WP164 Revisiting: Keywords, transforming phrases, and cultural concepts

Collection: Key word


The verbally explicit (the said) may over time become implicit (the unsaid). Similarly, culturally prominent keywords may alternate as unarticulated cultural assumptions. The cycle is from precise lexicon to silence covering a language shadow (Ardener) and back. Mediating this shift between lexicon and language shadow are variable phrases alluding to the cultural concept. Literature on keywords explains well their significance in many languages. Unexplained is how keywords may give way to silence or allusion and, in due course, sometimes return as prominent keywords. It is suggested that the trigger for such shifts is the stigmatization of the condition or person-kind to which a keyword refers. The keyword goes ?underground?, possibly to be re-expressed when the stigma no longer applies. African ethnographic case material spanning a gap of fifty years supports this proposition and shows the role in this process of increasing admixture of different ethnic languages in late urban modernity.