[Lingtyp] night vs. day word avoidance strategy

Bart Jacobs bartjacobs3 at googlemail.com
Fri Jan 27 15:12:07 UTC 2017

Dear all,

I write to inquire about a specific kind of word avoidance/taboo.

The phenomenon concerns a word avoidance strategy whereby a speech
community will use two different words for (or descriptions of) one and the
same concept, *depending on the time of day*. One such example comes from
Casamancese Creole (Senegal) whose speakers, if they want to speak about
certain concepts after sunset, can/will not utter the original words for
these concepts but replace them by another word or a description. So for
instance the word for ‘salt’ in Casamancese Creole is *sal* at
daylight but *wuru
braŋku* ’white gold’ after sunset (Biagui, Nunez & Quint f.c.).

While I am aware that this is probably a fairly common cultural-linguistic
phenomenon across Africa (see e.g. Mous 2003: 219) and presumably found
also in a fair share of other societies around the world, my literature
search unfortunately did not yield too many specific examples. Two examples
I did find:

(a)    Frazer (1911: 402), cited in Emeneau (1948: 61): “The Kols, a
Dravidian [sic !] race of northern India, will not speak of death or beasts
of prey by their proper names in the morning. Their name for the tiger at
that time of day is “he with the claws”, and for the elephant “he with the

(b)   Wolff (2000: 305): “The Itsekiri and Okpe in the Delta area of
Nigeria (…) have different terms for such words as ‘blood’, ‘fire’,
‘firewood’ according to whether the word is used at night or during daytime
(Ayo Bamgbose, p.c.).”

As noted, I am quite confident that this phenomenon is not restricted to
the examples cited above and so I was wondering if some of you might be
able to help me find more cases in point from around the world so as to get
a good typological overview. It goes without saying that any input will be
properly acknowledged in any output that may result from this inquiry and I
will also post a summary of the thread here on the LINGTYP.

To be sure, it is known to me that certain sounds (e.g. whistling or
pounding grain) can be tabooed at night in certain (African) speech
communities (e.g. Sonnenschein 2001: 208); however, for now I think it is
useful to limit the inquiry to actual speech production.

Very much looking forward to your comments, with many thanks in advance!

Bart (Uniwersytet Jagielloński Kraków)


*Emeneau*, Murray B. 1948. “Taboos on animal names.” *Language*: 56-63.

*Frazer*, James George. 1911. *The Golden Bough. 2: Taboo and the Perils of
the Soul*. Macmillan.

*Mous*, Maarten 2003. The linguistic properties of lexical manipulation and
its relevance for Ma’á. In Peter Bakker and Yaron Matras (eds.), *The Mixed
Language Debate. Theoretical and Empirical Advances*, 209–236. Berlin:
Mouton De Gruyter.

*Sonnenschein*, David. 2001. *Sound design*. Studio City: Michael Wiese

*Wolff*, H. Ekkehard. 2000. “Language and society.” In: *African languages:
An introduction* , ed. by Bernd Heine & Derek Nurse. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 298-347.

*Biagui*, Noël Bernard, Nicolas Quint & Jean-François Nunez. To appear.
“Casamance Creole”. In: Oxford guide to the world's languages: Atlantic,
ed. by Friederike Lüpke. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
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