The pragmatic functions of the marker "sawa" in spoken Swahili


  • Magreth Kibiki Dar es Salaam University, Dar es Salaam, University College of Education (DUCE)



pragmatic markers, spoken Swahili, contextualization theory


This study examines the pragmatic functions of the marker sawa in spoken Swahili. The data have been obtained from informal conversations made by Swahili speakers in informal social settings. These settings include “vijiwe vya kahawa” (setting of informal conversations created around people drinking coffee) and "vijiwe vya mamantilie” (setting of informal conversations created around women preparing and selling food on the streets). The analysis of the data, performed within the framework of the contextualization theory (Gumperz 1982), shows that, apart from its basic connotation of agreement, the marker sawa conveys other meanings, depending on these very contexts of communication, and therefore acquires also various pragmatic functions. The pragmatic functions identified in this work include: to show that the speaker agrees with what has been said but on a condition (I agree, but…), as a receipt marker, as a tag-positioned-comprehension check, as an answer to the question showing that the speaker has understood what has been said (Yes, I understand), as a continuer, as a negative releasing marker, and as a gap filler. Interestingly, the study shows also that intonation and other paralinguistic features (like gestures) play a role in determining the pragmatic functions of this marker. The article concludes that the pragmatic markers in spoken Swahili are rich in meanings and are used to show speakers’ attitudes and emotions, therefore manifesting a deep and meaningful interconnection between the language and its contextualized experience.


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How to Cite

Kibiki, M. (2019). The pragmatic functions of the marker "sawa" in spoken Swahili. Studies in African Languages and Cultures, (53), 29–56.