A Semantic Analysis of Absent Subjects of Idioms in Gĩkũyũ

Purity Njambi Kiguta, Moses Gatambuki Gathigia, Catherine Waithera Ndung’u


Idioms have been studied for a considerable time by linguists with a view of explaining their meaning. In Gĩkũyũ, for example, the meaning of most idioms can be derived from constituents that form them. However, in some Gĩkũyũ idioms, the meaning is hindered by the absence of the subject in the idiomatic utterance or sentence. It is against this background that this study sought to conduct a semantic analysis on selected idioms in Gĩkũyũ. Thus, the objective of this study was to establish the absent subject in the selected Gĩkũyũ idioms through etymological elaboration and then conduct a semantic analysis of the idioms. The study was based on the Conventional Figurative Language Theory (Dobrovol and Elisabeth). The study employed the descriptive research design and purposively targeted 20 Gĩkũyũ idioms. Data was collected through focus group discussions involving 10 participants who are native speakers of Gĩkũyũ. The study used the content analysis method, which is within the qualitative research paradigm. The data was presented in form of tables and themes. The Gĩkũyũ idiomatic expressions and the established subjects were listed and their gloss provided. Through etymological elaboration, a semantic analysis of the idiomatic expressions was conducted. The findings of the study are that the absence of the subject in idioms greatly hinders their comprehensibility. Further, etymological elaboration is required in order to establish the absent subject. The findings therefore imply that whenever the comprehensibility of an idiom is compromised by the lack of the subject in the utterance, cognitive linguists should process the meaning by using etymological elaboration The study concludes that interpretation of idiomatic expressions in Gĩkũyũ can be enhanced by establishing the absent subject through etymological elaboration which provides clues that aid interpretation .Secondly, semantic analysis of the idioms enhances comprehensibility. The study recommends further research on absent subjects in Gĩkũyũ idioms that were not part of this study. Secondly, other idiom processing strategies for example contextualization (Copper, 2004) can be used to establish the absent subjects in idiomatic expressions. Thirdly, further research can be conducted to establish other aspects of idioms that hinder comprehensibility of idioms not only in Gĩkũyũ but also in other languages. The study will not only provide valuable linguistic knowledge on the study of idioms in Gĩkũyũ but will also encourage further research on idioms in other languages.


Subject, Etymological Elaboration, Gĩkũyũ, Idiom, Non –compositional, Semantics, Focus Group, Native

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.alls.v.11n.3p.9


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