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Intimacy and Taboo in Wolof Society

Researcher: Fatou Cisse Kane

Intimacy in Wolof society is linked to the notions of taboo, publicity, and secrecy. When performed as skillful acts of seduction, intimacy is located in the private, female-gendered sphere. It can be read as mimicry, as an art form unlimitedly reproduced. Situatedness on the publicity-secrecy-continuum decides on the question of taboo. Contested subjects as heteronormative and non-heteronormative forms of sexuality, incest etc. are considered as intimacy when hidden, but tabooed when in public.

This research project explores notions of intimacy in Wolof society. Points of access are linguistic practices, as the two following examples illustrate:

  • Names of sexual organs are tabooed and require substitution, circumventing descriptions when being talked about
  • In the genre of Xaxar [wedding poetry], the application of specific registers by women are permitted, that are considered taboo in other contexts.

Grounded in sociolinguistics, language attitudes, language performances and lexica are examined here in order to enhance our understanding in this underresearched field.