The socialisation of interactional rituals: A case study of ritual cursing as a form of teasing in Romani

Dániel Z. Kádár12 and Andrea Szalai2
1Dalian University of Foreign Languages | 2Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Abstract

The present paper examines the ways in which ritual cursing operates as a form of teasing in (Gabor) Roma communities. By ‘ritual cursing’ we mean forms of curse that are believed to cause harm to the cursed person or people related to them, i.e. cursing studied here differs from swearing and ‘cussing’, as it embodies supernatural beliefs to a degree. While cursing is an archetype of ritual, to date little pragmatic research has been done on this phenomenon, supposedly due to the scarcity of interactional data collected in cultures where cursing is actively practised; thus, the present paper fills a knowledge gap in the field. We examine cursing in interactions where it is used as teasing in order to socialise young children. Since ritual is a means through which social structures are re-created (Durkheim 1912 [1954/2001]Durkheim, Émile 1912 [1954/2001]The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. Carol Cosman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar), aiding young language users to acquire rituals is a key aspect of community life. However, little research has been done on the ways in which ritual practices are socialised in communities at the level of interaction, which validates our focus on teasing curses. The phenomenon studied is also relevant to previous sociopragmatic research on teasing: whilst in other (non-ritual) sociocultural settings socialising teasing implies aiding young language users to distinguish between humour and offence, due to the potential harm attributed to ritual cursing its socialisation is centred both on harm and the offence in the conventional sense of the word.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

1.Introduction

Curses (armaje) and conditional self-curses (trušula)11.Conditional (self-)cursing refers to curses such as, ‘May my father die, if you don’t drink that coffee!’, which one may use to boost the effect of a polite offer made to another person to drink coffee. are ritual forms which are frequently used in Romani interactions. Individuals who are not members of the Roma community often perceive these forms to be expressions of aggression and attach negative moral evaluations to them: they are stereotypically interpreted to be rude and somehow ‘alien’ forms of behaviour which are characteristic of the ethnic ‘other’ (Kovai 2002Kovai, Cecília 2002 “Az átokról: ‘Cigánybeszéd’ a gömbaljaiak között” [On Curse: Roma Talk in Gömbalja]. Tabula 5 (2): 272–290.Google Scholar). Nevertheless, the sociopragmatic study of these forms in everyday interactions reveals that they are multifunctional, interactional rituals which help language users to index complex stances and to engage in various forms of relational work. Regrettably, Romani curses have received little attention in sociopragmatics, and thus by studying this phenomenon, we aim to fill an empirical knowledge gap in the pragmatic research of ritual behaviour.

In addition to this gap, this paper fills another – theoretical – knowledge gap, by examining ritual cursing in settings of socialisation. We explore a dataset in which adult members of Roma communities socialise children in the use of ritual curses by engaging them in teases – a theme that has received little attention in previous research. This paper is limited to investigating the ritual use of curses, i.e. we are not interested in the mundane use of such forms when they are deployed simply to cause offence.22.Note that such uses are also important in the social life of the Roma community. In the sociocultural context of Roma communities, curses are rituals in the sense that they are interpreted as being words that have supernatural power (Kratz 1989Kratz, Corinne A. 1989 “Genres of Power: A Comparative Analysis of Okiek Blessings, Curses and Oaths.” Man 24: 636–656. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), at least in certain situations. The Roma metapragmatically distinguish between the curse types dend’o muj ‘coming from the mouth’ and dend’o jilo ‘coming from the heart’. The former are regarded as being non-genuine curses which are often triggered by momentary negative emotions such as anger and frustration. The latter tend to be more serious in nature and the Roma attribute a harmful effect to them.

Due to this attributed harmful power and the relational implications of being pragmatically competent in cursing by using the appropriate form of curse in each context, teaching young speakers how to use ritual curses and to discern whether a curse is dend’o jilo or not, via teasing, represents a recurrent practice of socialisation. For a Romani speaker, it is vital that cursing is mastered because social norms tend to regulate who can deploy curses and when they can be used. For instance, the dynamics of a friendly curse are very different from those of a curse which is meant to cause real harm, females and males are meant to swear differently, etc. Therefore, in this study, cursing differs from the more generic meaning of ‘cursing’ (as a form of ‘swearing’, cf. Salmani Nodoushan 2016Salmani Nodoushan, Mohammad Ali 2016 “On the Functions of Swearing in Persian.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 4 (2): 234–254. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). As Jay (1992Jay, Timothy 1992Cursing in America: A Psycholinguistic Study of Dirty Language in the Courts, in the Movies, in the Schoolyards, and on the Streets. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2) notes,

The intent of cursing is to invoke harm on another person through the use of certain words or phrases. These words are imbued with power granted to them mainly through religious or social demarcation. In other words, certain institutions like religion, have made a point to note that there exists in language a set of special words. These words are sanctioned by the institution by penalizing or punishing the speaker for such usage. These curse words thus obtain power to cause harm through physical or psychological punishments from the group consensus. […] Today, what Americans refer to as ‘cursing’ or ‘cussing’ (the person on the street uses ‘cuss’ in non-specific meaning) bears some resemblance to curses and hexes of ancient times. It is doubtful that modern men and women think a curse brings about physical or mental harm, as ancestors of old must have believed.

We agree with Jay (1992)Jay, Timothy 1992Cursing in America: A Psycholinguistic Study of Dirty Language in the Courts, in the Movies, in the Schoolyards, and on the Streets. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar in that, in many sociocultural settings, cursing has to some extent lost its attributed function to cause harm. For instance, one may angrily utter ‘go to hell’ to another person, but this utterance might not be used in the belief that it will cause harm. However, there are social groups within certain cultures which continue to use curses as an ‘archetypal’ (e.g. Hart 2001Hart, David M. 2001 “Muslim Ritual Models in Two Pre-colonial Moroccan Berber Societies: Covenant, Conditional Curse, Shame Compulsion and Sacrifice.” The Journal of North American Studies 6 (2): 61–80. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Ramos 2015Ramos, Melissa 2015 “Spoken Word and Ritual Performance: The Oath and Curse in Deuteronomy 27–28.” Doctoral thesis, UCLA. Retrieved from: https://​escholarship​.org​/uc​/item​/48d832zd) ritual form of communication. For example, in various Romani communities (Kovai 2002Kovai, Cecília 2002 “Az átokról: ‘Cigánybeszéd’ a gömbaljaiak között” [On Curse: Roma Talk in Gömbalja]. Tabula 5 (2): 272–290.Google Scholar; Szalai 2010Szalai, Andrea 2010 “Átok, feltételes átok és társadalmi nem erdélyi roma közösségek nyelvi ideológiájában és gyakorlataiban” [Curse, conditional curse and gender in language ideologies and practices of Transylvanian Roma communities]. PhD thesis, Pécs University.Google Scholar), in Turkish interactions (Vanci-Osam 1998Vanci-Osam, Ülker 1998 “May You Be Shot with Greasy Bullets: Curse Utterances in Turkish.” Asian Folklore Studies 57: 71–86. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), in Indian communities (Harlan 1994Harlan, Lindsey 1994 “Perfection and Devotion: Sati Tradition in Rajahstan.” In Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India, ed. by John Stratton Hawley, 79–90. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar, 87), among the Akan people in Ghana (Agyekum 1999Agyekum, Kofi 1999 “The Pragmatics of duabɔ ‘Grievance Imprecation’ Taboo among the Akan.” Pragmatics 9: 357–382. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2004 2004 “ Ntam ‘Reminiscential Oath’ Taboo in Akan.” Language in Society 33: 317–342. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and in Okiek communities in Kenya (Kratz 1989Kratz, Corinne A. 1989 “Genres of Power: A Comparative Analysis of Okiek Blessings, Curses and Oaths.” Man 24: 636–656. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) ritual curses continue to play a fundamental sociopragmatic role, both in interpersonal conflict (Kaprow 1989Kaprow, Miriam L. 1989 “Resisting Respectability: Gypsies in Saragosa.” Urban Anthropology 11: 399–431.Google Scholar; Gregersen 2004Gregersen, Edgar A. 2004 “Romani Insults.” Maledicta 13: 73–79.Google Scholar) and in social practices such as oaths (Agyekum 1999Agyekum, Kofi 1999 “The Pragmatics of duabɔ ‘Grievance Imprecation’ Taboo among the Akan.” Pragmatics 9: 357–382. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Kitz 2004Kitz, Anne Marie 2004 “An Oath, Its Curse and Anointing Ritual.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124 (2): 315–321. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Fosztó 2008Fosztó, László 2008 “Taking the Oath: Religious Aspects of Moral Personhood among the Romungre.” In Roma/Zigeunerkulturen in neuen Perspektiven. Roma/Gypsy Cultures in New Perspectives, ed. by Jacobs Fabian and Johannes Ries, 119–133. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag.Google Scholar; Szalai 2010Szalai, Andrea 2010 “Átok, feltételes átok és társadalmi nem erdélyi roma közösségek nyelvi ideológiájában és gyakorlataiban” [Curse, conditional curse and gender in language ideologies and practices of Transylvanian Roma communities]. PhD thesis, Pécs University.Google Scholar). In other cultures and societies – most typically, urbanised ones – cursing has become relatively ‘deritualised’ over time (Muir [1997]2005Muir, Edward 2005 [1997]Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar), but it may continue to be used in a ritual way by certain groups and individuals (e.g. Halmari 2004Halmari, Helena 2004 “Finnish Maledicta and Euphemisms.” Maledicta 13: 63–72.Google Scholar).33.Not every individual will believe in the power of curses, even in those cultures and social groups where cursing operates as a ritual practice and, conversely, as Wann and Zaichowsky (2009)Wann, Daniel, and Len Zaichowsky 2009 “Sport Team Identification and Belief in Team Curses: The Case of the Boston Red Sox and the Curse of the Bambino.” Journal of Sport Behavior 32 (4): 489–502.Google Scholar illustrate, people living in urbanised societies may well suddenly become ardent believers of cursing. Labov (1972)Labov, William 1997 [1972] “Rules for Ritual Insults.” In Sociolinguistics: A Reader and Coursebook, ed. by Nikolas Coupland and Adam Jaworski, 472–486. London: MacMillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar has also convincingly demonstrated that ritual insults represent a key aspect of urban life. Therefore, it might be slightly ambitious to argue that ritual cursing has completely disappeared from ‘modern’ day life.

From a pragmatic point of view, cursing, as studied in this paper, has various key features that characterise any interactional ritual (Kádár 2017 2017Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual: Maintaining the Moral Order in Interpersonal Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 12–13):

  • Ritual cursing is formulaic, i.e. it operates with words that are meant to trigger harm and/or death (e.g. Murano 2012Murano, Francesca 2012 “The Oscan Cursing Tablets: Binding Formulae, Cursing Typologies and Thematic Classification.” American Journal of Philology 133 (4): 629–655. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). While language users can play with the ‘script’ of the curse in a creative fashion (Kratz 1989Kratz, Corinne A. 1989 “Genres of Power: A Comparative Analysis of Okiek Blessings, Curses and Oaths.” Man 24: 636–656. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; see also Extract 2 in this paper), one cannot ritually curse with forms of swearing and ‘cussing’ such as ‘Holy shit’, which are emotive but do not express harm (Goddard 2015Goddard, Cliff 2015 “ ‘Swear Words’ and ‘Curse Words’ in Australian (and American) English. At the Crossroads of Pragmatics, Semantics and Sociolinguistics.” Intercultural Pragmatics 12 (2): 189–218. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Note that, in many Romani communities, the formulaic nature of cursing resides in words associated with death and illness: it is enough simply to refer to a living person as dead or harmed in order for an utterance to be interpreted as a curse.

  • Cursing as a ritual practice embodies a set of communally shared beliefs (Davies 1997Davies, Douglas 1997Death, Ritual and Belief: The Rhetoric of Funerary Rites. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar). When cursing is used as a social practice – e.g. in teasing or in the events of ritual oaths – it follows a certain sense of moral order (Wuthnow 1989Whutnow, Robert 1989Meaning and Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), i.e. an interactional order that reflects the belief in the gravity of cursing. In a similar fashion to other rites of aggression used in relationally constructive contexts, when cursing is used in language socialisation (Kádár 2013Kádár, Daniel Z. 2013Relational Rituals and Communication: Ritual Interaction in Groups. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 52; Kádár et al. 2019Kádár, Daniel Z., Vahid Parvaresh, and Puyu Ning 2019 “Morality, Moral Order, and Language Conflict and Aggression” – A Position Paper. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 7(1): 6–31. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), the behaviour of the interactants follows a set of constraints and affordances. In other words, adults who train their children how to curse are responsible for ensuring that the interactional flow of the ritual is kept harmless (see, e.g. Extract 11).

  • Pragmatically efficient cursing implies interactional ‘investment’, in a similar fashion to other rituals. As the sociologist and ritual expert Randall Collins (2004)Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar argues, ritual practices are not only highly emotive (i.e. emotively invested), but also operate in the form of increasingly active exchanges within an interaction; this characteristic is what Collins (2004)Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar defines as ‘interactional ritual chains’. One can observe such chains in almost all the extracts that are analysed in this paper: as an adult delivers a teasing curse, it is often replied to by using another tease (e.g. Extract 2), and the child may also attempt to counter-tease. As a result of these chains, the ritual tease becomes increasingly intensive and challenging, even though the adults have been tasked with keeping it harmless. Due to this intensity, ritual cursing, as with other forms of ritual practice, tends to take place over a relatively short time period and is often demarcated from other parts of the interaction in which it is situated (see Section 3.4).

2.This study

2.1Objectives

In addition to filling a knowledge gap by investigating a phenomenon which has previously received little attention, this paper aims to make two interrelated contributions to the field. First, by examining the ways in which Roma communities engage in socialising their younger members in cursing practices, we undertake a pragmatic case study into how the socialisation of ritual practices is performed. Since the seminal work of anthropologists such as Durkheim (1912 [1954/2001])Durkheim, Émile 1912 [1954/2001]The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. Carol Cosman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar and Turner (1967Turner, Victor 1967The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Rituals. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar, 1969 1969The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. London: Transactions.Google Scholar), it has generally been accepted that it is vital for communities to socialise their youth in the use of ritual practices, as the basic goal of a ritual is to reproduce social structures. Anthropological research has explored the various aspects of this socialisation process, e.g. by studying the rites of passage (e.g. Weil 1986Weil, Shalva 1986 “The Language and Ritual of Socialisation: Birthday Parties in a Kindergarten Context.” Man 21 (2): 329–341. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). However, to the best of our knowledge, relatively little research has been undertaken into the socialisation of ritual as an interactional process (but see, e.g. Réger 1999Réger, Zita 1999 “Teasing in the Linguistic Socialization of Gypsy Children in Hungary.” Acta Linguistica Hungarica 46: 289–315. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), despite the fact that ritual is essentially an interactional phenomenon (Kádár 2013Kádár, Daniel Z. 2013Relational Rituals and Communication: Ritual Interaction in Groups. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).44.Note, however, that previous research such as Blum-Kulka (1997)Blum-Kulka, Shoshana 1997Dinner Talk: Cultural Patterns of Sociability and Socialization in Family Discourse. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar and Schieffelin (1986)Schieffelin, Bambi B. 1986 “Teasing and Shaming in Kaluli Children’s Interactions.” In Language Socialization across Cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 165–181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar has investigated, to a certain degree, the socialisation of certain ritual phenomena such as dinner-table talk, although such research has not pursued an interest in ritual per se. In this paper, we demonstrate that, due to the harm which is associated with ritual cursing (see above), the socialisation of this ritual practice requires adults to actively uphold what experts in the language socialisation of children, such as Eisenberg (1986Eisenberg, Ann R. 1986 “Teasing: Verbal Play in Two Mexicano Homes.” In Language Socialization across Cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 182–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar, 190), define as a ‘safe context’ (Section 3). While this paper is only a case study, it is perhaps not too far-fetched to argue that involvement in interactionally creating a safe context – which is at the centre of our analysis – may be valid for socialising young language users in a variety of rites across different languages and cultures. This may involve even mundane rituals in urban settings, such as socialising adolescents in dealing with unwanted ritual sexual advances, which has been an important aspect in sociological inquiries (e.g. Letendre 2007Letendre, Joan 2007 “ ‘Sugar and Spice but Not Always Nice’: Gender Socialization and Its Impact on Development and Maintenance of Aggression in Adolescent Girls.” Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 24 (4): 353–368. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

Second, by examining cursing as a form of ritual teasing, and by paying particular attention to how language users uphold a safe context, we intend to contribute to the continuing research on teasing (see an overview in Haugh 2017 2017 “Teasing.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor, ed. by Salvatore Attardo, 204–218. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). We interpret teasing according to Eder’s (1993Eder, Donna 1993 “ ‘Go get ya a French!’: Romantic and Sexual Teasing among Adolescent Girls.” In Gender and Conversational Interaction, ed. by Deborah Tannen, 17–31. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar, 17) definition, as a “playful remark aimed at another person, which can include mock challenges, commands and threats as well as imitating and exaggerating someone’s behaviour in a playful way”. As the extracts studied in this paper reveal, mock challenges (e.g. Extract 3), threats (particularly all forms of ritual cursing) and mimetic imitations and exaggerations (e.g. Extract 9) are integral parts of cursing. Arguably, the teases that are studied here are noteworthy because of the potential danger and harm that is attributed to ritual cursing. As Haugh (2017) 2017 “Teasing.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor, ed. by Salvatore Attardo, 204–218. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar highlights, relatively little research has been undertaken into the ritual forms of teasing, despite the fact that ritual teasing is worthy of further exploration due to its relative inaccessibility to cultural outsiders. Haugh (2017 2017 “Teasing.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor, ed. by Salvatore Attardo, 204–218. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 209) points out that

Research on teasing, particularly in anthropology, suggests that there may be particular ritualised forms of teasing that may not be readily interpretable or accessible to cultural outsiders. For instance, ‘razzing’ amongst Native American Indians (Pratt 1996Pratt, Steven 1996 “Razzing: Ritualized Uses of Humour as a Form of Identification among American Indians.” In Interaction and Identity, ed. by Hartmut B. Mokros, 237–255. London: Transaction.Google Scholar), ‘name-calling’ amongst the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea (Schieffelin 1986Schieffelin, Bambi B. 1986 “Teasing and Shaming in Kaluli Children’s Interactions.” In Language Socialization across Cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 165–181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar), or ‘kin(ship)-based’ teasing amongst Australian Aborigines (Garde 2008Garde, Murray 2008 “The Pragmatics of Rude Jokes with Grandad: Joking Relationships in Aboriginal Australia.” Anthropological Forum 18 (3): 235–253. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

This inaccessibility could be manifested in the previously discussed stereotypes that surround Romani cursing. We argue that the ritual curses in teasing can serve as playful models of conflict talk, particularly when they are produced by women (Eder 1993Eder, Donna 1993 “ ‘Go get ya a French!’: Romantic and Sexual Teasing among Adolescent Girls.” In Gender and Conversational Interaction, ed. by Deborah Tannen, 17–31. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar) as a form of gendered ritual language use.55.While it is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the gendered aspects of cursing and their implications for research into the ideologies of gendered language (Cameron 2005Cameron, Deborah 2005 “Gender and Language Ideologies.” In The Handbook of Language and Gender, ed. by Janet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff, 447–467. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar), it is evident that gender inequalities in androcentric Gabor Roma society have a key role in the contextually situated disarming/teasing applicability of curses (see also Section 4). As the central focus of our analysis, we explore how speakers of Romani are socialised to differentiate between serious and non-serious ritual cursing, with the aid of a cluster of contextualisation cues (see an overview in Gumperz 1992Gumperz, John J. 1992 “Contextualization and Understanding.” In Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, ed. by Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin, 229–252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar, 2003 2003 “Contextualization Conventions.” In Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings, ed. by Christina Bratt Paulston and Richard G. Tuker, 139–155. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar; Levinson 2003Levinson, Stephen C. 2003 “Contextualizing ‘Contextualization Cues’.” In Language and Interaction, ed. by Susan L. Eerdmans, Carlo L. Prevignano, and Paul Thibault, 32–39. Amsterdam, John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) – such as paralinguistic, non-verbal and interactional features (e.g. Haugh 2016Haugh, Michael 2016 “ ‘Just kidding’: Teasing and Claims to Non-Serious Intent.” Journal of Pragmatics 95: 120–136. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) – which are meant to uphold the safe context. As we highlight in Section 3, there is a narrow and somewhat blurred border between the ‘real’ and teasing functions of cursing due to the ritualistic nature of this phenomenon, and therefore contextualisation cues are essential for language users to (acquire the ability to) discern the type of cursing that is being used in a particular interaction. Ritual cursing is important for the pragmatic research of teasing because, due to the power of ritual cursing to cause harm and death, in scenarios where curses are used as teases it is not merely the offence, but rather the more serious feeling of physical threat, that the person being socialised needs to be able to distinguish from humour. In addition to contextualisation cues, we also examine the way in which ritual teasing is kept separate from other parts of the interaction, which contributes to the disarming of the ritual curse.

2.2Data and methodology

This paper is based on fieldwork that the second author undertook over a period of nearly three years during the early 2000s amongst Gabor Roma communities (Szalai 2014 2014 “Ideologies of Social Differentiation among Transylvanian Gabor Roma.” Acta Ethnographica Hungarica 59 (1): 85–112. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). These communities live in Transylvania, a multi-ethnic and multilingual part of Romania, and these communities are neighbours of the ethnic Hungarian minority population. Therefore, they are usually Romani-Hungarian-Romanian trilingual speakers. Their first language (the Gabor Romani dialect) is a lesser known Vlah Romani dialect (Matras 2002Matras, Yaron 2002Romani: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). The second author examined the language ideologies and practices in three closely interconnected Gabor communities in Mureș (in Hungarian: Maros) county. She spent the majority of her time in the settlement which the Gabor Roma refer to as Baro Gav ‘the Big Village’, but she also established contact with many other families in different villages due to the kinship networks of the local Romani families. She also participated in family events which were organised in other Transylvanian settlements (e.g. in Cluj, Oradea, Huedin) and visited Gabor families in other locations. It should be noted that, henceforth, when the generic term ‘Roma’ is used, it refers to the Gabor Roma.

During her fieldwork, the second author encountered cursing being used as a ritual practice for language socialisation on an almost daily basis. However, due to ethical reasons, she had limited opportunity to record cursing in various naturally occurring contexts such as business negotiations and conflict situations; in total, the dataset of teasing encounters which was used in this paper consists of 3 long (i.e. >100 lines) and 32 shorter (<100 lines) interactions in which adults socialise young language users in the practice of ritual cursing. For ethical reasons, the second author was only able to audio record ethnographic interviews and certain types of community events (e.g. death-related rituals and ritual oaths) where the participants gave consent to being recorded, and during such interviews mainly other, non-offensive forms of cursing occurred. Fortunately, for the current research, some interviews transformed into naturally occurring interactions as neighbours called in and became involved. As is attested by anthropological research (e.g. Berta in press; Stewart 1997Stewart, Michael S. 1997The Time of the Gypsies. Oxford: Westview Press.Google Scholar), in various Roma communities ‘privacy’, in the Western European sense, has less significance: members of extended families, neighbours and friends continuously visit each others’ houses to request help or assistance, to engage in transactions or simply for a friendly chat. Thus, on a number of occasions, unexpected visitors appeared after audio recording had commenced. All newcomers were made aware that conversations were being audio recorded, but soon after the interactions generally became informal as the local people were closely acquainted with the fieldworker.

Since our research focuses on the interactional operation of contextualisation cues, we have transcribed our data by using the following transcription symbols (Atkinson and Heritage 1999Atkinson, J. Maxwell, and John Heritage 1999 “Jeffersons’s Transcript Notation.” In The Discourse Reader, ed. by Adam Jaworsky and Nicolas Coupland, 158–166. London: Routledge.Google Scholar):

Transcription symbols
Underlining
emphasis
[
beginning of an overlap
=
between utterances with no time gap (latching)
CAPS
increased volume
˚ ˚
a passage of talk which is quieter than the surrounding talk
(( ))
the transcriber’s comment
xxx (...) xxx
omission within an utterance
(...)
omission from the transcript
,
clause-final intonation
.
falling intonation
?
rising intonation
!
animated tone
@
laughter

3.Analysis

Due to space limitations, the current analysis examines a single case study, to provide a data-driven overview of how ritual teasing is used in Romani culture in the socialisation of children. The teasing example examined in this paper is lengthy: there are 114 lines in the interaction and there is insufficient space to feature the entire transcript. Instead, extracts of the interaction are used to illustrate the operation of various types of contextualisation cue through which ritual cursing is kept relatively disarmed, as well as the broader interactional frame (Turner 1979 1979 “Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6 (4): 465–499. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) which demarcates ritual cursing from the rest of the interaction.

This interaction took place within the following context. As part of her ethnographic fieldwork, the second author interviewed a young female host Kati (18 years old) about Romani interactional rituals of invitation and offer. Kati, as a paternal aunt, was looking after two closely related children, four-year-old Zsuzska and her six-year-old cousin Gabi, in the absence of their mother. Suddenly, a 40-year-old neighbour Teri and her son turned up. Teri and her son visited Kati on a number of occasions that day as they had a matter to discuss with Kati’s mother. In the recorded interaction, Teri begins to tease little Zsuzska, and Kati immediately joins in the ritual. It should be noted that, at that time, Zsuzska had special language needs: as a result of injuries incurred during birth, she experienced a delay in language and speech development. Therefore, female relatives and neighbours frequently engaged in teasing with her, to test and support her language and social development. This fact highlights that cursing as a form of ritual teasing has a specific socialisation role in Romani communities with regards to children (Réger 1999Réger, Zita 1999 “Teasing in the Linguistic Socialization of Gypsy Children in Hungary.” Acta Linguistica Hungarica 46: 289–315. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). It is also worth emphasising that, for the Roma community, visitors like Teri are not only ‘neighbours’ in the ‘Western’ urbanised sense: in closely linked network, kin-based Roma communities, there may be a sense of ritual moral duty (Durkheim 2012Durkheim, Émile 2012Moral Education. Trans. Everett K. Wilson, and Herman Schnurer. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.Google Scholar, 97) for females to contribute to the education of neighbouring children.

Contextualisation cues prevail throughout interactions like the one studied in this paper; they become particularly salient in those interactional moments when adults perceive the child as having doubts as to whether a ritual curse is genuine or not, and/or when the child does not attempt to engage in counter-teasing but becomes overtly defensive (see, e.g. Extracts (2), (4), (5) and (9). As Eisenberg (1986Eisenberg, Ann R. 1986 “Teasing: Verbal Play in Two Mexicano Homes.” In Language Socialization across Cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 182–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar, 190) highlights, creating the feeling of a safe context is essential when children are being socialised in teasing; since teasing ‘is perilously close to real life’, adults tend to construct an interactionally ‘safe context for the communication of a potentially threatening message’ to ensure that the tease is disarmed. Engagement in creating a safe context vis-à-vis contextualisation cues follows the dynamic formation of the teasing interaction. In addition to examining contextualisation cues, we also study the ritual contextual frame in which ritual cursing as a tease is embedded. As with any form of ritual interaction, jocular forms of ritual cursing need an initial interactional ‘green light’ to proceed, and since it operates with heightened emotions (Collins 2004Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), there is usually a point when the adults formally stop the ritual to prevent it from getting out of control.

In the following, we will focus on the contextualisation cue types that one can observe in the interaction between Teri, the host Kati and the targeted child, little Zsuzska (Sections 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3.), as well as the operation of the ritual contextual frame (Section 3.4).

3.1Forms of address

In the context of Romani ritual teasing, forms of address are often used as contextualisation cues. For instance, the interaction under investigation begins with such a form of address, as follows:

(1)

1 Teri     ((to Kati, shouting from the street))
           
                                                    SO KĂRĂN TUMENGĂ, ŔOMNJE?
           What are you doing, you, Gypsy woman? [lit. ‘What are you doing to yourselves,
           Gypsy women?]
2 Kati     ((to Teri))
           Dikh, katika horbijma.
           Look, I am chatting here ((with the researchers)).
3 Teri     ((Teri is outside in the courtyard, but already initiates the teasing))
           ((in a whiny voice))
           ŔOMEHTE GĂLĀH E PITJŌKA:!
           Pitjoka got married! ((Pitjoka is Zsuzska’s grandmother, a married woman in her late
           fifties at the time of the interview))
4 Kati     In- gălahtar!
           She was taken.
5          Ingărdah la o phuro Pišta, dikhăh?
           She was taken by the old Pista,66.Pista is a recently deceased old man and one of Teri’s relatives. you see?
6 Teri     Ige::n!=
           Yeess!
7 Zsuzska  =Na!
           No!

This was not the first time that day that the interactants had met each other: Teri and her son repeatedly called in, and during each of these visits they stayed for a friendly chat. In the above interaction, Teri begins the conversation with a ritual tease, by using the address term ʻyou Gypsy woman!’ (ŕomnje).77.The noun ŕomnji (in Vocative case: ŕomnje!) includes differentiation on the basis of ethnicity, gender and marital status: it refers to ‘a married Romani woman’. This form of address would be regarded as being derogatory in inter-ethnic settings, but its ritual intra-ethnic use displays solidarity and humour.88.Such expressions tend to be frequently used by socially disadvantaged groups; see Croom (2013)Croom, Adam 2013 “How to Do Things with Slurs: Studies in the Way of Derogatory Words.” Language & Communication 33 (3): 177–204. CrossrefGoogle Scholar. It is perhaps not a coincidence that ‘you Gypsy woman’ occurs at the beginning of the interaction: it teases the hostess Kati rather than Zsuzska, and as such its primary aim is to set the tone of the interaction. Importantly, ŕomnje has a contextually embedded meaning because it operates as a playful challenge: due to the importance of gender status in the Romani community (cf. Section 1), it is normally used when addressing married females. Kati was an unmarried girl at the time of the interview, but she fulfilled duties – including babysitting and overseeing the household, including her elder brothers’ wives and children – which were regarded as being typical ‘matronly’ roles.

Following this initial contextualisation cue, Teri and Kati begin to tease the child in lines 3–6, by switching to a much simpler form of interaction: they deliver the clearly false claim that the child’s grandmother (a married woman in her late fifties) has remarried. In line 7, Zsuzska appears to realise that the teasing has started, as she shouts ‘no’ to Teri.

Forms of address also operate as contextualisation cues to benchmark changes in the ritual ‘line’ (Goffman 1967Goffman, Erving 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar) of an interaction: when a socialising rite of aggression becomes too intensive, the speakers may deploy forms of endearment to indicate to the person being teased that the interaction is not serious. For instance, after the initial tease, Teri begins to curse the girl’s grandmother (using her Romani name Pitjoka), and Kati immediately joins in the ritual game; as their curses become increasingly menacing, the child – who initially understands that these curses are part of a game – begins to show signs that she is taking the curses seriously. Once Kati is aware of this, she immediately uses an endearing form of address together with a code switch to the teaser (lines 99, 101), to decrease the intensity of the ongoing ritual by giving the child a cue that the ongoing interaction is not meant to cause harm:

(2)

93 Kati     Xal o beng adjeh, hi:::!
            May the Devil eat today, huh!
94 Teri     Mula::h, mula:h, [ja:::j! ((pretends to be crying))
            She has died, she has died, oy!
95 Zsuzska  ((laughs))       [@@@=
96 Kati     Mulah?
            Has she died?
97 Zsuzska  ((partly crying, partly laughing))
            =Na!
            No.
98 Teri     Mulāh tji mami e Pitjōka:!
            Your grandmother Pitjóka died!
99 Kati     ((to Teri, laughing, in Hungarian)
            Ne még mondjad úgy, mindjárt sír!
            Do not tell it to her anymore, she is going to cry!
100 Zsuzska Na!
            No!
101 Kati    ((to Zsuzska, consoling her))
            
                                                    Na:, śej, či mulah!
            No, girl, she has not died!
102 Teri    Mulāh tjo Pōko!
            Your Spider has died!

In lines 93 and 94, Kati and Teri playfully tease Zsuzska by ritually cursing her grandmother. In line 95, Zsuzska responds to the curses with laughter but also begins to cry, indicating that her laughter is ‘more than a simple perception of humour’ (Glenn 2003Glenn, Phillip 2003Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 23). As the chain of the interactional ritual exchange intensifies (Collins 2004Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), Zsuzska appears to be confused as to whether the cursing is meant to be harmful or not. In line 96, Kati notices this confusion: she asks Zsuzska whether Teri’s claim (performed in an intentionally overexaggerated tone; see Section 3.3) that Zsuzska’s grandmother has died is true, to which Zsuzska immediately answers ‘no’, in line 97. However, Teri’s next curse in line 98 forces her to the brink of tears again, and in line 99 Kati intervenes to decrease the ‘pressure’ (Collins 2004Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 233) of the interactional ritual chain on the child, by advising Teri to reduce the intensity of the curses. Note that she does not say to stop the ritual, but rather suggests making the curses less menacing, and Teri follows this advice in line 102. When making this suggestion, Kati switches from using Romani to Hungarian, a typical indexical of social negotiation (Scotton-Myers 1988Scotton-Myers, Carol 1988 “Code-Switching as Indexical of Social Negotiation.” In Codeswitching: Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives, ed. by Monica Heller, 151–186. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar): switching to a cultural outsider’s code in line 99 is an indicator that this utterance is not part of the ongoing ritual. In line 100, Zsuzska angrily denies that her grandmother has passed away and, in response, Kati steps out of the ritual line (Goffman 1967Goffman, Erving 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar). In line 101, she supports the teased child by uttering an explicit withdrawal (‘she has not died’), which indicates that the previous claims were meant to be a joke (Haugh 2016Haugh, Michael 2016 “ ‘Just kidding’: Teasing and Claims to Non-Serious Intent.” Journal of Pragmatics 95: 120–136. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), and she uses the form of endearment śej (‘girl’), which would be far too ‘mild’ to be used in aggressive teasing, i.e. it operates as a contextualisation cue for the child that Kati is not now teasing her.

3.2False information delivered via interactional ritual chains

Delivering false information is a fundamental contextualisation cue by which adults can uphold the safe context. As the following Extract (3) illustrates, repeatedly providing false information via a chain of increasingly stronger ritual utterances, could pave the way for the disarmed cursing to be kick-started:

(3)

8  Kati     Ingărdah la!(.)
            He took her away!
9           The či na phendāh pehkă Žužkakă!
            And she did not say anything to her Zsuzska!
10 Teri     ((enters the house))
            Na.
            No. ((She did not mention it.)) 
[...]
17 Kati     ((to Teri, offering her a seat))
              Haj [Teri, beš tele!
              Come, Teri, sit down!
18 Teri           [Bešah.
                  Ah, that’s life. 
19 Kati       Beš tele!
              Sit down!
((Teri stops in the middle of the kitchen, facing little Zsuzska, Kati is between them.))
20 Teri     ŔOMĒHTE GĂLĀH E PITJŌKA::!
            Pitjoka has married!
21 Zsuzska  Na.
            No.
22 Teri     O Del [te feril la!
            (May God keep her!) ((the ‘newly-wed’ grandmother))
23 Kati           [Ingărdāh la o:: Pišta, the o Mati, the [o Gabi.
                  Pista, and Mate and Gabi took her away.
24 Teri                                                   [Ingărde la o bară njamcî!
                                                     She was taken away by the great Germans!
25 Zsuzska  ((with laughing intonation)
            Ige::n.=
            Yes. ((Ironically, pretending agreement: Oh, of course!))
26 Kati     ((laughing))
            =O turči!
            The Turks!
27 Teri     ((laughing))
            Merel tji dej! @@[@
            May your mother die!

As was noted in the analysis of Extract (1), even before Teri enters the house, she delivers a saliently false utterance upon seeing Zsuzska, by arguing that a recently deceased relative (the old Pista) has married Zsuzska’s grandmother (line 5). In lines 8–10, Kati and Teri continue the tease. After Kati invites Teri to sit down (lines 10–19), the women again engage in the tease, which ultimately transforms into cursing in line 27. Following Teri’s mock congratulations for the ‘newly-wed’ grandmother (line 22), Kati playfully identifies various men from the child’s family (‘Pista, and Mate and Gabi’) who assisted with the grandmother’s imaginary marriage by helping with her elopement (line 23). One of these men, Gabi, is Zsuzska’s father, with the others being her uncles; all these men are Kati’s own brothers, which further increases the falsehood of the information, thus enabling the child to recognise the interaction as teasing. As a mimetic response in the interactional ritual chain, in lines 24 and 26 Teri and Kati name the ‘great Germans’ and the ‘Turks’ as having eloped with Zsuzska’s grandmother; these are again references to Zsuzska’s above-mentioned relatives, who at that time had travelled to Germany and Turkey on business. This subversive play with ethnic identities further increases the humorous stance adopted in the interaction. Delivering clearly false information proves to be an efficient strategy to engage the child in the ritual: while initially in line 21 Zsuzska is startled by the announcement that her grandmother has married, in line 25 she joins in with the ritual teasing game by uttering a mock agreement, which in turn allows the ritual of cursing to be kick-started in turn 27. Note that the initial tease is not completely harmless. When the interaction took place, both the participants (and the ethnographers) knew that Zsuzska adored her grandmother more than anyone else in her family, i.e. the ‘marriage’ of her beloved grandmother could cause Zsuzska relational and emotional damage.

Ritual falsehood and repetitive chains (Collins 2004Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) are closely interrelated in the rites of socialisation. This is in accordance with Eisenberg’s (1986)Eisenberg, Ann R. 1986 “Teasing: Verbal Play in Two Mexicano Homes.” In Language Socialization across Cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 182–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar findings regarding teasing in socialisation, i.e. the repetition of clearly false information helps the recipient child to identify the tease and, as such, it operates as a contextualisation cue. This repetitiveness results in a limited choice of topics and a sense of redundancy in our dataset (compared to, for example, scenarios in which teasing is more hidden within the interaction): the playful threat and provocation is usually organised around prototypical themes. For instance, in the interaction analysed in this paper, 61 lines feature curses; that is, 53.1% of the 114 utterances include curses and the majority of the other lines are metapragmatically centred on cursing.

3.3Nonverbal contextualisation cues

The contextualisation of cursing also manifests itself vis-à-vis interrelated nonverbal prosodic features. These include, perhaps most importantly, laughter (see an overview in Glenn 2003Glenn, Phillip 2003Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar): the analysis of our dataset reveals that both adults burst into laughter as they deliver the teasing curses. This not only indicates that these are playful in nature, but also that the adults find it humorous to use otherwise dangerous curses in a safe context. For instance, in the following extract Teri bursts into laughter as she engages in the playful rite of cursing:

(4)

49 Teri   [Merel e Pitjōka! @@@@
          May Pitjoka ((grandmother)) die!
50 Kati   ((to Zsuzska))
          
                                                    Del armaje?
          Is she cursing?

Teri’s disarming laughter is noteworthy from a ritual point of view: as previous research, such as Emmons (2000Emmons, Sally L. 2000 “A Disarming Laughter: The Role of Humor in Tribal Cultures. An Examination of Humor in Contemporary Native American Literature and Art.” Doctoral thesis, University of Oklahoma.Google Scholar, 107–146) has illustrated, with regards to the socialisation of the ritual acts of aggression, people with various cultural backgrounds tend to engage in this type of laughter. In line 50, Kati metapragmatically confirms (cf. Silverstein 1993Silverstein, Michael 1993 “Metapragmatic Discourse and Metapragmatic Function.” In Reflexive Language: Reported Speech and Metapragmatics, ed. by John Lucy, 33–58. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) the disarmed nature of the curse, by asking for clarification from the child as to whether she has understood what is going on.

As a contextualisation cue, laughter also operates as a form of ‘crossing’ (Rampton 1995Rampton, Ben 1995 “Language Crossing and the Problematisation of Ethnicity and Socialisation.” Pragmatics 5 (4): 485–513. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 495) in our data: for example, there are instances where the adult (typically Teri) delivers curses with a chuckling and rising intonation, and by doing so she imitates the voice of a child who is still unable to properly curse:

(5)

81 Kati     Ašun, dah armaje tje mama!
            Have you heard it, she has cursed your mum!
82 Teri     @@@
            ((laughs))
83 Zsuzska  (Ande dej!)
            ( Into mother!)
84 Teri     ((with laughing intonation))
            Merel tji dej@@@!
            May your mother die!

In this part of the conversation, Zsuzska again becomes uncertain as to whether the cursing is meant to cause harm because she is clearly concerned for her mother (line 83), and Teri then softens the situation by repeating her curse in a childish fashion.

Together with laughter, stress and an exaggerated exclamative intonation are also typical prosodic contextualisation cues in our dataset. For instance, in the extract below, which occurs after Extract (5), Teri performs a childish crossing to ensure that the ritual is harmless to the child:

(6)

87 Teri   [Merel tji mami:!
          May your grandmother die!

The prosody of mami:! (grandma:a!) imitates how a child would call for her grandmother in an emergency situation; i.e., in the present context it playfully indicates to the child that, while the curse may appear to be harmful, it is actually harmless. The pragmatic power of such contextualisation cues to create a safe context becomes clearly evident in instances when they aid the child to counter-attack with curses – this is arguably a challenging task for a young child when one considers the harm that is attributable to ritual curses. For instance, Zsuzska appears to be particularly clever in one part of the interaction – she not only understands that the ritual cursing is playful, but also launches a mocking counter-attack:

(7)

27 Teri     ((laughing))
            Merel tji dej! @@[@
            May your mother die!
28 Zsuzska                   [
                                                    Tji dej, ja?=
                             ((May)) Your mother ((die))), alright?
29 Kati     ((Repeats/echoes little Zsuzska’s words, with laughing intonation))
            =Tji dej, [ja? @ @
            Your mother, alright?

Teri’s use of prosodic contextualisation cues in line 27 are standard for the interaction (see, e.g. Extract 6). However, in line 28 Zsuzska transforms the flow of the interaction, as she playfully requests clarification from Teri regarding whether it is the latter’s mother whom they are cursing. Kati acknowledges this smart counter-attack by repeating Zsuzska’s utterance, whilst laughing, in line 29.

Finally, a related prosodic contextualisation cue that is frequently deployed in our dataset is the lengthening of vowels (cf. Gumperz 1992Gumperz, John J. 1992 “Contextualization and Understanding.” In Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, ed. by Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin, 229–252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar, 235):

(8)

94 Teri   Mula::h, mula:h, [ja:::j! ((imitates crying))
          She has died, she has died, oy!

In this instance, Teri playfully imitates crying as she mockingly cries for Zsuzska’s grandmother. It should be noted that, while this represents the default use of lengthened vowels in our dataset, they can occasionally fulfil another function, as the following extract illustrates:

(9)

49 Teri      [Merel e Pitjōka! @@@@
              May Pitjoka ((grandmother)) die!
50 Kati      ((to Zsuzska))
             
                                                    Del armaje?
             Is she cursing?
51 Zsuzska   ((in a crying voice))
             Ige::n.
             Yes.
52 Kati      ((to Zsuzska))
             Hi::, dah armaje amară mame!=
             Huh, she cursed our grandmother!
53 Zsuzska   Ige::n!=
             Yes!

When Zsuzska becomes confused and is threatened by the curse, Kati switches to an endearing style of address: in line 52 she aligns herself with Zsuzska by switching to the plural form (she refers to the cursed person as ‘our grandmother’) and also by using the vowel lengthened form hi:: (huh) to elicit Zsuzska’s reflection on the curse. As experts of child language acquisition, such as Blount and Padgug (1977)Blount, Ben G., and Elise Padgug 1977 “Prosodic, Paralinguistic, and Interactional Features in Parent–Child Speech: English and Spanish.” Journal of Child Language 4 (1): 67–86. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, have highlighted, vowel lengthening is particularly prevalent in the language behaviour of parents and other caretakers in contexts of uncertainty, and it is likely that in the above interaction hi:: (huh) indexes a protective stance towards Zsuzska.

3.4The ritual contextual frame

So far, our focus has been on the contextualisation cues which are used to ensure that cursing is kept within a safe context. In addition, we will now briefly discuss the way in which cursing as a ritual practice is demarcated from other parts of the interaction. As the extracts that we have studied have illustrated, ritual cursing is emotionally loaded (Collins 2004Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), and the adults in the interaction continuously need to support and reassure Zsuzska – by using both contextualisation cues and metapragmatic comments – that the curses are not harmful. Consequently, it is also important that such rites of aggression are demarcated from ‘ordinary’ (non-harmful) conversation, that is, they take place in a ritual contextual frame (Turner 1979 1979 “Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6 (4): 465–499. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

Initially, the teasing is simply concerned with the alleged marriage of the girl’s grandmother, and ritual cursing does not commence until the teased girl first begins to doubt the truth of the tease. In other words, in terms of the ritual frame, the child is expected to accept the ritual challenge in the form of a counter-challenge (Turner 1979 1979 “Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6 (4): 465–499. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), so that the rite of cursing can begin in a playful form with many embedded contextualisation cues. It is relevant here to revisit the following part of the interaction (featured in Extracts (3) and (7)):

24 Teri      [Ingărde la o bară njamcî!
             She was taken away by the great Germans!
25 Zsuzska   ((with laughing intonation)
             Ige::n.=
             Yes. ((Ironically, pretending to agree: ‘Oh, of course!’))
26 Kati      ((laughing))
             =O turči!
             The Turks!
27 Teri      ((laughing))
             Merel tji dej! @@[@
             May your mother die!
28 Zsuzska   [
                                                    Tji dej, ja?=
             ((May)) Your mother ((die))), alright?
29 Kati      ((Repeats/echoes little Zsuzska’s words, with laughing intonation))
             =Tji dej, [ja? @@
             Your mother ((not mine)), alright?

Curses begin when, in line 25, Zsuzska finally ‘accepts’ Teri’s challenges by responding ironically to her tease. This interactional ‘green light’ paves the way for the first ritual curse of the interaction, which is heavily loaded with paralinguistic contextualisation cues (see the previous section). When Zsuzska responds to the curse with a humorous counter-challenge in line 28, and Kati credits this response (line 29), Teri begins to deliver curses which are heavily loaded with contextualisation cues:

(10)

30 Teri      ((laughing)) 
             [Merel tji dej! @@@
             May your mother die!

During the interaction, Zsuzska becomes deeply involved in the ritual practice, as a number of the extracts have demonstrated. As the interaction intensifies, Zsuzska takes Teri’s curses to be increasingly menacing and, from line 102, the adults gradually slow down the ritual, ultimately leaving the ritual frame in line 111, as the following extract illustrates:

(11)

102 Teri     Mulāh tjo Pōko!
             Your Spider has died!
103 Zsuzska  Na!
             No!
104 Teri     [Mulāh! =
              Died!
105 Kati     [Gălāh ando ro!
              Went to the town!
106 Teri     =
                                                    Na-j kon t’anel tukă xabe:n!
              There is nobody to bring food to you!
107 Kati     Vi o Kalapošo, vi o Kalapošo mulah?
             The Hatted, has the Hatted also died?
108 Teri     Mulah v’o Kalapošo:!
             The Hatted has also died!
109 Zsuzska  Na.
             No.
110 Kati     @@@ (1.0)
             ((laughs))
111 Teri     ((to her son, leaving, moving towards the door))
             No hajdi!
             Well, come, let’s go!
112          ((to the hosts))
             Ret laśi!
             Good night!
113 Kati     Źe la pačesa!
             Go with peace!

As Zsuzska’s response becomes increasingly defensive – the emotive Na! (No!) would indicate that she is beginning to take the curses seriously – Teri uses a play on language, in line 102, as a contextualisation cue delivering false information (Section 3.2). In this case, she deploys humorous ambiguity when she claims that it was the girl’s grandfather and not her grandmother who had died. The adult teaser assumes the child’s perspective, and in the mock curse she uses the child’s own, simplified idiolectal term (Pōko instead of Pitjōko) for naming her grandfather.99.In several Romani communities, including those of the Gabor Roma, people tend to have a name for in-group (Romani name) and another for out-group (Gaźo/non-Romani name) situations. A person may have more than one Romani name. Some Romani nicknames are reserved mainly for family settings, while others are widely used in the community. The informal, familial Romani nickname of Zsuzska’s grandfather is Pitjōko. She had difficulty pronouncing this name, and therefore she often used a shorter, simplified form of the name Pitjōko>Pōko. This child language form of the name was a source of amusement for the other interactants, as this shortened form is phonologically identical to the noun pōko ‘spider’. The grandfather had another Romani name, Kalapošo ‘Hatted’, and this name was widely used in the community. In this context, when uttered by an adult person, the curse becomes a play on language and a further source of humour, as it could be understood literally to mean: ‘May your spider die!’ Besides, Kati engages in the ritual chain in line 105, by toning down the concept of death (‘Went to town’, rather than ‘died’), and the two adult participants co-construct a reformulated version of the message, by replace another more widely known Romani name with a nickname (Hatted) which is referring to Zsuzska’s grandfather. In this instance, it is Kati who states that Hatted (her own father, Zsuzska’s grandfather) has died, to further downplay the seriousness of the message. The emotive and relational tie between Kati and Hatted is meant to signal that the cursing is playful, as no member of the Roma community would curse their own relatives. Zsuzska continues to feel threatened and acts defensively, and so Kati begins to laugh in line 110. Following a conclusive pause, Teri terminates the ritual in line 111 by telling her son to leave, after which she engages in a leave-taking ritual with Kati. This takes the form of a blessing, and as such it is clearly demarcated from the previous curses.

4.Conclusion

This paper has examined ritual as an interactional phenomenon in its perhaps most archetypal form, by exploring the operation of ritual cursing in a community where people attribute great importance to the power of curses in certain situations. It is relevant here to note that ritual has many types and forms (Bax 2010Bax, Marcel 2010 “Epistolary Presentation Rituals: Face-work, Politeness, and Ritual Display in Early-Modern Dutch Letter Writing.” In Historical (Im)Politeness, ed. by Jonathan Culpeper and Daniel Z. Kádár, 37–86. Bern: Peter Lang.Google Scholar), spanning ‘hidden’ ritual practices in urban settings, such as inviting an attractive person to the cinema, through ritual games like British Bulldog, to the ritual practices which are observed in business negotiations. It would be unwise to limit the pragmatic analysis of rituals to those forms of interpersonal behaviour which are ‘ritual’ (only) in a popular sense (or in a first order way, see Watts 2003Watts, Richard J. 2003Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Nevertheless, it is beneficial to involve the study of such rituals in projects like this Special Issue because – somewhat paradoxically – it is often difficult to find interactional data in which archetypal rituals occur and, following Goffman’s (1967)Goffman, Erving 1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar seminal work, ritual has been interpreted in a technical (second order) rather than a popular sense (see an overview in Horgan 2019Horgan, Mervyn 2019 “Strangers and Everyday Incivilities: Towards a Theory of Moral Affordances in Ritualized Interaction.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict 7(1): 32–55. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; see also Kádár and House's introductory paper in this Special Issue) in sociolinguistic and (to a lesser degree) pragmatic research.

The ritual engagement studied in this paper only represents a specific and gendered use of a more widely adopted ritual practice in the Gabor Roma community. While both men and women use curses, women are believed to be typical users of curses in Gabor Roma language ideology, particularly in caretaker speech. Women are expected to perform ritual curses in public in certain speech activities of conflict management. This is perhaps the reason why it is mainly women who have responsibility for the socialisation of children through the situationally appropriate, skilful use of curses, by playfully modelling conflict talk in teasing. It is important to note that curses in the interaction contain female referents, to ensure that cursing practices are understood to be non-serious curses ‘coming from the mouth’, and thus are in line with the interactional frame of teasing. As the extracts that were studied illustrate, male referents (e.g. the grandfather of the teased child) do occur in teasing. However, both the participants and the people being cursed are all female. This plays an important role in the formation of a safe context in which to conduct a tease, particularly in a sociocultural context where there is potential for the ritual to cause harm. Future research could be undertaken to examine ritual cursing beyond this context; this is important not only to further the pragmatic understanding of this archetypal form of ritual, but also to contribute to the understanding of Romani sociocultural behaviour. This is of fundamental importance because of the negative stereotyping of the Roma community in Europe (and perhaps elsewhere).

Our aim has been to use ritual cursing as a case study to provide a contribution to two interrelated topics i.e. (a) to study the ways in which ritual practices are socialised, and (b) to explore teasing in situations where ritual socialisation has been relatively insignificant. With regards to the former, since Durkheim’s research, ritual has been understood to be a form of behaviour through which language users reproduce social structures, and so the socialisation of this phenomenon is an area that the sociopragmatics of ritual cannot ignore. Interestingly, while some research has been undertaken into both the conventionalisation of ritual practices (e.g. Terkourafi and Kádár 2017Terkourafi, Marina, and Dániel Z. Kádár 2017 “Convention and ritual”. In The Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)Politess ed. by Jonathan Culpeper, Michael Haugh an Dániel Z. Kádár, 171–195. London: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and the social ritualisation of initially non-ritual practices (Kádár 2017 2017Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual: Maintaining the Moral Order in Interpersonal Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), these are essentially macro processes which take place over long periods of time. We believe that the study of ritual socialisation is noteworthy, not only because it fills a knowledge gap – ritual socialisation, and in particular the role of cursing as a means of socialisation, has not received sufficient attention – but also because it provides a glimpse into micro-level interactional practices by examining how individuals (re)enact ritual practices within their communities. As the examination of ritual curses has illustrated, what appears to an outsider to be ‘brutal’ forms of ritual communication are actually used in carefully designed ways on the micro level, to ensure that younger members of a social group properly acquire them. Of course, this does not decrease the intensity of the rites of aggression, such as cursing, because ritual represents an emotively intensive form of interpersonal interaction (Collins 2004Collins, Randall 2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

Regarding our second goal, the study of contextualisation cues in teasing ritual Romani curses is also relevant to the sociopragmatic research on teasing (e.g. Haugh 2017 2017 “Teasing.” In The Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor, ed. by Salvatore Attardo, 204–218. New York: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Arguably, the operation of the contextualisation cues that were studied in this paper is in accordance with the findings of previous research on the role of prosody. Nevertheless, this paper has illustrated that, in the case of the rites of aggression, teasers deploy contextualisation cues to ensure that the person being teased does not feel threatened. Since cursing is often directed at a third party – usually a teased person’s loved ones – the use of curses as a form of tease involves assisting the person undergoing socialisation to differentiate between harmful and harmless curses. In other words, while cursing and its use in teasing revolve around offence (and its lack) in modern urbanised societies (Jay 1992Jay, Timothy 1992Cursing in America: A Psycholinguistic Study of Dirty Language in the Courts, in the Movies, in the Schoolyards, and on the Streets. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), it is a more complex phenomenon in cultures like the Roma community.

We hope that this research will generate further interest not only in ritual socialisation, but also in the pragmatics of Romani.

Funding

The authors would like to express their gratitude to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for supporting their research with the MTA Momentum (Lendület) Research Grant (LP2017/5) and, as part of this, they have explored Romani relational rituals. The second author is indebted to members of the Gabor Roma community for their patience, trust and help. Research into Romani communities has been sponsored by the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary (K129378). The fieldwork would not have been possible without the support provided by OSI (Budapest).

Notes

1.Conditional (self-)cursing refers to curses such as, ‘May my father die, if you don’t drink that coffee!’, which one may use to boost the effect of a polite offer made to another person to drink coffee.
2.Note that such uses are also important in the social life of the Roma community.
3.Not every individual will believe in the power of curses, even in those cultures and social groups where cursing operates as a ritual practice and, conversely, as Wann and Zaichowsky (2009)Wann, Daniel, and Len Zaichowsky 2009 “Sport Team Identification and Belief in Team Curses: The Case of the Boston Red Sox and the Curse of the Bambino.” Journal of Sport Behavior 32 (4): 489–502.Google Scholar illustrate, people living in urbanised societies may well suddenly become ardent believers of cursing.
4.Note, however, that previous research such as Blum-Kulka (1997)Blum-Kulka, Shoshana 1997Dinner Talk: Cultural Patterns of Sociability and Socialization in Family Discourse. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar and Schieffelin (1986)Schieffelin, Bambi B. 1986 “Teasing and Shaming in Kaluli Children’s Interactions.” In Language Socialization across Cultures, ed. by Bambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 165–181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar has investigated, to a certain degree, the socialisation of certain ritual phenomena such as dinner-table talk, although such research has not pursued an interest in ritual per se.
5.While it is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the gendered aspects of cursing and their implications for research into the ideologies of gendered language (Cameron 2005Cameron, Deborah 2005 “Gender and Language Ideologies.” In The Handbook of Language and Gender, ed. by Janet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff, 447–467. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar), it is evident that gender inequalities in androcentric Gabor Roma society have a key role in the contextually situated disarming/teasing applicability of curses (see also Section 4).
6.Pista is a recently deceased old man and one of Teri’s relatives.
7.The noun ŕomnji (in Vocative case: ŕomnje!) includes differentiation on the basis of ethnicity, gender and marital status: it refers to ‘a married Romani woman’.
8.Such expressions tend to be frequently used by socially disadvantaged groups; see Croom (2013)Croom, Adam 2013 “How to Do Things with Slurs: Studies in the Way of Derogatory Words.” Language & Communication 33 (3): 177–204. CrossrefGoogle Scholar.
9.In several Romani communities, including those of the Gabor Roma, people tend to have a name for in-group (Romani name) and another for out-group (Gaźo/non-Romani name) situations. A person may have more than one Romani name. Some Romani nicknames are reserved mainly for family settings, while others are widely used in the community. The informal, familial Romani nickname of Zsuzska’s grandfather is Pitjōko. She had difficulty pronouncing this name, and therefore she often used a shorter, simplified form of the name Pitjōko>Pōko. This child language form of the name was a source of amusement for the other interactants, as this shortened form is phonologically identical to the noun pōko ‘spider’. The grandfather had another Romani name, Kalapošo ‘Hatted’, and this name was widely used in the community.

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Address for correspondence

Dániel Z. Kádár

Chair Professor

Dalian University of Foreign Languages

6 Lvshun South Road

Dalian, 116044

China

dannier@dlufl.edu.cn

Biographical notes

Dániel Z. Kádár is Qihang Chair Professor and Director of Research Centre at the Dalian University of Foreign Languages, China. He is also Research Professor at the Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He is author/editor of 23 volumes, published with leading international publishers such as Cambridge University Press. He is Editor of Contrastive Pragmatics – A Cross-Disciplinary Journal.

Andrea Szalai is Research Fellow at the Centre for Pragmatics Research of the Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences. She has extensively published on Romani, in particular the sociolinguistic and pragmatic aspects of Romani languages, and spent years in Transylvania to undertake ethnographic research.