The Relevance of Metaphors to Sociolinguistic Meaning in Nollywood Movies - United African Reporter's

The Relevance of Metaphors to Sociolinguistic Meaning in Nollywood Movies

Metaphor is an aspect of language creativity that shows how language is functionally used in a unique manner for complex communication. Metaphorical expressions are used to express cultural values and beliefs of people of a society. Members of speech communities use metaphors to communicate their worldview and uniqueness of language use in their societies.

It is in metaphor, perhaps more dramatically than in any other form of symbolic expression, that language and culture come together and display their fundamental inseparability. Metaphors are bound to express sociolinguistic meaning which is the meaning relating to language in a speech community.

The ability to use language in such a way is referred to as communicative competence . Metaphor is found as appropriate linguistic device in these linguistic contexts. For example, a newly born baby may be metaphorically described as a bundle of joy. This has paved a ground for the study of metaphor with sociolinguistics meaning in Nollywood movies.

Language situation in Nigeria

English thrives along with indigenous languages in Nigeria, never posing a threat to Nigerian languages, but rather, complementing them. The influx of their lexical items into English has helped in the dominance of English in Nigeria . The process incorporates linguistic features from native languages into English which serves as a national language.

Screenwriters choose language that is suitable to the context of their films. English is used in Nigerian films in a manner that enables the language to express cultural beliefs, philosophical views, traditional values and experiences of Nigerians to both Nigerians and non-Nigerian audience both at home and in diasporas.

Nigerian movies

Nigerian films tell Nigerian stories using Nigerian cultures and environment in either indigenous Nigerian languages or in foreign languages. Nollywood films have gone beyond the confine of the films made in Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. Benin, Nupe, Afemai, Ibibo, Ebira, Tiv, Efik, Idoma, Itsekiri, Ijaw and Urhobo are among the languages produced in the following few languages.

Nollywood is a name given to the Nigerian movie industry. The term was first used in the New York Times in 2002. Matt Steinglass was in search of a name for the emerging Nigerian video-film industry. He used N- to connote Nigeria and called the industry Nollywood in imitation of the American Hollywood and Indian Bollywood.


Context is an essential analytical tool in interpreting and understanding of some realities beyond the level of language used to express. Context relates to participants' identities, roles, times, places and other factors. Context serves as a bridge that connects the text with the situation in which it occurs.

Context of situation

Malinowski (1923) propounded a theory of the context of situation to cover the total environment including the verbal environment and the situation in which a text occurs . He discovered that it required more than the immediate environment to give an adequate description of a text. Two kinds of contexts were introduced by Malinowski: context of situation and context of culture. Malinowski's colleague, Firth, developed the idea of context situations and cultural context situations. The two contexts are still necessary for the understanding of text.


A text is a semantic unit: it conveys meaning. A text can be seen as a product and a process. It is a product because it is an output. It is a process because it involves a continuous process of semantic choice. Each set of choices constitutes an environment for another set (Halliday and Hasan, 1985).

Context of culture

The context of culture is the background for language as a system. The interpretation of text can be aided by a broader background. Cultural practices guide events and activities in societies. It is embedded in the knowledge of language users to make them understand the cultural norms that dictate how situations demand particular form of language. Language is influenced by cultural context at a more diffuse and indirect level. All social situations are inherent in culture. Context of culture is the experience of a group of people.

Methodological framework

Metaphors containing sociolinguistic features were purposively selected for analysis. The metaphors are coded as NFY for Nigerian Film in Yoruba and NFE for Nigerian Film in English. Arabic numerals are used for number of film in the list and the Roman figure for the number of metaphor among the metaphors in each film.

Data analysis

Metaphors used in Nigerian films express communicative competence of the users of the creative language in Nigerian context. Literal language cannot be used in the context in which metaphors are used because it will not produce sociolinguistic meaning which metaphors analysed below are able to produce. The metaphors have cultural elements that portray the cultural meaning intended by the speaker.

1. The voice is an egg.

Yorubas believe that spoken words are irrevocable. They believe that once words are spoken by somebody, the utterance remains. The Yoruba socio-cultural setting as a term of warning. It is meant to caution a speaker to be careful of utterance he or she is about to make.

2. Come here viper.

In Yoruba culture when someone is addressed as viper, it means that the person has a friendly disposition but very dangerous and deadly. This may cut across other cultures like the Jewish culture where John the Baptist addressed the Jews as "brood of vipers" (KJV Bible, Matthew 3: 7).

3. Gossip gives women blood.

The metaphor comes from Igbo socio-cultural setting where the spread of information whether
true or not is thriving. The speaker equates gossip among women with blood which is a means of human survival. It means that gossip makes women effective and keeps them lively in the society. Gossip is viewed as a source of news in this society.

It is crysyal clear that the interpretation of the metaphors is based on culturally shared knowledge. This knowledge only demonstrates that the decoder shares the same communicative competence with the speaker in the context It would have provided other interpretations for the metaphors because certain cultural elements are coded with different meanings in different societies.


The focus of this paper is on how metaphors in Nollywood movies communicate sociolinguistic meaning using context as a theoretical tool. The study has shown that metaphor is a tool for communicative competence in Nigerian socio-communicative context as such metaphors communicate social and linguistic meaning better in different speech contexts.

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