Social and Pragmatic Rules of Cursing and Other Routine Formulas in Gurage and Norwegian Culture


  • Fekede Menuta ILOS, University of Oslo
  • Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld



The Gurage are South Ethiosemitic speakers living in the Gurage Zone in Ethiopia. In the Gurage culture, cursing expressions have differing sociological significance. They are used both literally and pragmatically. Although the cursing expressions are endangered due to modern religions, they are not well studied and documented. The objective of this article is to describe the sociolinguistic and pragmatic meanings and the structural patterns of cursing expressions in the Gurage culture, and then to compare the expressions with Nordic countries’ cursing to uncover if there are universal tendencies in the rules and routines of cursing. The study follows qualitative research methodology. The cursing expressions were partly collected from literature and largely elicited from key informants. For the cursing in Gurage, the Gumer variety, from among other 12 dialect clusters of Guragina, was chosen to maintain uniformity in description. The findings showed that self-cursing in Gurage is used to express regret, encouragement, admiration, congratulation, condolence and politeness. Alter cursing is used to cause fear, to express emotions and negative attitude towards others. Age and gender determine cursing practice. Only elder men can take part in formal group alter cursing. Women generally curse themselves and individuals in informal situations. Formal alter cursing in Gurage is graded by elders for its severity. Cursing in the Nordic countries of today is more restricted to psychological functions and a kind of identity construction. In the past, however, several of its functions were similar to the ones in Gurage.

Author Biography

Fekede Menuta, ILOS, University of Oslo

Researcher, Russian linguistics



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