Although praise poetry by black South Africans has received some critical attention,
there are still some researchers who find it difficult to understand the structure of this
poetic form. They assume that every poem has to have a structure similar to that of
poetry written in one of the languages of the West, such as English, and find the
absence of such structure in praise poetry worrying. With regard to, for example,
modern Sepedi poetry they further say that it is no longer oral, but rather written, and so
should have more in common with Western poetry. However, this inaugural address
argued the opposite view, namely that traditional oral and modern written Sepedi poetry
are similar in many respects to each other and to Western modes (especially where the
Western mode in question is that of oral Anglo-Saxon poetry), differing only in content.
Comparable to Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, African oral poetry is largely divorced
from meter, where meter is defined in terms of the recurrence of stressed and
unstressed syllables. African languages in general, and poetry in the African languages
in particular, are not characterized by stress, but rather by aspects such as tone, length,
patterns of repetition, and unusual grammar.
Text of inaugural address by Prof. M.J. Mojalefa, Head of Department of African Languages on 3 August 2010