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As a social phenomenon, language reflects all aspects of human endeavor. The various reflections have been investigated in different sociolinguistic studies. However, few of such studies have employed the discourse analytical approach to investigate literary texts. Therefore, this study investigated the effects of sexism and power dominance on selected drama texts through a linguistic lens on sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. Existing studies have shown that the aim of studying conversations in literary texts is to uncover how characters understand and respond to one another during conversations based on their gender or that of their interlocutors. Therefore, this study investigated the discourse features of men and the women’s utterances in Femi Osofisan’s Altine’s Wrath and Wole Soyinka’s A Play of Giants.

The two texts for analysis were purposively selected due to their thematic thrust with gender issues. A total number of three hundred and fifty (350) utterances in 40 conversations involving men and women in the selected literary texts were purposively selected as the data for analyses. The study employed the discourse tools of participants, turn-taking, adjacency pairs, interruption, speech errors, exchanges, directive acts, informative acts, elicitation overlaps in analyzing the data.

The result revealed that utterances in the context indicated an undeniable evidence of sexism and power dominance. The instances of turn-taking, and speech error showed abundance of a high level sexism and power dominance such as when Lawal told Aina that women no longer have a place in the society, that it is the men’s world. The utterances by Lawal is used to show a high level of sexism.  The analysis also showed that women are regarded as mothers, wives, and their roles are reflected in their manner of speech. Examples include, when Lawal told Mariam that the only thing Altine understands is sweep the house, cook the food, wash napkins and mop the floor, that anything outside that is zero. The analysis revealed that men use more of speech errors, elicitations, directives, interruptions, overlap, and repair mechanisms while women use more of informative during conversations.

The study concluded that women’s utterancesare less direct than men’s powerful language. It was recommended thatfurther sexism studies should be done from other linguistic perspective such as a conversational analysis of sexism and power dominance in selected Nigerian prose,a lexico-semantic analysis of sexism and power dominance.

Keywords: Conversations, Sociolinguistics, Discourse, Sexism, Power dominance

WordCount: 385


Content                                                                                                                       Page

Title page                                                                                                                                i

Certification                                                                                                                            ii

Dedication                                                                                                                              iii

Acknowledgements                                                                                                                iv

Abstract                                                                                                                                  v

Table of Contents                                                                                                                   vi



1.1 Background to the Study                                                                                                 1

1.2 Statement of the Problem                                                                                                 5

1.3 Objective of the Study                                                                 6

1.4 Research Questions           6

1.5 Significance of the Study             6

1.6 Scope of the Study           6

1.7 Theoretical Framework                                                                                                     7

1.8 Authors’ Biography                                                                                                          8


2.0 Introduction                      10

2.1 The Concept of Sociolinguistics   10

2.1.1 Social Variables             12

2.2 Sociolinguistics and Discourse                 14

2.3 Socio- Cognitive Discourse Analysis        15

2.3.1 Discourse and Text                    15

2.3.2 Discourse and Social Practice                16

2.4 Sociolinguistics and Language Use                      17

2.5 Language and Society                  18

2.6 Language and Culture      19

2.7 Language choice and Gender                   20

27.1 Language and its Related Ideologies                 21

Content                                                                                                                                   Page


2.7.2 Language and Solidarity                                                                                                22

2.7.3 Politeness and Gender               22

2.8 Some Sociolinguistic Issues in the Field of Language and Gender                     23

2.8.1 Power in Gender Relations                    24 Factors for Determining the Differences in the Male and Female Speeches  25 Community Practice               27 Discrimination and Sexist Language Practice            28 Implication for Language Planning                30

2.9 Discourse Analysis            31

2.9.1 Discourse Features                     34

2.10 Review of Literary Texts for Analysis                                                                           37



3.0 Introduction          39

3.1 Data Collection     39

3.2 Data Presentation  39

3.3 Sampling Procedures and Analysis           39

3.4 Data Analysis        40




4.0 Introduction          41

4.1 Participants                                               41

4.2 Turn-Taking                                                                                                                      43

4.3 Adjacency Pairs                                                                                                                46

4.4 Speech Error                                                                                                                     48

4.5 Overlap                                                                                                                             50

4.6 Elicitation                                                                                                                          52

4.7 Informative Act                                                                                                                53

4.8 Directive Act                                                                                                                    54

4.9 Repair Mechanism                                                                                                55

4.10 Exchange                                                 55

Content       Page



5.0 Introduction          56

5.1 Summary                                                                                                               56

5.2 Conclusion            57

5.3 Recommendations                                                                                                 57

5.4 Contribution to Knowledge                                                          58

5.4 Suggestion for Further Studies     58

References                                                                                                                              59



1.1       Background to the Study

From the beginning of the 20th century, men and women have been generally viewed as occupying sharply different roles in the society; a woman’s place was in the home as wife and mother; while a man’s place was in the public sphere. Men had legal powers over the lives of their wives. Sexism and power dominance exist in a completely different context of cultural norms, political, social rights and institutionalized rules. Even in the Bible, there is a belief that men are superior to women and should control all important aspects of society. Male superiority is displayed in the following passage from the New Testament:

But I will have you know, that the head of every man is Christ;and the head of the women is the man…for the man is not ofthe woman. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man (1Cor 11:3-8)


From birth, parents all over the world treat boys and girls differently. According to the traditional Islamic laws, three groups of people are not eligible for legal and religious equality: unbelievers, slaves and women. The slaves can become free, the unbelievers can become believers, but a woman can do nothing to change her status. She was permanently doomed to her second class status (Lewis, 2002). Far and wide, women experience the blatant forms of sexism.

When people talk about themselves or ask for information about others, they are using language in order to exchange facts or opinions. Language is used by human beings in social contexts to communicate their needs, ideas and emotions to one another. Language is a human vocal noise or the arbitrary graphic representation of this noise, used systematically and conventionally by members of a speech community for the purpose of communication (Osisanwo, 2003). From this definition, it is clear that language is a human phenomenon. Language is purely human and a non-instinctive method of communicating ideas and emotions by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols (Sapir, 1921). Language, as Sapir rightly says, is human – only humans possess the ability to communicate through language and all normal human beings possess it.

Language gives shape to people’s thought; it controls their entire activity. As the most important tool for human beings, it not only reflects the realities of the society, but also has various functions to strengthen and maintain social existence. Thus, for a long time feminists and sociolinguists have shown interest in describing the differences in language use between the two sexes. This dissertation examines the effect of sexism and power dominance through a linguistic lens.

Sexism, refers to a set of attitudes towards people of a particular sex that judges or belittles them on the basis of their gender, or that perpetuates stereotypical assumptions about gender roles. Nowadays, the term is most often used to refer to discrimination towards women (Davis, 1985). According to Wardhaugh (2010), gender is a fact that we cannot avoid, it is part of the way in which societies are formed around us. Sexism is a belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another. It imposes limits on what men and women can and should do as separate entities. Sexism in a society is commonly applied to the women and girls. It functions to maintain patriarchy, or male domination through ideological and material practices of individuals and institutions that oppress women on the basis of sex. A common form of socialization that is based on sexist concepts teaches particular narratives about traditional gender roles for men and women. According to such a view, women and men are opposite, with widely different and complementary roles: women are the weaker sex and less capable than men, especially in the realm of logic and rational reasoning. Women are regulated to the domestic realm of nurturance and are emotional and therefore cannot be good leaders in business, politics and academia.Chukwuma ( 2000) opines that:

Patriarchy has established male dominance not only in the home especially in terms of inheritance, but in all facets of human existence, social  order or itself dictates and enacts genderisation of work; some kinds of work are allotted to women as cooking, washing, cleaning and housewifery in general and light farming (p. 6).


Tuttle, Blood and Lakey (1983:p 17) defines sexism thus: “Sexism is a complex mesh of practices, institutions and ideas which have the overall effect of giving more power to men than women’’.Patriarchy has accorded so much power to men; it is the actual power structure built around men’s domination of women and the ability to influence important decisions such as political and economic decisions. According to Johnstone (2002), power is a situation in which a subordinate respects the superior and as a relationship that is asymmetrical, with one person, a superior, controlling the subordinate.

Wartenberg (1990) defined power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do (p. 12). Also, Max Webber, defines power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance”. Women in African society are still largely regarded as passive or weak and as sexual objects. A majority of African societiesare immensely patriarchal which means that societal norms tend to value the male and relegate the female.

In the social domain, African women have borne the brunt of cultural traditions, many of which have been described as oppressive, and which limit the advancement of women.  Male dominance has been cited as a major obstacle to gender equality.  Friedl (1975) defines male dominance as “a situation in which men have highly preferential access, although not always exclusive rights, to those activities to which the society accords the greatest values, and the exercise of which permits a measure of control over others” (p. 7).  It is significant that Friedl recognizes that men are favored in terms of accessing certain economically and socially significant materials and rights, such as access to land and property.  These institutions and positions in communities play a role in elevating men over women.  These asymmetrical relations are also highlighted by Divale & Harris (1976)they define male dominance in terms of an “institutionalized complex” consisting of “asymmetrical frequencies of sex-linked practices and beliefs” (pp. 521-538). The practices and beliefs, in this case, would instill prestige to the status of the male gender and devalue the contributions and capabilities of females.

Sanday (1981) looks at male dominance from two angles.  First, is the “exclusion of women from political and economic decision-making” and second, “male aggression towards women” (p. 164).  Sanday measures this aggression using five traits:

  • expectation that males should be tough, brave, and aggressive;
  • the presence of men’s houses or specific places where only men may congregate;
  • frequent quarrelling, fighting, or wife beating;
  • institutionalization or regular occurrence of rape; and
  • raiding other groups for wives.

Sanday suggests that the presence of thesefive traits in a society indicates a high degree of male aggression.

During the seventeenth century, those who opposed the participation of women in politics mainlyclaimed, “women, by virtue of their nature, lacked the capacities required of free and equal individuals and citizens and so posed a threat to the state” (Pateman, 1985, p. 8).Women were portrayed as lacking reason, which made it impossible for them to participate in the public sphere:“only masculine beings are endowed with attributes and capacities necessary to enter into contracts, the most important of which is ownership of property in the person; only men, that is to say, are ‘individuals’ (Pateman, 1988, p. 5). Women, in other words, were not seen as “free and equal ‘individuals’ but natural subjects. According to Marx, power no longer constitutes the ‘right of the sovereign’, or the ‘power of the state’ in relation to (equal and free) citizens, but a specific form of class domination. Power is always class power, the power of one class, (or a coalition of classes), of the ruling class, over the others, the dominated classes of the society. This power, which stabilizes on the basis of dominant social structures, is reproduced within class antagonism and the struggle of the classes. The specific unity of society is, therefore, inseparable from the unity of the specific classes  which is unsure within the class struggle.

Plato and Aristotle, two of the most influential philosophers in the ancient Greek world, both had radical views on the nature and capabilities of women. Many of these views were similar, yet somehow Plato became a champion of the female cause, while Aristotle was labeled a male chauvinist. Plato, in The Republic, argues that women should be able to take on the same social roles equally with men in his ideal state. His ideas are based upon the view that women and men have the same nature with respect to acting as guardians of the state, except that one is weaker while the other is stronger.  Aristotle on the other hand, returns women to their traditional roles in the home, being subservient to men. There is no equality in nature for Aristotle, he declares: as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject. And the same must necessarily apply to all mankind.

Aristotle believed that women were inferior and described them as ‘deformed males’. In Cynthia Freeland’s catalog  she quotes ‘Aristotle says that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying; that ‘matter yearns for form, as the female for the male and the ugly for the beautiful; that women have fewer teeth than men, that female is an incomplete male or ‘as it were, a deformity’. Aristotle believed that men and women naturally differed both physically and mentally. He claimed that women are ‘mischievous, less simple, more impulsive, more compassionate, more easily moved to tears, more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike, more prone to despondency and less hopeful, more void of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive, of more retentive memory and more wakeful, more shrinking and more difficult to rouse to action’ than men. This is Aristotle’s thought towards the male and the female. At no point did Plato deny that there are no differences between the sexes- his idea on equality lies solely in the nature of humans. He does not pretend that women are physically capable as men, nor does he deny that women are better at tasks like weaving. He said that ‘giving the same training, education and opportunities, suitable women could be equally suited to the position of guardian to their male counterparts’. Plato said that women are physically weaker than men, but should not be prevented from being trained.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

In the African society, sexism manifests daily in different ways. Many societies have continually compromised women’s freedom, dignity and equality through cultural stereotypes. The nature and forms of gender social stereotypes have been captured in various forms of literary and linguistic studies. However, there is little attention paid to the sociolinguistic approach to such concerns, especially from socio-discourse analytical perspective. Therefore, this study investigates the explication of sexism and dominance in selected Nigerian drama.

This study is therefore different from other previous analysis of authentic texts because it is an investigation of literary drama texts the findings of which will be unique and contribute significantly to sociolinguistic knowledge due to the fact that drama is the closest to reality of all literary genres. 

1.3         Objective of the Study

The main objective of this study is to find out the sexism and power dominance from the linguistic perspective of language use in Altine’s Wrath and The Play of Giants. The specific objectives are to:

  1. identify and explain sexist language use in the selected texts;
  2. examine from linguistic perspective how the writers portray the oppressive and discriminative nature of sexism in the society; and
  3. investigate the effects of sexist language use in the texts.

1.4       Research Questions

In line with the objectives of the study, the following research questions are posed:

  1. How do characters use sexist language in the selected texts?
  2. From what linguistic perspective have the writers portrayed the oppressive and discriminative nature of sexism in the society?
  3. What are the effects of sexist language portrayed in the selected texts?


1.5       Significance of the Study

It has been observed that many studies on gender have been carried out based on the way participants understands themselves, there is little attention paid to the sociolinguistic approach to such concerns especially from socio-discourse analytical perspective. Therefore, this studyinvestigates the explication of sexism and power dominance in Osofisan’s Altine’s Wraths and Soyinka’s A Play of Giants and this study  would serve as a reference material for sociolinguistics, discourse and sociology researchers.

1.6 Scope of the Study

In order to utilize a well structured and organized language use that is spontaneous as typical of the spoken text, this study has utilized language purposively selected samples from the drama text selected. Two African drama texts were selected. They include; Osofisan’s Altine’s Wrath and Soyinka’s A Play of Giants.


1.7       Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework this this study is the model of  Discourse Analysis by Michel Foucault (1997) which sees discourse as a form of social action that plays a part in producing a  social world including knowledge, identities and social relations and thereby maintaining specific social patterns. It also focuses on power relationships in society as expressed through language and practices.

Discourse is the general idea that language is structured according to different patterns that people’s utterances follow when they take part in different domains of social life. This discourse analysis is not just a one approach, but a series of interdisciplinary approaches that can be used to explore many different social domains in many differenttypes of  studies. Fairclough (1992) states that : “Discourse for me is more than just language use: it is language use, whether speech or writing, seen as a type of social practice’’ (p. 28). However, discourse is still deficient in the sense that it does not effectively cater for visual language which is an important part of discourse whichencompasses written text, spoken text, textual graphics as well as images. Discourse analysis can be seen as an explicit, systematic account of structures, strategies or processes of text or talk in terms of theoretical notions developed in any branch of the field.Foucault’s view is that subjects are created in discourse. He argues that discourse is not the majestically unfolding manifestation of thinking, knowing, speaking subjects or as Steinar Kvale (1992) expresses the position ‘the self no longeruses language to express self, rather language speaks through the person. The individual self becomes a medium for the culture and its language’(p. 36).



1.8Author’s Profile: Femi Osofisan

Femi Osofisan was born in 1946 in Erunwon village in Ogun state, Nigeria. He is a prolific critic, poet, novelist and playwright, whose work mainly attacks political corruption and injustice. He was educated at the university of Ibadan, Dakar and Paris. He has also worked as a professor of Drama since 1985 at the University of Ibadan where he spent most of his adult career. Osofisan was the General Manager and Chief Executive of the National Theatre Lagos. He has won prizes from the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for both drama (1980) and poetry (1989) and in 2004 he was awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), the highest academic prize in Nigeria.


Author’s Profile: Wole Soyinka      

Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka was born on the 13th of July 1934 in Abeokuta in Western Nigeria, at the time still a British colony. His father Ayo was a school supervisor and his mother Eniola a shopkeeper, both well-respected members of the local community. Although Soyinka was brought up in an English-speaking, Christian environment, his parents belonged to the Yoruba tribe, and the family often visited the father’s ancestral home in Ísará, a traditional Yoruba community. When Soyinka was twelve, he went to Ibadan to study at the prestigious Government College, and at 18 he enrolled at the city’s new university. After two years, he moved to England to study English Literature at the University of Leeds, where he specialized in drama tutored by the distinguished Shakespeare critic G Wilson Knight. In 1957 Soyinka received his BA and enrolled for a Master’s degree, but abandoned it to work in the theatre. He moved toLondon and started working as a script-reader for the Royal Court Theatre, and a year later produced his first play, The Swamp-Dwellers, at the University of London Drama Festival.

During his involvement with the Royal Court, he also wrote work for their regular one-night ‘productions without décor’, in which he also acted. Meanwhile, both The Swamp-Dwellers and his new play, The Lion and The Jewel, were produced in his native Ibadan. n 1960, Soyinka received a Rockefeller grant which enabled him to return to Nigeria to study African drama. He founded a theatre company, 1960 Masks, for whom he both directed and acted in several productions of his own plays. In 1962 he was appointed lecturer in English at the University of Ife, and at around the same time, he alsostarted to write critical and satirical commentary on the political situation in Western Nigeria.

Over the next few years Soyinka continued to write and direct a wide range of plays, from comedies to politically minded plays. He also organized an improvisational ‘guerrilla theatre’, wrote for radio and television, and published both his first novel and his first collection of poetry. In 1967, during the Nigerian civil war, Soyinka wrote an article in which he proposed a cease-fire. For this, he was accused of sympathizing with the Biafran rebels, and imprisoned for treason for nearly two years. Soyinka spent much of his prison time in solitary confinement, and has described his traumatic experience in the collection Poems From Prison, and the autobiographical novel The Man Died. Afterhis release from prison, he went into voluntary exile, and spent some time in Ghana where he became editor of a leading intellectual journal. In 1975 he returned to Nigeria, and was appointed Professor of English at the University of Ife.

Soyinka continued to write plays, critical essays and film scripts, and in recognition of his achievement, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986. By this time, his plays were being produced all over the world. He has worked as a guest lecturer at several universities world-wide, including Cambridge, Sheffield and Harvard, where he received an honorary doctorate in 1993.


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