Socio-Pragmatic Exploration of Honorifics and Humilifics in Ibibio Language


Ude, F., Moses, I. E.


This research examines the socio-pragmatic of honorifics and humilifics in Ibibio language. The objectives of this study are to identify as well as explore the socio-cultural functions of honorifics and humilifics in Ibibio society. Fifty-six data were elicited from two sets of consultants – two elderly men and two elderly women, two male youth and two female who are natives of Nung Oku Ikono in Ikono local Government Area. These consultants have lived in Ibibio land for more than twenty years. They have been members of Nung Oku Ikono governing council at different times, thus they are acculturated in the traditional norms of the people. The results of this research have shown that Ibibio has verbal, non-verbal and material honorifics and humilifics in Ibibio. Honorifics are used to show respect and honour to a person in the society while humilifics are used to ridicule or debase a person in Ibibio society. Material honorifics are commonly used to show respect to royalties and celebrities in Ibibio land. They are sacrilegious and serve as inheritance of the royal family. Findings have revealed that special occasion honorifics in Ibibio society are temporal responsibility titles given to an individual due to the nature of his or her assignment. Some of the verbal humilifics are used by the young people as slang, nicknames which they give to their friends based on the way they behave, dress, talk or do things. Elders see humilifics as insults while the younger folks used them for fun. We recommend that the people should acculturated and imbued with the semantics and pragmatics of honorifics and humilifics of Ibibio culture


Socio-pragmatic, honorifics, humilifics, Ibibio, culture


Language is dynamic and language performs certain functions. The basic functions of language according to Halliday (2003:80) include the regulatory, interactional, representational functions. Other functions are personal, imaginative, instrumental and heuristic. The dynamic function of human language is yielding great and expanding result daily. The formation of new codes to describe new status acquired and attainment in life is increasing the vocabulary of indigenous language tremendously. Many aspects of human endeavours are significantly improving the content and context of addressing people in our world today. Among such are the honorifics and humilifics terms used to distinguish people's class in the society, attainment in life, occupation, position occupy at home, work, school, religious and social organization. Honorifics are derived from the outputs of strategies where these directly or indirectly convey a status deferential between speaker and addressee or referent. While humilifics on the other hand refers to words that downgrade the status of a person. Honorifics are used to express good gesture and politeness. Politeness is highly recommended and observed in many cultures of the world. Honorifics are linguistics forms that are used prototypically to expressed regard or esteem toward an entity worthy of respect, most typically a person of superior social standing. This word or phrase is occasionally used improperly to refer to an honorary title. It is also frequently confused with linguistic systems of honorific speech, which use morphology or grammar to encode speaker's relative social rank. Linguistic honorifics are used to portray ideal form, politeness, humility, social distance and respect through the usage of other markers such as a clitic, an affix, grammatical indicator, change in person or number, or other lexical item. Humilifics are words, acts or a material object that show the social debase of a person. They are also known as anti honorifics.


Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson propounded the Politeness theory which centres on the notion of politeness being construed as efforts on redressing the affronts to a “person's self-esteem or effectively claiming positive social values in social interaction”. This theory has become very influential in many cultures thereby gaining universal applicability. This theory is adopted in this research to portray that honorifics are used to express good gesture and respect thereby enhancing human value. Honorific manifests in different forms such as verbal, non verbal and material. They are all used to express respect to people of different status in the society. Honorifics are intentional or conscious acts which are used at different occasions or events in Ibibio to impose positive social values on a person in social interactions. Humilific on the other hand, are acts or/and material objects that show the social debase of a person. They are also known as anti honorifics.. The politeness theory adopted here does not explain the implications of humilific but the Ibibio society frowns at any form or act that is meant to debase anyone in the society. The Ibibio people believe that a person's self worth is boosted when the right honour is accorded to him/her thereby making the application of humilific a rare phenomenon.


From the findings, verbal honorifics are commonly used to show an individual social class, as part of the socio-cultural norms that are operated and valued in the Ibibio community, while humilifics signify the debased attribute accorded a person in the society, verbal and gestural humilifics are used to humiliate and ridicule an individual in Ibibio community. Material honorifics in the form of apparels and ornaments depict a person societal position. This research agrees that different types of honorifics and humilifics depict different meaning in the Ibibio community. It therefore, recommends further study on honorifics and humilifics in other indigenous languages. It also encourages the use of right honorifics when and where appropriate while eschewing actions that promote the use of humilifics in Ibibio.


Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ikima, M. N. (2016). Politeness strategic: A descriptive analysis of address terms in Tiv. In Essays in language and literature: A festschrift in honour of Prof. Kanchana Ughabe (pp. xx-xx). Jos: Prudent Universal Press and Publishing Co

Halliday, M. (2003). On language and linguistics. London: A&C Black

Leech, G. (1983). The principle of pragmatics. London: Longman Group. Ugorji, N. F. (2022). Honorifics and humilifics in Ngwa-Igbo: A socio-semantic analysis. Journal of the Nigerian Languages Project, 4, xx-xx.

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