Analysis of Proverbs in the Play “Jatau Na Kyallu” Using Ethnography of Communication Theory

Cite this artcile as: Gele, N.D. & Ka'oje, B.A. (2023). Analysis of Proverbs in the Play “Jatau Na Kyallu” Using Ethnography of Communication Theory. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, (2)1, 81-88. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2023.v02i01.010. 


This study aims to extract and analyze all the proverbs used in the play "Jatau Na Kyallu" written by Alhaji Shu'aibu Makarfi (1970) using the Ethnography of Communication theory. The theory studies communication within the context of social and cultural practices and beliefs, as propounded by Dell Hymes in 1974. To achieve this aim, the play was analyzed, and 48 proverbs were extracted and analyzed using the SPEAKING model for analyzing speech in its cultural context. The study found that all the proverbs used in the play were influenced by the social and cultural aspects of the speech community, as well as the context in which they were used. The eight parameters of social and cultural contexts that guided the use of the proverbs were identified as setting, participants, ends, act sequence, key, instrumentalities, norms of interaction, and genre. The study concludes that the link between linguistic forms and the society they portray is essential, and such harmony is a powerful strategy used by the writer (Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi) to make the work relevant to Hausa studies researchers. Based on the findings, the study recommends that the teaching of Hausa proverbs should be encouraged in schools to help children appreciate the culture and moral lessons that the proverbs offer.

Keywords: Proverbs, Play, Ethnography of Communication Theory

DOI:  www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2023.v02i01.010


The influence of social factors on language and their impact on meaning of linguistic forms are inevitable. The nature of the relationship between language and society was under consideration long before sociolinguistics became recognized as a field of study in its own right (Mutunda, 2016). Humbold, (1767- 1835) was one of the earliest linguists that recognize the link between language and society; he wrote: The spiritual traits and the structure of the language of people are so intimately blended that, given either of the two, one should be able to drive the order from it to the fullest extent… language is the outward manifestation of the sprit of the people: there is their sprit and their sprit is their language; it is difficult to imagine two things more identical. (cited in Salzmann, 1998 p. 39).

Sapir, (1921) was among the prominent and earlier linguist who postulated the connectivity between language and society. He argues that language and society interwove, and are, in a sense one and the same. In fact, the connection between language and society is deeply rooted. Language performs numerous functions in the society and the society does the same. Matunda, (2006) opine that if one (language or society) does not exist, the other will be affected. That is why Coulmas (2003) cited in Adedimeji (2007) argue that “every language is a social product, and every society constitutes itself through language.”

Proverbs are highly valued in African traditional society, and they serve as instruments of cultural transmission and norms expressions. In fact, the collection of proverbs of a community is an ethnography of the people that systemizes and provides a penetrating picture of their way of life, philosophy, moral truth, and social values. Hausa proverbs are cultural expressions that reflect the society's values and sensibility and have their origin in oral tradition. They play a significant role in Hausa society due to their communicative and didactic properties.

With reference to the above, the present study will prove the language of proverbs and their values on traditions, beliefs, values and norms of Hausa society as presented in ‘Jatau Na Kyallu’ written by Alhaji Shua’aibu Makarfi (1970). It is believed that novel is the microcosm of society (Mutunda, 2015 p. 3-4). The study will also expose the reader to various classifications of proverbs and their ability to transfer Hausa cultural values and heritage.

The study aimed at analyzing the written proverbs in the Hausa context, particularly the ones written by Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi. The study is limited to only proverbs appeared in Jatau Na Kyallu. Thus, the specific objective of the study is to extract the proverbs used in the play and analyze them using the SPEAKING model of ethnography of communication.

Choice of the text is attracted by the rich of proverbial expressions with which the writer ties his language style ad how these linguistic materials have helped to facilitate the message of the play. The study is significant to the linguists, translators and interpreters, who will benefit by constantly updating their understanding and use of these wisdoms, since they offer specific cultural insights through the analysis. The use of proverbs can also serve as the key element in language acquisition process. Proverbs provide a snapshot of other cultures that allow for a more thorough understanding for both language and culture. Without a firm grasp of the meaning of these types of sayings, people may be limited to a unilateral understanding.


Proverb is a well know phrase or sentence that gives advice or what is generally true (Jibir-Daura, 2005). Mele (2006) defined proverbs culturally- proverb is a rhetorical device which offers the speaker a veritable medium for the projection of fulfillment of a variety socially desired goal. Jibir-Daura, (2005) cited Meideer, (2004) defining proverb as a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contain wisdom, truth, morals and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorisable form, which are handed down from generation to generation and since they belong to the common knowledge about human nature and the world at general.

Proverbs are of great value to oral discourse especially in African traditional society. Proverbs or proverbial expressions are pre-formulated thoughts or ideas that enable new thoughts and ideas to be communicated and exchanged without any effort for formulating new ones. Proverbs are essential in African society that at least those with reputation for proverbial wisdom are capable of stating the norms that govern a discourse. Jibir-Daura claims that proverbs are capable of summarizing discourse, proposing judgments or offering a course for action.

Proverbs are instruments of cultural transmission and norms expressions. This is in fact because are based on people’s experiences which reflect their social values and sensibility. Mele (2006) claims that the collection of the proverbs of a community is in a sense is an ethnography of the people which systemize and give a penetrating picture of the people’s way of life, their philosophy, their eroticism of life, moral truth and social values. In fact, various definitions of proverbs show the value of proverbs as important tool in communication in all societies.

Hausa proverbs are cultural expressions in the form of short linguistic devices that have their origin in oral tradition (Zajac, 2022). Proverbs are highly valued in Hausa culture and play an important role in the society due to their communicative and didactic properties. Some examples of Hausa proverbs are:

Guntun gatarinka ya fi sari ka ba ni.

“Half loaf better than no bread


Da walakin goro cikin miya.

“No smoke without fire”


Da koyo akan iya.

“Practice make perfect”


Karambanin akuya gai da kura “Meddlesomeness of the goat greeting the hyena”


Jiya ba yau ba, tsohuwa ta ga jirgin sama

“Time has passed, an old woman sighted an airplane”

Although, proverbs have their own context-neutral meanings but their interpretations can differ depending on the context of usage (linguistic and non-linguistic). Only the account of all contexts could be considered a finite comprehensive explanation of a proverb.

Empirical review

Researchers study Hausa proverbs in different perspectives but none of them make an ethnographic analysis of the proverbs. For example, Jibir-Daura (2005) analyzed Hausa proverbs using conceptual blending theory. The study shows that figurative language does not distort reality but actually can bring the full picture of what is said graphically depending on one’s perception. She recommended the introduction of cognitive linguistics in the study of languages.

In his study, Zajac (2022) investigated the function of Hausa proverbs in political discourse. He cited examples of Hausa proverbs usage in Hausa newspapers. He extracted his data from the press articles published during the period of Nigeria’s general election conducted in February 2019. He analyzed the extracted proverbs featured based on aspects of its contextual understanding and translation. The study found that the contemporary Hausa discourses perform textual and pragmatic functions. Each function in which proverb is used changes its interpretation (presentational meaning).

Kabir (2014) studied the annotation of selected Hausa parallel proverbs. She identified two or more proverbs that are similar in context and can be used for the same situation at any given time or place. She therefore annotated a set of parallel Hausa proverbs and analyzed their meaning in context and situation in which they are applicable or can be used.

In their sociolinguistics analysis of Hausa proverbs, Nwabudike, Dan’Azumi & Madi, (2019) they adopted the Spir-Whorfian linguistic determination theory as a frame work for the study. They purposefully selected the data for the study and analyzed them. The study revealed that proverbs usage is an important part of culture of the Hausa people and they are used for different purposes, such as advising, cautioning, instructing, teaching, ensuring peace and unity, showing the role of women, declaring truth and expressing hospitality. They recommended that young people be encouraged to explore the linguistic and moral riches embedded in proverbs.

Kiyawa, (2021) investigated how Hausa proverbs embedded discourse markers as a linguistic device. He extracted 36 proverbs from different written documents and analyzed them. The study revealed that 19 out of 36 extracted proverbs indicate discourse markers and served as interpersonal functions and relationship between speaker’s actions and thoughts, while the remaining 17 functions as textual features for making meaning.

Theoretical framework

Ethnography of communication is an approach, a perspective, a method and a theory used in the study of culturally distinctive means and meanings of communication (Carbough, 2007). The approach has been used to produce hundreds of research reports about patterned practices of communication, and has focused attention primarily on the situated uses of language. It has also productively applied to various other means and media of communications including oral and printed literature, broadcast media, writing system, various gestural dynamics, silence, visual signs, internet, and so on.

The approach is concerned with 1. The linguistic resources people used in context, not just a grammar in the traditional sense, but the socially situated uses and meanings of words, there relations and sequential forms of expressions, 2. The various media used when communicating; and their cooperative analysis; 3. The verbal and nonverbal signs create and reveal social codes of identity, relationships, emotions, place of communication itself. In addition to its focus on locally distinctive practices of communication, the ethnography of communication is also guided by a particular methodology and general concerns in theory development (Carbough, 2005).

The theory was founded by Dell Hymes. In 1962 he published a paper that called for a new era of study, a kind of linguistic that explored language not just as formal system of grammar, but as something culturally shaped in the context of social life. At the same time, he called for a kind of anthropology that look speaking, and communication broadly, as its focal subject matter. The two interests, together, helped establish an innovative enterprise, a kind of linguistic study that was grounded in the social life of language and a kind of cultural study focused on speaking and communication generally (Gumperz & Hymes, 1972). Hymes introduced several concepts as basic units for ethnographic study of communication. These include communication event, communication act, communication situation and speech community (Carbough, 2007). This study employed the ethnography of communication theory in analyzing proverbs that exists in the play “Jatau Na Kyallu”. The SPEAKING model of the theory was adopted.


A survey research design was used. Fifteen (15) 30.6% out of forty-nine (49) extracted proverbs from the play were randomly selected as sample for the study. The SPEAKING model of ethnography of communication analysis developed by Hymes (1972) was used as data analysis technique for the study. Thus: S- setting and scene of the communication practice; P-participants in the communication practice; E- ends of the communication practice; A- the act sequence involved in the communication practice; K- key of the communication practice; I- instrument or channel used for the communication practice; N- Norms of the communication practice; and G- genre of the communication practice.

Data presentation and analysis

SPEAKING model of ethnographic of communication analysis of language is used in analyzing the extracted proverbs. Although, the whole elements of the SPEAKING model are not applicable to a single act sequence. Also, the serial application of the model’s elements is relatively not possible the pattern is just for convenience. Therefore, elements that are constant for all data were not applied in the analysis to avoid unnecessary repetitions; these are: Genre, Instrumentality, Norms of interaction and Interpretation.

Genre: All the data belong to the same genre of proverb.

Instrumentality: the data of the study belong to the same media of written discourse

Norms of interaction and interpretation: it is assumed that when proverbs are used, the issue under discussion is successfully interpreted and reacted appropriately.

Datum 1

Act Sequence: Kada (sick) ki yi saurin yabon kai. Ba girin-girin din ba dai a yi mai. (p1). “It is not the beginning that matters, but successful ending.”

Analysis: In Hausa traditional society, it is believed that beginning of matter doesn’t determine a successful end, success is assured by how committed and dedicated one is. The proverb means that no matter how beautiful a matter begin success of its end is determined by putting more effort and continue working hard until the end of it recorded success.

Setting (place and time): In Kyallu’s room; probably at night.

Participants: Addresser: Ml. Jatau. Addressee: Kyallu, (Ml. Jatau’s new wife).

Ends: To encourage the continuation of good habits.

Key: Urging and candid tone.

Datum 2

Act Sequence: Kaico! Yaro bai san kunama ba sai ta harbe shi. (p4). “A child do not know how dangerous a scorpion is until it stings him.”

Analysis: Conventionally, small children ca not differentiates between friendly and dangerous insects. They only recognized a dangerous or unfriendly insect when they are harmed by them. This proverb is traditionally used to serve as a threat to the addressee or interlocutor.

Participants: Addresser; Maishela. Addressee: readers.

Setting: in M Jatau’s house; at night.

Ends: The proverb is meant to threaten the addressee against the coming danger.

Key: Serious and philosophical tone.

Datum 3

Act Sequence: … na taɓe ki da alheri, kishiya ta taɓa kishiya da bakin wuta. (p10). “I touch you with kindness, a core wife touches her colleague with candled firewood.”

Analysis: In Hausa culture, man is allowed to marry up to four wives, and these wives under the same man relate with one another as rivals. The proverb is therefore, humorously or ironically used to express the state of rivalry between or among the wives. The proverb is used to express the opposite of what is said or meant.

Participants: Addresser: Kyallu jokingly speaking with her friend (Shamuwa). Addressee: Shamuwa.

Setting: At Kyallu’s room, in the day time.

Scene: Kyallu narrating to her friend Shamuwa how joyful and lucky she was and the possibility of achieving her dubious aim of deceiving Ml. Jatau.

Ends: Expressing how successful one is in disguise.

Key: Casual and joking tone.

Datum 4

Act Sequence: Lallai kam ba saurin yabo ba na samu raƙumi da akala. “I found it very easy.”

Analysis: This proverb is used culturally to expressed how easy something is found or how easily one is controlling someone. The proverb is used by Kyallu to express how easily she found her mission of controlling the affairs of Ml. Jatau.

Participants: Addresser; Kyallu. Addressee: Shamuwa, Kyallu’s best friend.

Setting: At Kyallu’s room in the day time.

Scene: Kyallu narrating to her best friend (Shamuwa) how easily she found it to carry out her mission.

Ends: Informing someone how powerful you are over a person or someone.

Key: Casual and joking tone.

Datum 5

Act Sequence; Kyaun ciniki, cin riba. (p17). “Beauty of trade is gain.”

Analysis: It is believed that whenever one engaged in trade, he may yield gain or loss. But gain is what all traders aimed at, then when gain is recorded the trade is said to be fruitful. In this context the proverb is used to express that Kyallu is on the path of achieving her aim.

Participants: Addresser, Mai Shela, introducing the next scene of the play. Addressee: readers.

Setting: At Ml. Jatau’s house in the evening or probably at night.

Scene: Mai Shela introducing the next episode of the scene.

Ends: To give the hints of the next episode or scene of the play to readers.

Key: Warning tone.



Datum 6

Act Sequence: Ai kowa ya sayi rariya wallahi kuwa ya san za ta zubadda (sick) da ruwa. (p21). “Whoever bought a sieve is aware that it leaks water.”

Analysis: In Hausa cultural society it is believed that a normal human being predicts the ends of any action or anything before committing into it. The implication of this proverb is that success in life is determined by how visionary someone is. The proverb is used when expressing the negative result of wrong choice, one made is recorded or when advising someone to be critical in their choices.

Participants: Addresser; Uwar Gida retaliating Ml. Jatau’s injustice against her. Addresser; Ml. Jatau when responding to Uwar Gida’s complain on the shopping amount given to her.

Setting: In the morning at Ml. Jatau’s house.

Scene: After Kyallu hypocritely reported to Ml. Jatau that his other two wives reduce shopping money whenever it was given, which was the reason why the food they cooked does not taste succulent.

Ends: Retaliation

Key: Serious tone.

Datum 7

Act Sequence: Komai na duniya ɗan marmari ne, mai zuwa ne ya wuce. (p23). “Whatever goes up must come down.”

Analysis: whatever that is existing or happening in this world just give it time, it will come a history, nothing remains forever. This is a universal truth. Indeed, everything on the planet earth was nowhere to be found in the related past, and it must vanish in future. Whatever exists today, will be out of existence tomorrow. The proverb is used to teach people that patience brings good things in future. If there is life there is hope. No matter how difficult life or situation may be today, tomorrow might be easier and better.

Participants: Addresser: Cindo. Addressee: Ml. Jatau

Setting: Place and time: Probably in the late afternoon.

Scene: Mixing of humor and sadness. Ml. Jatau’s friend advising him and at the same time criticizing his act of divorcing his first wife (Uwar Gida) just to please Kyallu.

Ends: To make Ml. Jatau realize that the position he took was wrong considering his age, reputation and time he spent with Uwar Gida his first wife.

Ends: Humorous and serious tone.

Datum 8

Act Sequence: Ana bikin duniya ake na ƙiyama. (P25) “When celebrating joyful moment remember sadness is inevitable.”

Analysis: Usually, no condition is permanent. In whatever condition or situation, you found yourself, remember that the opposite of it is around the corner. Hausa people believed that this world is a temporary one and the eternal world is awaiting, therefore, whatever they are doing they try to remember the hereafter. The proverb is used to serve as a reminder to people that whatever condition they are, they should not forget the opposite of it. They should therefore not focus totally on one single moment.

Participants: Addresser: Kyallu, Ml. Jatau’s bride. Addressee: Kyallu talking to herself when she remembers the joyful moment of the harvesting season.

Setting: Place and Time: At Kyallu’s room probably in the afternoon.

Scene: Kyallu in her room talking to herself, remembering herself the joy and enjoyment they use to experience during the harvesting season when they were prostitute before she repents and get married to Ml. Jatau.

Ends: Advising someone to remember that no condition is permanent.

Key: Sad tone.

Datum 9

Act sequence: Kowa ya ƙi jin bari yaji (sick) hoho. (p44). “Whoever defied good advice will fall in danger.”

Analysis: people who defy advice from friends, elders and relatives may encounter danger. The proverb is used to warn one against rejecting good advices and as a threat against the repercussion of rejecting good advices.

Participants: Addresser: Ml. Jatau regretting his past actions. Addressee: Shagoji, Ml Jatau’s friend.

Setting: Time and Place: in the afternoon at the roadside of the town.

Scene: M. Shagoji observed how haggard Ml. Jatau looks, he therefore asked for the reason of M. Jatau’s sudden change. Ml. Jatau’s respond expressed how regretful he was for not accepting the advices from his friends and relatives.

Ends: Threatening someone on the dangers of defying good advices.

Key: Regretting tone.

Datum 10

Act sequence: Ɗan ba ƙari goɗiya da kwana garke. (p46) “Unrepeatable mistake, a mare slept in the mist of cattle.”

Analysis: Conventionally a mare used to be treated and kept separately with special treatment. For a mare to sleep in the mist of cattle, it most experienced some afflictions and inconveniences. The proverb is used to express sadness and agony experienced as a result of wrong decision taken. In Hausa traditional society a man who divorced his wife is expected to meet her or her parents and lobby for her return. At the beginning the women is expected to reject the offer.

Participants Addresser: Uwar Gida responding to Ml. Jatau’s request seeking her to return back to his house as wife. Addresser: Ml. Jatau.

Setting: Probably in the day time, at Uwargida’s family house.

Scene: Uwar Gida, responding to Ml. Jatau when requesting her to return back to his house as wife and guiltily regretting his past actions against her.

Ends: the proverb is used to express the agony of the past experience and rejecting the offer or request by someone to repeat the same action or reengage in such activity.

Key: Serious and philosophical note.

Findings of the study

From the foregoing, the study found that Hymes ethnography of communication theory is a sociolinguistic tool useful for effective analysis of language use. It has further been revealed by the study that the author Alhaji Shu’aibu Makarfi uses proverb to decorate discourse, foreground issues, emphasized points, display culture, showcase religion beliefs and portray the philosophy of Hausa people. The relationship between linguistic forms and the society indicated by the proverbs is amazing and such harmonious relationship ensures the achievement of communication goals.

Discussion of findings

The analysis of the selected proverbs indicated that setting has place and time components. The physical setting or place where the proverbs are used, were homes, conversation squares and roadsides. The time settings were morning, afternoon and evening. The implication of this is that in Hausa culture home is the nucleus of the society; and there is more interaction at home in the morning and evening.

For participants, the analysis shows that 8 addressers and addressees were found with varying frequencies of participation. The addressers are: Ml. Jatau, (2 participation), M. Shela (2 participations), Kyallu (3 participations), Uwar Gida (1 participation), Cindo (1 participation), and M. Yautai (1 participation). On the part of the addressers the frequency is as follows: Kyallu (2 participations), audience (2 participations), Shamuwa (2 participations), and Ml. Jatau (4 participations).

The ends are diverse and varied as their occurrences; encouraging, threatening, persuading, informing, retaliating, advising and expressing the state of mind; while, the keys are mainly serious tone, regretting tone, sad tone, humorous tone, philosophical tone and joking tone.


The study concluded that the SPEAKING model of ethnography of communication theory of language analysis developed by Dell Hymes (1974) is an effective tool analyzing the relationship between the linguistic form and societal norms and culture. The use of proverbs can also serve as the key element in language acquisition process.


The study recommended that teaching of Hausa proverbs should be encouraged in schools to help growing children appreciate the culture and moral lessons that the proverbs offer. This will make them more eloquent in their use of language as well as morally sound.



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