Words That Smell like Father-in-Law: A Linguistic Description of the Datooga Avoidance Register


This article describes an avoidance register of Datooga, a Nilotic language of Tanzania. Datooga women show respect to their senior in-laws by avoiding not only these in-laws’ names but also lexically related and similar-sounding words. Near-homophone avoidance is partly determined by phonological criteria but also by idiosyncratic metalinguistic judgments and social convention. To avoid taboo words, women have developed a conventionalized avoidance vocabulary, assembled by means of various linguistic strategies, including consonant replacement, borrowing, and derivation. Avoidance words make use of a wide range of linguistic resources and illustrate well the heterogeneous results of taboo-motivated language change.