Authenticating new expressions


Art allows an artist to create “beautiful or significant things.” It is a superior skill that can be learnt by study, practice and observation. To generate meaning, artists use expressions – proverbs, riddles and metaphors — that tests the audience’s ability to interpret such expressions.

In instances where the audience cannot interpret the new expressions, the artists provide a context which makes it easier for the audience to understand.

Despite the fact that most researchers would record new expressions, the challenge could be how to disseminate the new information. In contrast, artists always find a way of sharing the new expressions with the audience, said anthropologist Moya Malamusi, who has done research in traditional music, instruments and traditional practices in the past 30 years.


“Artists do a great job by introducing new expressions into everyday conversation. This is important in adding life to the language which we use,” Malamusi said.

It has been observed that contemporary issues have led to new expressions replacing the old expressions. The current generation can easily interpret such expressions.

For instance, it is common to hear such expressions as “kugenda ku Police uli ndi chamba nthumba” an expression which in the past meant “kadziwotche” (commonly used in English as daredevil). And one would likely hear expressions like “nsima ya kwa ini ake sasutila chamba” which in the past would be used as “fodya wako ndi uyo ali pa mphuno” (Don’t count chickens before they hatch).


These new expressions are popularised by artists who are generally accepted as authorities in the language used in the society.

“New expressions are very important to capture the interest of the audience. I observe what is happening around me and this informs the expressions I employ. I do not want to spoon-feed my audience,” said Manganya real name Michael Usi who stars in TV programme Tikuferanji and has recently engaged his audience through speeches.

Of course artists use expressions for different purposes. Unpredictability of artists is what makes art beautiful. For instance Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwemi Armah titled his 1968 novel ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’ to give a glimpse of a society neck-deep in corruption.

“As a writer, I have always believed in the famous assertion that language is creative. If artists cannot create with language, who will?” asks Mapopa Sanga, a playwright who pioneered Mzuzu University Theatre Arts Group.

Now an associate professor in Southwestern Oklahoma State University in USA, Sanga said every time he writes a stage or motion picture script, he tries as much as possible to challenge himself by creating new and unique expressions.

“We can be creative at the lexeme level, or indeed at the phrase level. So, we can coin a word, or indeed coin a unique expression,” he says.

Sanga says he once attributed an expression to Aristotle yet it was not the original expression made by the philosopher.

“I wrote in one of my scripts that ‘Aristotle was right when he said the girl child is like a boomerang, you let her loose and she will come back to bite your reputation’. Everyone knows Aristotle never said anything like that, I just made up this expression but it gave the script a unique taste of creativity that doesn’t only add quality but also entertains the audience,” he says.

Sanga says a careful combination of words simply creates a phenomenal effect to the story that adds a real touch of quality to a literary piece.

“In theatre, for instance, I have always believed that a production cannot succeed if it lacks creativity from the onset. No matter how good a job a producer and director might do, the language has to be right, and you cannot do that without creating inimitable expressions of your own,” he says.

Manganya is one of the artists who carefully select expressions to entertain as well as give the audience the opportunity to reflect on contemporary issues.

“The expressions I use would normally strengthen the message that I am trying to send,” he says.

In his attempt not to use commonly used expressions to disapprove corruption, Manganya has on a number of occasions said “galu amatemeledwa asanayambe chiwewe” (A dog is vaccinated before it is infected with rabies).

“To rid the society of corruption, we must concentrate on the seemingly innocent ones. Those deep in corruption cannot change their ways overnight which means to effectively deal with corruption, the concentration should be on those who are clean so that they are not infected,” he says.

The new expressions, which are oftentimes ignored as a creation that mean nothing, are a huge addition to the language used and Sanga says the society should take seriously what artists create.

“The society should regard contemporary expressions creeping into our language seriously as far as developing new language is concerned. A language grows, and so what that means is that most of the expressions we use in our language today were not there at some point in the past.

“Some people created the expressions we use today and such expressions went through some codification over time and permanently made their way into the language. It’s a gradual process,” he says.

Manganya agrees that using new expressions is a deliberate attempt to test his audience but also capture their attention.

“If I spoon-feed my audience, not many would be interested in my work. I create something new all the time and I understand that such expressions can be misinterpreted but the most important thing is that there is a context which makes it easy for the audience,” he says.

In places where he has conducted his research, Malamusi says there is a mixture of languages and in it one can notice the new expressions.

“The new expressions could be a result of the interaction between people speaking different languages as well as the contemporary issues which have influenced the way we speak,” he says.

As Malamusi confirms, based on his experience as a researcher, the older generation uses proverbs, riddles and metaphors more than the younger generation.

“The older generation still wants to identify itself with how they lived in the past. When there is an opportunity, they would strive to relive the past and throw in two or three expressions when conversing.

“For the younger generation, the old expressions are used to connect with the past. If the younger generation is to be deemed knowledgeable, use of the old expressions is a must,” he says.

Malamusi says that whatever the case, artists have a huge responsibility of preserving any language.

“Artists use special words for the audience to derive a meaning based on context. The interest the audience have will make the new expressions accepted more than what researchers do because most of the results researchers find are not disseminated to a larger audience in Malawi,” he says.

As new expressions find a way into the language that is used, artists’ role in authenticating such expressions cannot be disputed. Artists are creators who authenticate what they create.

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