomena, it is likely to mirror them”. Nevertheless, social and cultural anthropology agree that kinship terms can be classified in terms of their use, their linguistic structure and their range of application. Mode of Use of Kirundi Kinship Terminology

Social and cultural anthropologists and linguistic anthropologists as well advance that depending on their mode of use, kinship terms can be classified into two categories: terms of address and terms of reference. The terms of address are words used in face-to-face communication between relatives. This is why they are accompanied directly by patterns of behaviour. They are in fact part of the linguistic behaviour denoted by a particular interpersonal relationship. Murdock (1960:106) advances that “The terms of address form an integral part of the culturally patterned relationships between kinsmen, even though they are an aspect of habitual verbal rather than gross muscular behaviour”.

In Kirundi, for example, we have terms, such as mugo(wife), bamwa (my child- in-law’s parents), ma (mum), da (dad) and mwana (child).

On the other hand, reference terms are a sort of labels used by ego to designate a relative in speaking about him or her to another person (third). It serves to denote a relative and his particular kinship status or rank. Contrary to the terms of address, reference terms do not explicitly go with culturally patterned behaviour during communication. This is true, for example, in Kirundi with terms, such as inásēnge (his/her patrilineal aunt), séwǎbo (his/her patrilineal uncle), nyokórome (your matrilineal uncle), dātabukwé (my father-in-law), mārúme(my matrilineal uncle), bêndahámwe (my sister-in-law’s husband), mukâdāwé (my stepmother), só (your father), nyoko (your mother), etc.

Findings on kinship terms reveal that some words are used both for address and reference. Some others, however, exclusively act as address terms while others are specific for reference. Moreover, address terms are almost diminutive, informal or colloquial terms which derive from the reference terms. Sometimes, they are specific terms which have nothing to do with their equivalent reference terms. Thus sogo(grandpa), nyogo (grandma), mwana (child), mukaza (daughter-in-law), da (dad), ma (mum), bamwa (my child’s in-law parents) are derivatives respectively from sogókuru (my grandfather), nyogókuru (my grandmother), umwâna (child), umukazâna (daughter-in-law), dāwé (my father), māwé (my mother), bāmwâna (my child’s in-law parents) which are their equivalent reference terms. Linguistic Structure of Kirundi Kinship Terminology

Most studies on kinship terms classify them under three categories, namely elementary or simple terms, derivative terms, and descriptive terms.

First of all, elementary terms are irreducible terms or words which cannot be analysed into further component lexical elements with kinship meanings. They are like free morphemes from which other compound terms are formed. In Kirundi, there are elementary and simple terms, such as māmá (my mother), dātá (my father), musâza (brother: woman speaking), muvyâra (cross cousin). They serve as raw material for other complex terms, such as māmáwǎcu (my matrilineal aunt), dātabukwé (my father-in-law), mushíkǎbo (his parallel cousin), musâzānje (my brother: woman speaking) and muvyârāwe (your cross cousin).

As far as derivative terms are concerned, they are terms compounded from elementary terms and some other lexical elements which do not primarily have kinship meaning. They are a sort of compound words or phrases whose full meaning reflects kinship ties between two persons. For example, umwŭzukuru (grandchild), dātabukwé (my father-in-law), murúmunānje (my younger brother), mugēnziwé (his cospouse) are derivatives. The morphemes with which they are associated, that is, -kúru, -wé, -bukwé, -ānje have basically nothing to do with familial bonds.

Finally, descriptive terms are words or phrases which combine two or more elementary terms to denote a specific relative. It is, here, worth mentioning that descriptive terms are intermediate between elementary terms and derivative terms. Umukazâna (daughter-in-law) and mukâdāwe (my stepmother) have transparent meanings because they describe the relationship between ego and alter. Mode of Application of Kirundi Kinship Terminology

Anthropologists consent that kinship nomenclature items can be grouped into two classification systems: denotative system and classificatory system.

Denotative systems of kinship are systems which use one term only to denote relatives in one kinship category depending on sex, generation, genealogy differentiation, etc. The label mwĕnewâcu (my brother), for instance, can be applied to both the younger brothers and elder brothers of ego.

On the other hand, classificatory systems are kinship systems which use one term to refer to or address relatives of two or more kinship categories as these are defined by generation, sex or genealogical connection. In Kirundi, a term such as sogókuru (my grandfather) can be used to label all the males of the second ascending generation of both the matrilineal and matrilineal families and both the consanguineal and affinal descendants.

Discussing on the classificatory system, Radcliffe and Daryll (1969:9) assert: “The inclusion of two relatives in the same terminological category implies that there is some significant similarity in the customary behaviour or social relations”. This assertion shows that in a classificatory system, the choice of the label to designate a particular group of kinsmen as so is explained by the way ego behaves towards those people. Working with the Masai tribe, for example, Radcliffe and Daryll (1969: 18) discovered that the word father (menye) label ego’s the father’s brother or ego’s the father’s brother’s son. According to their findings, there is some similarity in the way ego interacts these two different fathers. In the same vein, Tax in Murdock (1960:107) asserts that “Persons towards whom ego behaves in the same manner, he will call by the same term […]. Persons to whom ego behaves in a different manner he will call by different terms”. In Burundi, for example, all persons whom a man calls daughters interact with him through an asymmetrical relationship characterized by an avoiding taboo behaviour.

For most anthropologists, classificatory system is the most valid for any research on kinship systems. This view is held by E.R. Leach, M. Angulu, Ayisi E. etc. The problem, however, is that the classificatory system varies with community systems. This means that there are variations in terms of application, use and structure.

2.1.4. Significance of Kirundi Kinship Terminology

Kinship vocabulary provides a range of items which serve in everyday life communication as community members use them in almost all domains of life. This idea is held by Burundi anthropologists. In his findings, J.B Bigangara (1986) explicates the use of Kirundi kinship terms in conversation, in ordinary speeches and circumstantial discourses, in taking oaths or pledges, in expressing anger through insults, curse, murmuring and blaming among Burundians.

In interpersonal interaction, Burundians use kinship words in the place of proper names in order to refer to people outside the communication setting or to address them within it. In nuclear family, for instance, a Burundi spouse does not refer to the partner by a personal name when talking to the children, or other people outside the elementary family. This is why, children, at a certain age ignore the personal names of their parents. This sometimes goes, also, for other members of the family (extended family). Likewise, in conversation, you hear people say: “that is so…, you are so…, He is so of so…”

In addition, kinship words are used in ordinary or simple speeches and even in circumstantial speeches. Havyarimana (1989:36) pinpoints: “En Kirundi, les rapports de parenté se reflètent à travers l’usage courant des termes de parenté que cela soit dans les discours ordinaires ou circonstanciels”. Translated: “In Kirundi, relationships among the kinsmen are reflected through the current use of kinship terms either in everyday life speeches or circumstantial speeches”.

In Burundi society, kinship terms are also used in taking oaths or pledges and in expressing anger through insults, curse, blaming and imprecations. To strengthen personal commitments, people often imbed in their utterances a particular kinship term that refers to a relative who has a taboo relationship with ego. The mention of that kinship term is a promise that ego will assuredly fulfil the commitment. To break the promise should be committing incest, an abomination which is sanctioned by the society. The utterance: “umukǒbwānje”! (my daughter!) is heard, for instance, of a person (man) promising something. In other words, the utterer means that not to do his word would be sexing his daughter. Likewise, as a defence mechanism, many Burundians express anger through insults, blaming, curse, murmuring, etc. The utterer wishes the listener the breach of avoidance taboo relationship. For example, the addresser may say: “Uragaswēra nyoko (fuck your mother). This is an attack to the addressee, for there is an avoidance taboo relationship between a Burundi male and his mother.

The choice of kinship terms in society depends on many factors as Stephen A. Tyler (1972:253) admits that “ the choice of terms from one language or the other [...] depends more specifically on social features; in this case, on the religious, as well as ethnic, identity of the speaker.” Tyler, here, is demonstrating the fact that the classification of kinship terms is culture related.

2.1.5 Nomenclature of Kirundi Kinship Terminology

All the taxonomies on Kirundi Kinship terminology divide Kirundi kinship terms into 2 categories, that is, consanguineal and affinal kinship terms. Within each division, there are three subdivisions, namely the generations of the parents (ascending generations), the ego generation (fraternals) and the generations of children (descending generations). Consanguineal Kinship Terms

This category embraces all the terms used by ego to label kinspersons related to him by birth.

a) Ascending Generations

Under this category are classified terms designating all kinsmen considered in the family as parents to ego. The first stage of parents includes genitor parents, the second stage consists of cogenitors and the 3rd stage includes the potential parents, that is, the cross cousins of ego’s parents.

1° The first ascending generation

It includes parents of the 1st generation or + 1 generation (table 1).

2° The Second Ascending Generation or + 2 generation ( table 2)

This group includes ego’s father’s father and mother, ego’s mother’s father and mother, their brothers and sisters and their cousins. The terms used go for both the patrilineal and matrilineal grandparents. Terms of the 3rd and fourth ascending generation exist in the Kirundi kinship system (sogókuruza: my father’s father’s father, inákuruza: his/her mother’s mother’s mother) but they are not frequent.

b) Horizontal Generation

This is ego generation or zero generation. It includes ego’s siblings, ego’s uncles’ children, ego’s aunts’children and ego’s half brothers and sisters (table 3). These are kinsmen socially considered as equal to ego.

c) The Generation of Children

The most commonly known terms in Kirundi kinship system are three descending generations. The first descending generation includes direct descendents of ego, the children of his brothers and sisters, the children of his cousins both parallel and cross (table 4). In the description, complex terms or phrases are not listed. This is because they are made of the generic term or simple term plus a possessive. This is not a problem per se, for any one who knows the language is aware of the use of possessive adjectives. Another reason to this omission is that to mention the possessives for all terms would require a whole dissertation. It would be a waste of time since the work is not concerned with the morpho-syntax analysis of the Kirundi kinship terminology. Only elementary terms and forms which exist as compounds in the language are listed.

The second and third descending generations include ego’s son and daughter‘s children, ego’s brother and sister’s son and daughter’s children, ego’s cousins’ grand children. It also extends to the children of the former in the third descending generation (table 5).


Excerpt out of 103 pages


Expressing Entreaty. The Use of Kirundi Kinship Terms
University of Burundi  (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences University of Burundi)
English Language and Literature
Bachelor of Arts
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
889 KB
expressing, entreaty, kirundi, kinship, terms
Quote paper
Simon Ntamwana (Author), 2012, Expressing Entreaty. The Use of Kirundi Kinship Terms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Expressing Entreaty. The Use of  Kirundi Kinship Terms

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free