This work is a pragma-semiotic analysis of graffiti of Kaduna Polytechnic students. Graffiti refer to the crude inscriptions or drawings which can be found on the doors and walls of public places. In this paper, an attempt is made to understand the signification systems involved in students’ graffiti, hence the employment of elements of pragmatics and semiotics necessary for the interpretation of the various meanings and their effect on the decoders. The fact that there is fluidity of pragmatics in semiotics and the effect of this is the prompt interpretation of symbols and reaction to the systems of signs. The pragma-semiotic theory therefore, investigates the totality of signification systems, linguistic (verbal) and non-linguistic (pictorial, colour, image etc). The findings from this study concludes that students graffiti are meant to inform the decoder, affect his/her opinions by persuading him/her towards a particular point of view, influence and orient him/her morally towards more beneficial and positive goals, warn about impending danger, and generally integrate everyone for mass participation in the desired and altruistic regeneration of development efforts. Most importantly, student’ graffiti are found to be verdictives, exersitives, commissives, behavitives and expositives which account for the perlocutionary effect on the decoder. The study arrived at such findings by integrating Austin, Searle and Adegbija’s theory of speech acts and Peirce’s theory of
BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Banish the use of the four-letter words
Whose meaning is never obscure;
The Anglos, the Saxons, those bawdy old birds Were vulgar, obscene, and impure.
But cherish the use of the weaseling phrase
That never quite says what it means; You’d better be known for your hypocrite ways Than vulgar, impure and obscene.
OG’DEN NASH, “Ode to the Four-Letter Words.”
The need to communicate is a powerful and consuming one.
Language is the vehicle that man has devised to satisfy such need. “The kind of language that man uses, hears, or reads shapes, to a surprising extent, the world he lives in” (Adedimeji, 2002). Without language, there is no society, and without society, man, a social animal, does not exist.
Many scholars have define language, with most of them accentuating their curiosities. “It has been an object of fascination and a subject for enquiry for over two hundred years”, (Crystal, 1997:400). Cited in Crystal (1997:400) are scholars such as Sapir (1921), who defines language as “a purely human, non instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of voluntarily produced symbols” and Trager (1949), who posits that it is “a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which the members of a society interact in terms of their total culture”. Crystal further cites Chomsky (1959) and Hall (1964) who opine respectively that language is “a set (finite and infinite) of sentences, each finite in length and constructed out of a finite set of elements” and “the institution whereby humans communicate and interact with each other by means of habitually used oral-auditory arbitrary symbols.” To Bloomfield, as quoted in Chomsky (1986:16), “language is the totality of utterances that can be made in a speech community” and it is no less than “a human instrument of expression through sounds as released by vocal chords” Quirk (1962:42). While Cruse (1990:140) technically defines language as a “system of conventional signs all aspects of whose structure serve the sovereign function of meaning”. Watson and Hill (1993:170) conceive language as “a system of signs and representations, arranged by codes and articulated through various discourses”.
It can be surmised from the foregoing that language is a system of signs, verbal or non-verbal, through which human beings in their varying cultures and contexts exchange ideas and communicate feelings. As a result, we are beset with ambiguities as in the case with messages inherent in these signs and representations. Each person interpreting a particular sign in terms of his/her own experience may incorrectly assume that a given code means the same thing to every body. In fact, we are often misled into believing that our shared use of languages denote a shared wealth of experience.