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Complaints in Kewa Letters

From: Oceanic Linguistics
Volume 51, Number 1, June 2012
pp. 33-57 | 10.1353/ol.2012.0010



In this study, we examine 63 letters written in West Kewa by a Papua New Guinean man (called Yombo throughout) to Karl Franklin and his family over a period of fifteen years. We first discuss the ways complaints have been handled by various authors. We then provide a brief background to the Kewa culture before analyzing the pragmatic context of speech acts that disclose various complaints in a sampling of the letters. The classification and modification of the complaints have benefitted in particular from the theories of A. Trosborg, and also J. House and G. Kasper. We relate the complaints to various cultural scenarios and scripts in order to show how Yombo complains and what he is complaining about. He often avoids direct confrontation and mitigates the offense. The study also demonstrates how a newly literate man uses various styles and features from his language (West Kewa) to discuss the events in his life and to complain about some of them.

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