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Shifting tactics of intersubjectivity to align indexicalities: A case of joking around in Swahinglish

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 January 2007

CHRISTINA HIGGINS
Affiliation:
Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1890 East-West Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, cmhiggin@hawaii.edu

Abstract

This article examines how a group of Tanzanian journalists employ various tactics of intersubjectivity to achieve mutual understanding during a conversation at work. The analysis focuses on one particularly challenging episode of talk wherein political figures and clothing styles from the early days of African independence are referenced, and an ensuing joke about body image is made using the phrase kumaintain figure ‘to maintain figure’ in reference to a male journalist. The joke arguably (re)appropriates the original meaning of the phrase and challenges the relevance of Western body aesthetics for Africans. All participants laugh at the joke, but the basis for their laughter is ambiguous. The participants' interpretations of the joke are examined through ethnographic methods within the framework of (re)entextualization (Silverstein & Urban 1996). The analysis shows that the participants have produced somewhat different indexical orders (Silverstein 2003) for the phrase and, therefore, have different reasons for finding it humorous.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
2007 Cambridge University Press

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