Linguistic Style of Literary English

Introduction

English has become a global language. It is the adopted language of many non-English speaking countries. Literary works are being produced in hundreds from places where English is still a second-language for the masses. However, the cultural influences on the language are undeniable. This influence has led to the formation of different structures and styles in the English literary arena. Alastair Pennycook (2003) suggests that post-colonial literature in English has been strongly influenced by the local as well as the original language of the coloniser.

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The social, political, and economic influence of the adopted language has developed a “linguistic imperialism” in the texts produced by the non-English speaking countries (Pennycook 2003, p. 7). Further, English of the colonised countries has transformed due to the influence of the original language of the coloniser and the local language of the colonised. The dual influence of the colonised and the coloniser’s linguistic variations has created a heterogeneous world language (Pennycook 2003).

In other words, global English has become a hybrid language. Consequently, English adopted by the colonised varies significantly in form, style, grammatical usage, and other linguistic characteristics. Largely, the influence of local culture changes the adopted language (Pennycook 2003). In this paper, I discuss the variations in the linguistic style and structure of literary English used in the Caribbean. For this purpose, I will analyse a part of the text from the novella The Girl with the Golden Shoes, written by Colin Channer (2007). I believe, the cultural and social impact on the adopted language creates variations in linguistic style and structure. This is analysed using an excerpt from the novella, “Big Tuck sat with his belly … you what to do with you life?” (Channer 2007, pp. 23-24).

Background of the Novella

Literature in English from the Caribbean became popular in the 1950s. The novella by Channer was set in 1942, during the Second World War. The novella was published in 2007. Channer is a Jamaican living in the US. He is a believer of the Creolization of Caribbean culture and believes that the presence of cultural plurality helps in creation of a hybrid identity among the Caribbean people.

The novella is based on the historical setting of the Second World War, in the fictitious island of San Carlos, somewhere in Jamaica. This reflects the author’s inclination towards the Caribbean. Further, the dialogues in the novella are mostly in the Caribbean English that creates a unique amalgamation of the English and Caribbean dialects.

The influence of the Caribbean Creoles in the language used by Channer in the novella is evident through various aspects of the text. The genesis of the new Anglo-Caribbean language occurred during the colonial rule and the plurality of identity that colonisation created among the Caribbean people (Winford 2006; Murdoch 2012). Murdoch (2012, p. 68) points out that the English languages in the Caribbean “evolved” and “transformed itself”. This gave rise to “manifold … structure and effect” (Murdoch 2012, p. 68). In the following section, I will discuss the cultural variation in the language of The Girl with the Golden Shoes and the linguistic changes that have occurred due to this hybridity of the English language.

Linguistic Analysis

Standard and Non Standard English

Kathryn Shields (2006) point out that the social mores and attitude in Jamaica in the decades of nineteen forties and fifties closely modulated the Standard English form, however, the native speakers were unable to follow this standard, and hence, a Jamaican Standard was formulated. English was believed to be the elite tongue of the educated Jamaican. However, the native speakers usually resorted to the ‘broken’ English that did not adhere to the structure of the Standard English. This was termed as “Jamaican English” (Sheilds 2006, p. 7). This discrepancy between the Standard and Jamaican English is evident in the excerpt from The Girl with the Golden Shoes.

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Omission of preposition contrary to the Standard English syntax is present in the text. For example, “you only want keep me here to fish” (Channer 2007, p. 24). In Standard English, some verbs, adjectives, and nouns come with specific prepositions. The use of these prepositions is predefined and mandatory according to the syntax of the language. In this specific example, the sentence should have been “you only want to keep me here to fish”. The omission of “to” before “keep” in the sentence, expresses the syntax used according to the Jamaican English.

In another instance, the format of asking a question has been modified: “Is where you getting these thoughts” (Channer 2007, p. 24). This should have been “From where are you getting these thoughts?” This again is an example of non-standard usage of English. Further, pronouns have been wrongly used in the text. For instance, ‘them’ has been used instead of ‘their’ in the sentence “How hard them work could be more than selling fish” (Channer 2007, p. 24).

The use of non-standard English in dialogues helps the readers understand the cultural background of the characters. The language demonstrates the use of a different kind of non-standard English typical to Jamaica. The wrong use of English in the dialogues was deliberate. It helped to understand how Jamaican English was spoken. Further, the wrong usages demonstrate that the economic class of the characters is lower than that of the elite, English-speaking class of Jamaica. Therefore, the deliberate use of non-standard English has helped the writer to create characters and establish their ethnicity.

Morphology and Syntax

Jamaican English does not conform to the Standard English rule for the use of contraction and auxiliary verb in sentences (Sheilds 2006). In the excerpt from the novella, the non-standard use of English is evident in the dialogues. The dialogues have errors in grammar according to the syntax of the Standard English. For instance, “I ain’t disbelieve you” or “from the other day she start to read she getting different” (Channer 2007, p. 23).

In these two quotes from the dialogues, it is evident that the non-Standard English of the Caribbean has been used. “I ain’t disbelieve you” has been used instead of ‘I don’t disbelieve you’. It is apparent from the text that Jamaican English substitutes ‘don’t’ or ‘do not’ with “ain’t”. In many of the dialogues from the excerpt, ‘do not’ or ‘did not’ has been used as “ain’t”. Some other instances where ‘don’t’ have been interchangeably used for “ain’t” are as follows:

  1. “She ain’t suppose to drink no rum. It ain’t have any beer?” (Channer 2007, p. 23).
  2. “Rose, you ain’t see she’s a woman?” (Channer 2007, p. 23).
  3. “I ain’t know what kind o’ work there is” (Channer 2007, p. 24).
  4. “But I just ain’t get the chance to even know what I could do.” (Channer 2007, p. 24).

The language of the novella is simple. It adheres to the narrative structure of a fable infused with magical realism. However, the infusion of the text with cultural lingo is unavoidable. Therefore, a deliberate tendency to adopt Jamaican English in the narration is observed in the excerpt. “Ain’t” is used as a contraction for ‘to do not’, which is a non-standard use of the contraction and is usually observed in Jamaican English (Irvine 2008).

‘Ain’t’ is also substituted for ‘did not’, thus emphasizing on tense-neutrality in the adopted English of the Caribbean. Channer uses the generic ‘ain’t’ to denote both ‘do not’ and ‘did not’ to emphasize the tense-neutrality of Jamaican English. Tense neutrality and wrong use of contractions allowed Channer to build a character that was Jamaican. The presence of the linguistic variation in the dialogue created characters those were not like the other English-speaking characters from novels written in English. Instead, Channer’s characters are distinctive because of the kind of English they speak.

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The text demonstrates wrong use of verb. Wrong application of singular plural verb is observed in the use of ‘is’ in the text. For instance, “Things is things”. This shows a disagreement between the subject and the verb in number and person. This sentence should have been written, as “Things are things” (Channer 2007, p. 24). The text uses ‘is’ instead of ‘are’ that shows a deliberate use of the non-Standard English. This subject verb disagreement has been observed in other parts of the text as in case of “she start to read she getting different”, “She start to know everything”, “she teach herself to read”, and “when she tell me” (Channer 2007, p. 23).

In all these cases, singular noun as the subject requires singular form of the verb. According to Standard English, “she tell”, “she teach”, or “she start” are wrong. In another instance, the verb has been omitted from the sentence: “Who going to tell me” (Channer 2007, p. 24). In this sentence, the copula ‘be’ is the verb that forms the sentence. Therefore, the sentence in the Standard English syntax should have been “Who is going to tell me”.

Use the wrong form of verb-tense is observed in the text. Channer’s dialogues are imbued with wrong verb-tense usage again directly point to a deliberate attempt to show the hybridity of the language. For instance, “from the other day she start to read she getting different” (Channer 2007, p. 23) shows deviation from the standard English. First, Channer uses “from the other day” where the preposition ‘from’ has been wrongly used.

Further, the tense of the verb ‘get’ is wrong. The sentence would have sounded correct if it was written as follows: “You know, the day she started to read, she became different”. This wrong use of the English syntax is deliberate. Further, the incorrect use of the word ‘got’ shows a deviation in the semantics. Channer wants to emphasize the cultural setting of the novella through deliberate syntactical error.

Clearly, the language used by Channer in the novella for the dialogues is different from that of the narration. The characters speak in non-standard English. There are various errors in syntax observed in the text. Primary of these are the subject and number agreement, which is not marked by finite verbs. Further, the verb does not show inflection as there is almost no use of ‘-s’ and most of the verbs are used in their regular form. The omission of tenses while describing scenarios creates a time-vacuum in the novel. However, the avoidance of verbs is common in Jamaican English.

Punctuation

The punctuation of the speeches is used perfectly, as commas, periods, and question marks used in the appropriate places. The dialogues were within parenthesis as demanded by the conversation structure of the English literary works. However, in one particular sentence a hyphen has been used instead of a period: “She start to know everything—even things that nobody ain’t suppose to know until they dead” (Channer 2007, p. 23).

This sentence should have been divided into two sentences instead of the hyphenation. In another instance, a statement has been punctuated with a question mark: “Rose, you ain’t see she’s a woman?” (Channer 2007, p. 23) The sentence in its correct grammatical form should have been “Rose, you don’t see that she’s a woman.” This is a statement, and not a question. The deliberate use of wrong punctuation show that hybrid Jamaican English has different stresses and narrative styles. The mixed language of the Jamaicans, as demonstrated by the text, does not adhere to the standard form of writing and speaking English. Hence, Channe, stresses on these differences in order to establish the disparity between Standard and non-Standard English.

Conclusion

The linguistic analysis of the excerpt from The Girl with the Golden Shoes show that adopted English in post-colonial literature is heterogeneous in nature as they are infused by local cultural mores. The influence of Jamaican English in the text of Channer’s novella makes it more close to the syntax and morphology of Jamaican English than that of Standard English.

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References

Channer, C 2007, The Girl with the Golden Shoes, Akashic Books, New York.

Irvine, A 2008, ‘Contrast and convergence in Standard Jamaican English: the phonological architecture of the standard in an ideologically bidialectal community ‘, World Englishes, vol 27, no. 1, pp. 9-25.

Murdoch, HA 2012, Creolizing the Metropole: Migrant Caribbean Identities in Literature and Film, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.

Pennycook, A 2003, ‘Beyong Hegemony and Heterogeny’, in C Mair (ed), The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies, Rodopi, New York, pp. 3-18.

Sheilds, K 2006, ‘Standard English in Jamaica’, in K Bolton & BB Kachru (eds), World Englishes: Critical Concepts in Linguistics Volume 2, Taylor & Francis, New York, pp. 5-16.

Winford, D 2006, ‘Re-Examining Caribbean English Creole Continua’, in K Bolton & BB Kachru (eds), World Englishes: Critical Concepts in Linguistics, Volume 2, Taylor & Francis, New York, pp. 17-75.

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