West African Anansesem as Timeless Conversation Pieces: A Gricean Approach

  • Phyllis Kaburise University of Venda
  • Grace Ramachona University of Venda


The West African anansesem (short stories about the spider, Ananse) are considered ageless classics in many countries and continents; and their appeal has remained constant over generations. Although anansesem is a word taken from the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, the stories have impacted in the whole of West Africa and can also still be heard in Caribbean households. The appeal of anansesem is quite personal—but analysts have isolated varying characteristics; and these include linguistic, structural, characterisation, themes, plot, and a certain ambience. One quality of anansesem, which has enabled them to still command extensive audience, is their ability to reflect ‘‘a conversation’’ in line with Grice’s maxims. Grice is a theorist in pragmatics, who outlined the salient features or maxims of verbal interactions that should govern a conversation. These four maxims are—quantity (make your conversation as informative as is required), quality (do not say what you believe to be untrue), relation (be relevant) and manner (avoid obscurity of expressions). The aim of this article is to analyse selected ananse stories as examples of conversation pieces in accordance with these Gricean maxims. The analyses was based on the assumption that these short stories exhibit features different from the attributes of traditional short stories, and that this difference is the essence of anansesem’s timeless appeal. The results illustrated that despite the brevity of these stories, a certain ambience, created by their conversation-like writing style, ensures their ability to create sustaining humour, while being politically, socially, and economically relevant ‘‘conversations’’ for today.