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From realism to defamiliarization: the reliability of literary sources for the study of Zimbabwean English

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From realism to defamiliarization: the reliability of literary sources for the study of Zimbabwean English

Susan Fitzmaurice, University of Sheffield

There are three – one to ride front, middle and back of the convoy that won’t drive Rhodesia dry and thinks Rhodesia is Super. They’re dressed in camouflage to match the soldiers poking up out of the top hatches of the great swivelling gun turrets. Dell reckons one of those’d turn a Terr to roadkill in a second. Then he makes rut-tut-tut noises and jerks spasmodically as he empties the magazine of his imaginary mounted gun in a wide arc, turning Terrs to roadkill in seconds. (Lauren Liebenberg, 2008, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, p. 119)
SisiDudzai was fired because my mother came home unexpectedly and found her dancing to Bhutsu mutandarikwa, sweating and dancing, as my mother said, like one possessed, stomping on the living room floor, clapping herself on in encouragement, head thrown back in abandonment, whistling like she was out herding cows. (Petina Gappah, 2009, An Elegy for Easterly, p. 159.
Bada nepakati, Shingi instruct me. With both hands me I hold the loaf that he buy from supermarket. I pull and tear it in half. Shingi grin in nervous way and he look at them people around us. The bus is full and everyone on the bus point they eyes at me. (Brian Chikwava, 2009, Harare North, p. 136).
These quotations are taken from recent fiction in English written by Zimbabweans. In different ways, using different strategies, they represent narrative voices situated in the place they recall, represent or remember. In the first extract, Liebenberg’s child narrator captures the cadences of rural white Rhodesian children growing up during the civil war in the 1970s. In the second, Gappah’s child narrator tells the story of her mother’s treatment of the young rural housemaids in the homes of middle-class Africans after the end of the civil war. In the third, Chikwava’s unreliable narrator experiences life as an undocumented migrant in London (‘Harare North’ on account of the large number of Zimbabwean refugees) after a violent past as a ‘Green Bomber’ in post-independent Zimbabwe. In this essay, I examine the extent to which literary constructions of English in colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe can be regarded as reliable reflections of the dialectal variation that ranges across races and class in the country. It is arguable that the first two excerpts reflect an attempt to capture the local flavour of the English used by the child narrators; one that is embedded in particularly recognisable milieus, and as such is credibly realistic. The third is palpably different in structure; the unnamed narrator’s language serves to defamiliarize the variety of English constructed and in so doing creates a particularly alienating voice. However, when compared with oral narratives and with the language used in recent memoir, Chikwava’s narrator’s idiolect insists on a more careful consideration as linguistic as well as literary representation of English spoken in Zimbabwe. I examine a range of recent literary and non-literary texts as reliable sources for the description of English in Zimbabwe (likely concluding that none is entirely reliable; instead of being realistic, most are nostalgic; others in their oddness may well be more realistic).

Out backward” or outstanding?: Dialect in God’s Own Country (2008) by Ross Raisin

Dr. Robin Gilbank, Northwest University, Xi’an, P.R. China
God’s Own Country is one of the few works of contemporary mainstream British literature to appropriate English regional dialect as a narrative medium. Telling the story of Sam Marsdyke, a rural outsider living on the North York Moors, the book makes heavy use of non-standard English as a means of laying bare the protagonist’s frenzied subjectivity. On its publication the novel received mostly enthusiastic reviews. Justine Jordan praised how it ‘lovingly records an increasingly marginalized way of life’ and J.M. Coetzee described the work as ‘both chilling in its effect and convincing in its execution’. Few reviewers took Raisin to task on the in-authenticity of the North Yorkshire dialect. As he himself has admitted, it is a ‘playful’ mixture of archaic colloquialisms Raisin gleaned from Arthur Kellett’s The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition and Folklore (1994) interlarded with obscenities and slang.
This paper will use the invented dialect as one point of departure for demonstrating that the book is affected by a fissure which has always touched “regional novels”, stretching back into the nineteenth century. That is the tension between competing modes of realism and naturalism. Raisin uses the vernacular as a means of cementing the veracity of his creation. However, rather than simply celebrating that media as a rich, albeit bastardized, variety of English the novelist veers close to tarring it as a relict from an atrophied culture.

Linguistic Style-Shifting in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton

Taryn Hakala, University of Michigan

This paper draws on recent scholarship in sociolinguistics to examine more closely the use of dialect in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848). I show that, in addition to constructing her characters through their dialogue, Gaskell represents her characters as fashioning themselves linguistically. I argue that the linguistic style-shifting of the novel’s eponymous heroine is directly related to the cross-class conflict and gender dynamics at play in the novel.
Critics have commented on Gaskell’s interest in and extensive use of dialect, but what they fail to notice is how in Mary Barton dialect indexes positive and non-comic attributes, such as wit, wisdom, virtue, respectability, and loyalty. To illustrate this latter quality, for example, Gaskell represents her heroine as using Lancashire dialect terms at times when Mary’s allegiance to her working-class Manchester community is especially important to her—often when it is at risk. This use of dialect also reflects the local prestige associated with it, which largely goes unnoticed by outsiders.
Indeed, some critics of Mary Barton seem to ignore entirely the paradox that dialect could signal virtue for Gaskell. These critics read the speech of the novel’s heroine as Standard English and Gaskell as conceding to “novel-convention.”3 On the contrary, Gaskell does not bow to novel-convention; she breaks it and instead creates a fictional community of speakers whose voices vary, but all exhibit markers of the Lancashire dialect.

Men’s Language, Women’s Dialect

Nadia Hamdi, University of Sheffield

The Diglossia of the Arabic language has allowed for a distinctive use of dialect to signify social status, personal attitudes and even political stance. While the vernacular was widely used by prominent Arab male thinkers and writers like Najib Mahfouth (1911), Ihsan Abdel Quddous (1919), Yusif Idris (1927), and Abdul Rahman Al Sharqawi (1950), women writers only grasped hold of this feature of the language decades later.

The Arab woman writer’s struggle for recognition has been long and challenging, but her mastery of the dichotomy of the Arabic language was swift. This paper examines the use of the vernacular in the writings of Arab women authors and their employment of both standard and colloquial Arabic to distinguish themselves and their authorship. Such authors as Ghada el-Samman (1942), Hanan al-Shaykh (1945), Ahdaf Soueif (1950) and Ahlam Mosteghanemi (1953), used dialect to make a point as strong as that of the novel itself. This paper will take an in depth look at extracts from different novels by these women and analyse the use of dialect, it will especially differentiate between the dialects used by female; both educated and uneducated and male characters. The paper will show that while female characters use language to express modes of empathy, compassion and wisdom, the dialects they use show power and strength; whereas male characters, with their coarse voices and rough appearance convey an air of ignorance and bareness; their threats are futile and the only power they seem to posses is that of their physical strength. This is not to say that the portrayal of male characters was all negative, but that their use of language betrayed some of them and gave away their unjustified arrogance.

Social Influences and Dialect in the Poetry of Thomas Hardy and William Barnes

Heather Hawkins, Nottingham Trent University

In this paper I propose that comparison of the poetry of Thomas Hardy and William Barnes provides insight into the formation of dialect in literature. I discuss whether Barnes’s extensive philological research influenced his decision to write poetry in his native Dorset dialect, rather than standard English. Conversely, I examine Hardy’s position as a poet, with philological interests, wrote in a combination of standard English and dialect, often within the same poem. I will examine two poems by each poet to establish whether their use of dialect increases or decreases over time. Biographical evidence will also indicate whether broader nineteenth-century socio-economic factors such as class, education and migrancy affected the representation of dialect in their poetry. My approach raises critical responses to the use of dialect by both poets. I cite reviews of the period which empathise with Barnes’s nostalgic representation of the rural poor, expressed in dialect compared to the less enthusiastic responses to his few attempts to write in standard English. In contrast, Hardy’s linguistically hybrid poetry was derided by the majority of Victorian critics, often accusing him of metrical ineptitude and a clumsy handling of language. Combined with Hardy’s choice of subject matter, such as agnosticism and cultural subjugation, I argue that Hardy’s linguistic hybridity is subversive as it proposes the equality of rural culture with the culturally dominant, middle class, urban centre in nineteenth-century England. Thus dialect Hardy’s poetry resists relegation to a regionalist nostalgic rural past and contributes to a vibrant, modern present.

Indexing Bob Cranky: Social Meaning and the Voices of Pitmen and Keelmen in Early Nineteenth-Century Tyneside Dialect Song

Rod Hermeston, University of Leeds

This paper examines the complex social meanings (or indexical relations) conveyed through Tyneside dialect spoken by pitmen and keelmen in early nineteenth-century Tyneside dialect songs.
I focus on the popular pitman character, Bob Cranky. Pieces about this figure and many other items about pitmen and keelmen emerge from a song culture enjoyed by an initial audience of clerks, tradesmen and shopkeepers. Harker has seen Cranky, an exuberant, tough, hard-working but simple-minded and violent drunkard as a subject of satire, and claims that such songs could not appeal to a 'working man'. However, Colls has argued that pitmen and keelmen found in the Cranky type a source of 'self-celebration'. More recently Wales has argued that the Cranky figure helps to create and confirm a community's self image. The Tyneside dialect in the songs is said frequently to carry the weight of communal values and of regional / working-class solidarity and identity.
Pitmen and keelmen are most closely associated in the material with the dialect, and with swearing and malapropisms. Employing a notion of 'dialogism', I argue that the meaning of the songs and the indexical relations of the dialect as spoken by pitmen or keelmen depends on the attitudes of audiences towards the behaviour of these characters, and nineteenth-century discourses of 'respectability' and 'correct' language. Bob and his speech may be the subject of satirical mockery, self-celebration or a mixture of these, depending on the attitudes and knowledge of a range of audiences from clerks and shopkeepers to pitmen and keelmen.
Tummus and Meary’ (1746). A prototype for the role of the Vernacular in Regional Fiction

Brian Hollingworth

There will be a preliminary discussion about the author ‘Tim Bobbin’ (John Collier) and the continuing popularity of the text in Lancashire and beyond over the next century. This will be followed by a consideration of the nature of this popularity with particular reference to Samuel Bamford (1854) and H.M.I. Wylie (1893).
Then particular features of the text will be examined in the light of Collier’s use and presentation of the vernacular, and of the vernacular speaker. How does this relate to recurrent issues in the presentation of the vernacular and vernacular speaker which are to be found in later regional texts?
Dialects within Literary Discourse: the representation of NewYorkese in e.e. cummings' poetics

Eva Maria Gomez Jimenez, Universidad de Granada

The term “dialect” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary – in relation to modern language–, as “A variety of speech differing from the standard or literary ‘language’; a provincial method of speech, as in ‘speakers of dialect’.” Keeping this in mind, I propose an approach to literature representation of dialects through the poems of Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), who included throughout all his production phonetic spellings that represented particular dialects in some of his poems. This way, he gave voice to Newyorkese, Irish, colloquial expressions and slang, among some others. Within all these varieties, Cummings gave prominence to Newyorkese, which indicates the very good disposition the author showed towards this city and its inhabitants.
The aim of this paper is to offer a brief and general approach to Newyorkese as the main dialectical variety in Cummings’ poetry. After giving some information about this dialect, I will concentrate on Cummings’ employment of it, showing some examples, explaining the procedures the author followed and trying to summarize the purposes and effects that this representation has in Cummings’ poetic discourse.

Literary dialect and dialect literature: A Welsh overview

Dr Christine Jones, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

The paper analyses the function of dialect in literary theory in a Welsh context. It begins with a discussion on the differences between literary dialect and dialect literature, with examples of each from Welsh literature. Comparative references are also made to other literatures, especially English literature.
Following on from this general discussion, the paper then looks more closely at the social importance of language, citing examples from eminent Welsh authors such as Kate Roberts and Daniel Owen. The background to these authors’ works is briefly mentioned and the role of dialect within them discussed.
Examples include the series of short stories Te yn y Grug by Kate Roberts which shows clearly how language is used in a suggestive and subtle manner to differentiate between social groups in society. Another of her works, the novel Y Byw sy’n Cysgu, uses dialect variation to stress, amongst other things, the differences between the old fashioned world of the country folk and the new modern culture of the town dwellers. Daniel Owen on the other hand, frequently called the Welsh Dickens, demonstrates how the naivety and innocence often linked to dialect, can also be used with great effect in novels to create comic characters.
The emphasis on humour in dialect literature can however sometimes, in the eyes of certain critics, weaken the literary worth of various works. The paper concludes with a discussion on this and other, sometimes negative, reflections of Welsh dialect literature. The closing paragraphs argue nevertheless that dialectologists can have a wider and more fruitful contribution to make to our appreciation of Welsh literature than has been previously assumed.

Dinner and a (Minstrel) Show: Speech Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Altern in Moby-Dick

Tyleen Kelly, University of California- Berkeley

It is not surprising that Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851)—a work saturated with Elizabethan theatre—should additionally yield signs of minstrelsy. In the chapter “Stubb’s Supper”, aged and crippled Fleece, the ship’s African-American cook, is summoned by second mate Stubb for the latter’s entertainment while he eats. What ensues is an improvised sermon given by the cook to a shiver of sharks at the mercurial promptings of the second mate. While commonly considered an occasion of comic relief, the scene conversely skirts a menacing tension in language and staging. Running parallel to that conflict is the freedom Fleece can access in choosing sources, words, and performance style in his speech, while concurrently restricted by professional and racial hierarchies emphasized by Melville’s portrayal of that speech in conventional dialect on the page.
Questions of verbal origin, authenticity, and free speech are meaningfully complicated in this scene, as opinions of Fleece’s agency differ between character, writer, and reader. I argue that Fleece improvises what can be interpreted as a ‘stump speech’ in the minstrel style of the mid-1800s. This consisted of a white male actor in blackface making a speech in African-American vernacular English (or rather a parody of it) that was humourously corrupt in meaning, ostensibly due to the speaker’s inaccurate knowledge of the subject or the English language—or both. Stubb’s direction for Fleece to sermonize to frenzily-feeding sharks sets the stage for such analysis, and the complex collaboration that transpires between them echoes other problems of racial discourse explored in the book.
American Minstrelsy is one of the fascinating points of contact between Melville’s contemporary theatre and Moby-Dick. These overlapping expressions of racial freedom and restriction develop in concert with the novel’s overarching involvement in the mystery of human liberty and limitation.

This is not sarcasm believe me yours sincerely: James Kelman, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Amos Tutuola

Iain Lambert, Kyorin University, Tokyo

Much of the critical focus to date on James Kelman's fiction has centred on its supposed difficulty for speakers of Standard English due to the use of an urban variety of Scots, or on superficial features such as the use of expletives. The issue of intelligibility came to a head with the publication in 2001 of Translated Accounts. The novel was regarded with suspicion at the time as it not only moved away from Glasgow as location but also abandoned the use of the Glasgow dialect of Scots in favour of a unique interlanguage, forcing readers and critics alike to examine the linguistic aspect of Kelman’s writing much more closely, and in this respect it has set a blueprint for Kelman’s subsequent work.
In examining the language of Translated Accounts this paper will draw on the examples of Nigerian writers in English for whom Kelman has expressed an admiration, such as Amos Tutuola and Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the theory of interlanguage first proposed by Selinker, in an attempt to uncover the genesis of the novel’s achievement. Both Tutuola, with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Saro-Wiwa, with Sozaboy, found considerable acclaim abroad for their respective linguistic experiments and, in terms of language at least, it is possible to talk of these two writers, with their explicit and material postcolonial struggles, as influences on Kelman as much as are Kafka or Beckett.

New Data and New Contexts: Toward a Descriptive Approach to Literary Dialect

Philip Leigh, University of Texas at Austin

My work poses a number of questions about how the literary boundaries that dialect representations inscribe within and between texts can be put into conversations with the socio-political boundaries these texts have drawn, mirrored, or subverted in their own time and in our current critical moment. Proponents of computational and corpus-driven quantitative studies of literary dialects have argued that better data collection methods start better “discussions about how literary dialect functions inside and outside the texts in which it appears” (Minnick 2004). To that end, my work experiments with a descriptive computational approach to literary dialect texts that eschews conventional strategies for benchmarking between nonstandard written features and nonstandard spoken features. I focus instead on revealing the distributions and characteristics of standard and nonstandard orthographies as they behave on the page. I analyze three late-nineteenth-century American texts, often grouped as examples of “plantation fiction”: Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris, The Conjure Woman by Charles W. Chesnutt, and In Ole Virginia by Thomas Nelson Page. Using XML/TEI markup for digital versions of each text, I am able to set the “standardization ratios” and Type-to-Token ratios for each text’s standard narration against the same ratios in the nonstandard dialogue put in the mouths of African American characters. These data allow the first comparative, descriptive, and quantitative treatment of three dialect texts that are frequently compared qualitatively based on the racial politics of each author. While I avoid making any earth-shattering claims based on my quantitative results, I do suggest that refining a descriptive methodology for dialect texts opens up exciting opportunities for scholars interested in rethinking how literary structures interact with cultural and political phenomena.

Scottish anti-imperial form: metaphor of vernacular and social (im)mobility in James Kelman’s Disaffection (1989)

Alice Lin, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, ROC

This interdisciplinary conference aims to investigate the diverse ways in which the literary text can be explored through the perspectives of dialect with the spirits of regionalism or nationalism. This fuels my concern with the dynamic relationship between social reality and emotional space in the social accounts of the Scottish cultural aspects of Glasgow life shown in James Kelman’s Disaffection. This novel describes the domestic conflicts with family and with the living community, social situation, cultural discomfort, and political dismissal, hardened by the bitter struggle for existence. I would like to address the ambiguities of Kelman generation’s understanding the historical indignation and the contingent passions as shown through the experiences of the Scottish urban educational worker. Such generation of historical reader as Kelman endeavors to find the longing for Scottish evolution by drawing a relatively objective distance from his provocative but poignant teacher character’s life difficulties in this novel, on the one hand; on the other hand, he paves the way for the emergence of Scottish retrospection through the developmental (dialectical and progressive, but subjective introspection) historical model (understanding the present through its relationship to the past, and the past through its relationship to the present), rather than hopelessly confronting with the dilutedness of cultural education.
I will mainly examine this “cultural memory” from the philosophy (particularly Louis Althusser’s idea about the politics of culture) and sociological theory of the modern (particularly Raymond Williams’s view about class culture and the collective), while distinguishing Kelman’s “anti-hero”, Patrick Doyle, as possessed with the guttural inflections of Scottish working-class dialect, and with his potential ideological danger in substituting the present with his past family background’s working-class culture. There is, therefore, a conflict within Patrick between the intellectual and social development that formal educational apparatus can offer him, and more emotional and intuitive side of him, which draws him back to a tragic transfer of his work place.
The central argument of my paper is twofold, contending that James Kelman’s historical indignation is revealed through the cultural discomfort in educational apparatus experienced by his characters (besides Patrick, also his colleague Alison, and his brother Gavin), and however that Kelman interrogates the “temporal” significance of the psychological state when it comes to the human search for cultural revolution. The diverting linguistic style emblemizes a challenging subject. Kelman’s purpose, I suggest, in this novel is to postulate a belief that the individual’s inferiorized speech pattern may be endangered by a blind social perception, and that this inferiorization may then point to either the degradation, even obliteration of cultural values, or the hyperbolic self-inflation. Both cases cause the internal turmoil of cultural identity.
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