Language in Society

Research Articles

To tell it directly or not: Coding transparency and corruption in Malagasy political oratory


a1 Department of Anthropology University of Toronto 19 Russell Street Toronto, Ontario M5S 2S2, Canada


This article discusses stylistic and contextual variations in the political oratory (kabary politika) of urban Madagascar. New imported oratorical styles and older styles of kabary represent competing linguistic markets where political leaders field broader issues of political modernity, fighting government corruption through reforms toward transparency. Kabary has become the object of criticism in models for transparent government practice. This has affected the way leaders speak to and about the country, reifying a moral structure arguing what constitutes truth and how speakers understand language as conveying that truth. In this respect, this article describes linguistic and metalinguistic encodings of transparency versus corruption in the political communication styles of highland Malagasy political orators. It looks at how the rhetorical modes of an urban polity are reorganized in ways that reshape vernacular epistemologies of truth in language and shift the production of particular publics and their access to participation in political process. (Madagascar, kabary, oratory, democracy, linguistic variation, language ideology, truth and ethics, public opinion, public culture)

(Received October 15 2007)

(Reviewed June 20 2008)

(Accepted July 01 2008)

(Online publication July 14 2008)