Publication details [#66607]

Nassenstein, Nico. 2019. Manipulation in late life. Secret agency and the unintelligible in the speech of the elderly in Eastern Congo. International Journal of Language and Culture 6 (1) : 45–62.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Language as a subject
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins
Journal DOI


While youth language constitutes a well-researched field of study, the linguistic manipulations of old people remain understudied. In an innovative approach, the present paper therefore looks at confusing and allegedly unintelligible narratives and conscious linguistic manipulations, silliness and concealing strategies in language as employed by elderly speakers of Kinyabwisha, Kinande, Kihunde and Kiswahili in Eastern DR Congo. A secret cursing register among Banyabwisha, often accompanied by practices of spitting, is analyzed; the paper also discusses elderly speakers’ confusing stories narrated to younger people, the use of secret modal particles that are restricted to people of old age, and finally it discusses the strategic inclusion of silliness in old speakers’ utterances. All these are analyzed in a theoretical framework of the secret agency and power in language use that mark the agency and wittiness of the elderly in Eastern Congo. With this first overview of elderly speakers’ language manipulations, this paper aims to show that linguistic manipulation is not necessarily age-related, and that concealment strategies in language can occur as agentive and powerful means of social differentiation in later life as well. This preliminary introduction furthermore suggests a strong focus on silliness in linguistic analysis (as also found in Kuipers 2007; Storch 2015, 2017).