Discourse analysis in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl
is our main concern in the present study. In fact, emphasis is put on the
author's style and the characters' discourse.
Actually, the choice of the topic and of the novel was
proposed by my academic advisor. Moreover, we have chosen to work on discourse
analysis because it is not yet dealt with by students of Ecole Normale
Supérieure (ENS), and the choice of the novel is due to its literary
interest. I was glad to embark myself on this study because no previous work on
this field has been carried out at ENS. I have found it challenging to plunge
into the literary analysis which should be a bridge between literature and
Before going on the deep of the subject, it is important to
define the main lexical items in order to clarify the topic. Discourse comes
from Latin «discursus» which means «running to and from».
Hence, discourse is a piece of text or pronunciation that is complete. And,
discourse analysis is a general term for a number of approaches to analyse
written, spoken or signed language. Actually, our prior interest consists of
finding out Buchi Emecheta's techniques in the handling of English language.
As far as the hypothesis of our work is concerned, we can say
that the discourse of Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl reveals African
aesthetic creations. Concerning our methodology, we will refer to Arlette
Chermain's statement (1981: 31): «D'une manière
générale, plusieurs méthodes peuvent éclairer d'une
manière convergente le récit (le sectarisme risque d'être
Nevertheless, we will focus on three approaches: structural;
sociological, and linguistic. The first approach will help us to study the
structure of Buchi Emecheta in The Slave Girl. The second one presents
the advantage of dealing with the relationship between literature and society.
Finally, the third one will help us to analyse the different styles used by the
Before tackling the main issue, it sounds interesting to say a
word about the author's biography and her works. Buchi Emecheta's full name is
Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta. She was born in Yaba, near Lagos, Nigeria in July
21, 1944. She is a daughter of a railway worker. She lost both of her parents
when she was at a young age, and spent her early childhood being educated at a
missionary school. At seventeen, she got married to Sylvester Onwordi, a
student to whom she had been engaged since she was eleven. Her husband went to
London to study and she 1962. At the age of twenty-two, she left her husband
and got a BSc degree in sociology at London University, while supporting her
five children. From 1982 to 1983, she became a Member of Home Secretary's
As a writer, Buchi Emecheta wrote novels about the struggles
of African women moving from traditional to modern roles in their societies.
Buchi's two first novels are respectively In the Ditch (1972) and
Second- Class Citizen (1974). These novels are drawn from her own
experience, and they were published together as Adah's Story in 1983.
In 1976, she wrote The Bride Price. But other novels are set in
Nigeria and are highly critical of African women. These include the ironic
titles The Joys of Motherhood (1979) and Destination Biafia
(1982). She wrote in 1977 The Slave Girl, the novel we are concerned
with, thanks to which she won Jock Campbell Award. Additionally, Buchi wrote a
children story, The Wrestling Match in 1980, critical works, essays,
and an autobiography, Head Above Water in 1986.
The Slave Girl depicts the story of Agbanje Ojebeta,
who is sold by her brother, Okolie. Ojebeta is a daughter of Okwuekwu Oda (her
father) and Umeadi (her mother). She was living wealthy with her two brothers
in Ibuza village before the spreading of an epidemic called `felenza' which
killed the most of the Ibuza people such is the case of her parents. To avoid,
however, such a catastrophe to Ojebeta, Okolie decides to leave their village,
Ibuza, for Onitsha village where their so-called relative live.
During their outward journey, they meet their aunt Uteh and
her husband Eze who do not allow them to continue their journey. Unfortunately,
early in the morning, Okolie and Ojebeta get up and continue their journey
without telling them. They walk for a long time and take canoes until they
reach Onitsha Village.
When reaching Otu market, Ojebeta is troubled for she has
never seen such a big market with different people from different cultures and
with different kinds of materials coming from «The United Africa
Company». Surprisingly she remarks that most of people glance at her.
Actually, there is a wealthy woman called Ma Palagada by whom
Okolie decides to sell her sister because he badly needs money. Having no
choice, Ojebeta's brother took the eight English pounds which is the amount
suggested by the buyer. Accordingly, his sister came to increase the number of
Ma Palagada's slaves.
Although it was hard for Ojebeta to live far from her brother
at the outset, she gradually got used to this new situation and she became an
active member of Ma Palagada's household. She worked the other slaves do. In
the meantime, Ojebeta met good luck with Clifford's arrival from Lagos. In
fact, Ma Palagada's son fell in love with her with his mother's consent.
Ojebeta saw life with new eyes because she stops working hard as the others
slaves do. Ma Palagada thinks that this is a way to get back the money spent to
To help Ma Palagada from a long-standing serious illness, her
daughter comes from Asaba along with her two younger children. The household
atmosphere changes a lot because of Victoria' attitudes and behaviour. She
obliges Ojebeta to look after her children and planned to travel with her to
Asaba to be her housemaid. Because of the ill- treatment she endures from her,
Ojebeta runs away the D-day. As we may guess, she returns back to her native
village, Ibuza, where she resumes breathing the air of freedom. In this
respect, a sentence in the novel asserts: «I would rather be a poor
girl in Ibuza than a well-fed slave in this house without Ma». (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 144)
Finally, Jacob and Alice Ojebeta get married and Jacob pays
back Ma's money to Clifford who has joined the British army. Ojebeta is now
called Aganje Ojebeta Alice Onkonji. To better achieve this study, there are
two parts. The first about narrative analysis has got two chapters: the
author's style and the narrative techniques. In the first chapter, emphasis is
put on Buchi Emecheta's talent to carry out her message whereas in the second
one, the impact of oral traditions in the point of view is assessed.
Language functions and linguistic forms which is the main
issue of the second part are presented into two chapters. Language functions
which stand as the first chapter refers to the techniques used to express
characters' emotions, feelings, and state of mind through language use.
Finally, the analysis on how linguistic features interact with the didactic
dimension of the novel will be examined.
A close link is established between a writer's techniques and
the underlying message of his text. Accordingly, literary analysts handle
various texts to shed light on the features of a work. Speaking about narrative
writing, Henri Lopès (1997: 97) states: «l'écriture est
le véhicule du message.» Actually, our main concern in this
chapter is to answer the following question: what is the quality of discourse
in The Slave Girl? An answer will be given through two chapters: the
author's style and the narrative techniques.
Chapter 1: the author's style
Style refers to discourse technique a writer uses to convey
his message either in prose or in verse; a manner which reveals the writer`s
tonality. This personal way of organizing ideas can be laid on syntax, figure
of thought, and rhetorical questions. In this respect, Buffon (1972: 203)
declares that «the style is the man.»
Taking into account the above quotation, the question that
arises in this chapter is what Buchi Emecheta's style in The Slave Girl
is? This will be answered throughout four sections: repetition,
linguistic interference, comparison, and symbols.
Repetition is a figure of speech in which words or phrases
occur more than once. Accordingly, Basile Marius NGASSAKI (5 janvier 2006: 44)
La répétition comme procédé de
style est une particularité de l'oralité, mais elle prend une
dimension spécifique en Afrique. Cette caractéristique est
présente dans plusieurs aspects de la vie quotidienne. La manière
de saluer de certains peuples africains, par exemple, illustre l'importance de
la répétition. Le nombre de fois que deux personnes se secouent
les mains en guise de salutations peut représenter le nombre de jours,
de semaines, de mois ou d'années de séparation.
This technique is overused in The Slave Girl with
different purposes and functions as stated by Basile Marius NGASSAKI (5 janvier
La répétition se présente comme un
refrain dans lequel l'auditoire retrouve des éléments
déjà mentionnés. Elle contribue à accroître
la nature rythmique du récit. N'oublions pas que le rythme est un
élément artistique indispensable à l'art et à la
littérature orale. Il existe aussi une autre forme de
répétition qui présente une fonction purement phatique.
Elle permet d'intensifier le sens des mots. La répétition peut
aussi marquer la chronologie des événements; ce qui influence
considérablement la technique d'élaboration du
Actually, there are different kinds of repetitions found in
Buchi Emecheta`s The Slave Girl. But our work will be restricted to
polynsyndeton, inclusio, epistrophe, and anaphora .
In fact, repetition gives a particular intensification in a
novel. In so doing, Buchi Emecheta uses different kinds of repetition. But, the
first one we are going to consider is `polysyndeton' which is the repetition of
conjunctions in a paragraph. In other terms, it is the use of several
conjunctions in close succession, especially where some might be omitted. Thus,
a clearly but excellent illustration of polysyndeton is presented in the
At a time when it was glorious to be an
Englishman, when the rein the great Queen Victoria's son was
coming to its close, when the red of the British Empire
covered almost half the map of the world, when colonisation
was at its height, and Nigeria was being taken over by Great Britain.
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 15)
In the light of what precedes, Buchi Emecheta writes the
adverb of time «when» four times in a short paragraph to
insist on the moment when colonisation ends. Besides, the author wants to raise
the reader's attention that Nigeria will be free one day.
The second kind of repetition used by Buchi Emecheta in
The Slave Girl is inclusio, the rhetorical figure in which a literary
unit begins and ends with the same (or similar) word, phrase, or clause. This
repetition serves as a framing device, iterating the theme of the section. It
shows the insistence form on facts viewed as important. Thus, an excellent
point in case is the following passage when Ma Palagada talks to Ojebeta:
«Come», she urged Ojebeta,
«I only want to greet you. You haven't said a single word to me.
Come. I am your relative, you know. Come. You
mustn't be frightened to us. We are not bad people. Just
come.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 51)
This passage shows that the verb «come» is
repeated four times to emphasize Ma's need to be close Ojebeta. This redundancy
is a technique of insisting in order to persuade and convince.
Another kind of repetition found in The Slave Girl is
`epistrophe'. It is a rhetorical speech in which the same word or groups of
word are repeated at the end of successive clauses. The following statement is
assuredly a good example of epistrophe when Okolie talks to Ojebeta:
«Ojebeta, we must hurry, we must hurry» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
35). This utterance reveals the importance of the message which refers to the
necessity of Okolie to go and sell his sister. This expression shows that there
is no time to waste.
The excellent illustration of epistrophe is also obvious in
the following quotation: «Ma Palagada and Okolie talked and talked in
voices» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 54). In this text, the verb `talked is
repeated twice so as to bring the prolixity of both interlocutors.
Moreover, the repetition also occurs at the beginning of
sentences in The Slave Girl. This repetition is called `anaphora' - a
rhetorical figure which consists of repeating the initial word or words of a
clause or sentence at the beginning of successive clauses -. Umeadi, thinking
about `felenza', uses exclamation to express sorrow. . The good illustration is
expressed in the following passage:
«Pom! Pom! Pom! The rumours that
have been going round are true. Pom! There is a kind of death
coming from across the salty waters. It has killed many people in Isele Azagba,
it is creeping to Ogwashi, it is now coming to us. They call it Felenza. It is
a white man's death. They shoot it into the air, and we breathe it in and die.
Pom! Pom....» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 25)
In the above quotation, we remark that Buchi Emecheta uses the
exclamation `Pom! Pom! Pom!' at the beginning and at the end of the paragraph
to raise the reader's attention about the seriousness of the epidemic. This
exclamation expresses surprise, emotion and fear of death. Accordingly, Basile
Marius Ngassaki (janvier 2006: 62) asserts that «exclamation is a
category of discourse which shows the natural and inner expressivity. A link is
established between a thought and a word or a linguistic structure which pulls
Repetition is also used to bring precision about what has just
been said. Evidence can be shown through the following passage: «I
can't find him, my big brother» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 57). Here,
repetition occurs on fact that the personal person «him» refers to
«my big brother». Thus, this implies precision.
To the light of what precedes, it is important to underline
that Buchi Emecheta uses excessive repetitions in The Slave Girl. As a
matter of fact, this stylistic figure is a device of oral literature expressing
the narrator or writer's way of insisting on facts considered important. Among
styles used by Buchi Emecheta in The Slave Girl figures also the
2. The Linguistic Interference
Linguistic structure of many Negro African texts is composed
of the writer's mother tongue and the colonialist's languages. This is the
logical consequence of colonialism, because Negro African writers are at the
crossroads of two cultures: African and European, what L. S. Senghor calls
«les métis culturels». In The Slave Girl, in fact,
Buchi Emecheta mixes English words with local ones to render her language more
Actually, the linguistic interference in a novel changes the
language real connotation. This can be observed through word by word
translation of the author's mother tongue. This technique is also used by Buchi
in The Slave Girl as evidenced in the following lines:
As he took a few steps from the stall, the girls looked at
her and all of the sudden stopped their endless chatter. Chiogo was the first
to find her tongue. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 26)
It results from the above passage that Buchi Emecheta
translates Ibo language into English. Therefore, that leads the text to have
the prolix or talkative style. But, it is important to note that the phrase
«to find her tongue» is used here to mean her impoliteness. In that
case, the lexicon `her tongue' is the translation of popular language. Besides,
the use of «to find her tongue» here shows that the author's
expression is like the simple translation of her mother tongue.
The linguistic interference provokes the orthographic
alterations of certain words in The Slave Girl. In fact, the narrator
transcribes the characters' language containing terms or phrases whose spelling
is inaccurate. Thus, the following passage shows evidence:
But this felenza was a new thing that the
«Potokis» had shot into the air, through everyone wondered why
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 26).
It results from this passage that the distorted lexicon is
`felenza' because it does not exist amongst English vocabulary. In this
respect, Buchi Emecheta uses Nigerian English certainly to adapt her message to
make language more vivid. In linguistics, this is called `the word creation'.
As a matter of fact, this altered word is used instead of `influenza' to
report Umeadi's thoughts. This borrowed word plunges into the local linguistic
flavour to meet the characteristics of pronunciation of the native language.
Another example of mispronunciation and orthographic
alteration can be observed in the utterance below:
They all ate together, and had to go to the stream to
fetch water, and she had to help in the large cooking place they called
«Kinsheni», or something like that (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
In this above utterance, the distorted item is
«Kinseni». Through this, we understand that the narrator wants to say
`kitchen. But the problem here is the word mispronunciation. Eventually, Buchi
Emecheta altered this lexical item certainly to match the characters' origin
and his/her linguistic expression.
Additionally, The Slave Girl comprises distorted
names of nations.
Now, in the year of 1916, the rumours said that the new
colonial masters were at near with their neighbours «the Germanis»;
and the latter fought the British by blowing poisonous gas into the air
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 27).
From the above quotation, the lexicon «Germanis» is
the alteration of the `Germans'. Actually, in the Slave Girl, Buchi
Emecheta uses `neologism', the literary style which consists of creating words
in a given literary genre. In this respect, `felenza', `Kinsheni', and
`Germanis' are lexical items mispronounced by African characters.
The linguistic interference can also occur when Ibo words,
phrases, or sentences are mixed with English ones. In fact, like many African
writers, Buchi Emecheta mixes English lexical items with local ones throughout
The Slave Girl because some of them cannot be translated into
English. As a matter of fact, Ma Palagada, talking with Ma Mee about
Mrs Simpson, says: «Look, she has her ntukwashi over her
shoulder» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 103). Obviously, Buchi Emecheta uses
the Ibo local word `ntukwashi' in this passage because the English translation
may not be appropriate.
Sometimes, local words in The Slave Girl are
explained in English so that non native Ibo speakers understand properly this
language. The example that follows illustrates the point at issue:
«..., and some still emigrated to what was known as «Olu
Oyibo», white men's work» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 80). This
technique renders the text more explicit because readers are from various
origins. Nevertheless, what is important here is that Buchi writes all Ibo
words in italics and with inverted comas to raise a particular attention to
Moreover, the resort to the linguistic interference explains
the author's attachment to her native languages. To close this section, we can
say that this technique from the beginning to the end of The Slave Girl.
That explains the fact that Buchi's characters speak a language which is,
in fact, close to their sociological environment. It is certainly the reason
why those characters in their speaking want to reproduce their particular
mother tongue's pronunciation or Ibo words. That can also be explained that the
author wants to value her culture and defy the colonialist's languages. To do
so, Buchi Emecheta creates her own literary style. As a matter of fact,
Charlotte Bruner (1986: 129) asserts:
«It was natural that when Western literary genres
featuring the imposed European languages were integrated with African oral
tradition, the narrative took on new form and expression. Some of today's
internationally known African writers have created new forms of novels (...).
In doing so, they have used their own linguistic creations:
«Nigerian» or «Ghanaian» and Negritude French.»
Apart from the linguistic interference, comparison is also the
main concern of this chapter.
Comparison is defined as the act or process of examining two
or more people or things in order to discover similarities and differences
between them. As far as stylistics is concerned, it is a figure of speech which
consists of comparing two elements in order to picture his/her message. In this
way, the writers draw a comparison between two things. In fact, Buchi
Emecheta's The Slave Girl comprises excessive use of comparison. In
this regard, simile and metaphor will be our main concern in this section.
The Columbia Encyclopaedia, 6th edition,
defines simile as follows: «A simile is a figure of speech used to make a
comparison between two things with the words `like', `than', or `as'.»
This technique is excessively used in The Slave Girl. Therefore, it is
interpreted differently depending on the context in which it is expressed.
Thus, the following conversation between Uteh and Ojebeta is a perfect
illustration of simile:
«And the young in white I saw there, who looked like
a ghost and walked like a ghost and a sleep-walker-was the new bride?»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 153-154)
It results from this passage that in this simile «the new
bride» is compared to «a ghost" and «a sleep walker». From
this, Buchi Emecheta uses what is called in stylistics `imaginative
comparison'- the kind of mental similarity that is expressed in similes and
metaphors -. Additionally, this is used here to disappoint Ojebeta. It is
important to note that in this passage the author raises the matter of the
conflict between modernism and traditionalism.
Simile also occurs by comparing human beings with animals.
Describing Eke market, the narrator reports it as follows: «People
swarmed and buzzed like insects» (Buchi, 1977: 44). In fact, this
simile stands for that Eke market is crowded of people making noise. It is also
important to note that the verbs «swarmed» and «buzzed» in
the above simile are used figuratively because they are especially for insects
not for human beings. But this explains certainly that Buchi Emecheta wants to
focus on everyday activities at the market because insects work together and in
Apart from that, Buchi Emecheta uses sometimes hyperbole, a
figure of speech in which statements are exaggerated, to express simile.
Describing Ojebeta, the narrator compares her in the following manner:
She ran, almost flew like arrow, her little legs like
swings, her heart beating fast in fear and anticipation, going as she fought to
her brother (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 57).
From the above simile, we can say that Buchi Emecheta compares
Ojebeta's «legs» to «swings» to demonstrate her vivacity in
running. As a matter of fact, this simile is called a `beyond comparison',
comparison which is out of the reality, because a man could not run as fast as
Actually, the saying that follows is also a perfect
illustration of simile: «there is in some truth in the saying that we
die as we live» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 24). Actually, in this simile
the author compares `death' with `life' to refer to biblical reality saying
that we kill by a sword will die by a sword. In clear, it means that people are
responsible for their death.
The other use of simile in The Slave Girl is to
express anger and emotion as illustrated by the relationship between Clifford
and Ojebeta. His expectation to have special relationship with her drives him
to forbid her work hard as the other slaves do. Retorting negatively, Pa
Palagada expresses her feelings through the following simile: «It was
like a dog barking, so forceful and full of anger» (Buchi Emecheta,
1977: 119). In fact, this simile expresses irritation. Through this simile
Buchi Emecheta denounces inequality or injustice because all people must be
considered as the same. Having analysed simile, it is important to deal with
the sub-section entitled metaphor.
This sub-chapter devoted to metaphors will be examined after
defining the key term for our best understanding. Metaphor derives from Latin
word `metaphora' which means `to carry, to transfer'. Collins Essential
English dictionary, (Second Edition, 2006) defines metaphor as
a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to
an object or action that it does not literally apply to in order to imply a
resemblance, for example he is a lion in battle.
The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English in
its turn defines metaphor as
«A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is
applied to an object or action to which it is not literary applicable.»
Metaphor is used to draw a particular attention to the reader.
In The Slave Girl, Buchi Emecheta uses metaphor extensively. A perfect
illustration is the following passage:
«Ojebeta!» he called, using his masterly tone.
«Tell nobody until the time becomes ripe.» (Buchi Emecheta,
From this quotation, the key lexical item expressing metaphor
is the adjective «ripe». In fact, this adjective is used here
figuratively to connote `ready'. In the other terms, this refers to the time
when the execution or the realization will come true.
In view of what precedes, Buchi Emecheta uses metaphor to
raise the reader's knowledge to connote the meaning of words regarding language
in use. This section is also concerned with symbols.
The Dictionary of the English Language,
(Fourth Edition, 2003) defines a symbol as
«Something that represents something else by
association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to
represent something invisible.»
Since Africans believe in traditional realities, that may be
one of the reasons for African writers to use symbols in most of their works.
In fact, in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl, symbols are utilized for
different purposes. In this section, we will focus on the following two
symbols: cowries, and kola nut.
In ancient times, the cowries were currency used in Nigeria as
in many African countries such as Nigerian in the same way as dollar is today.
In fact, they have different connotative meanings. They are used first for
protection against misfortune; then they are utilized as a currency, finally,
they are drawn on as a dowry given to in-laws. Telling about the importance of
cowries, Alafia Hapushel (1995: 30) asserts:
«I know I always feel good and grounded when I am
wearing them [cowries]. Anyone has similar experiences or story to
As we can observe from this assertion, Africans give a
particular importance to cowries because they think that they bring good luck
in whatever they do.
Actually, cowries also symbolize Goddess protection which is
very powerful and connected with the strength of the ocean. In The Slave
Girl, the author writes that Umeadi could bear daughters, but could not
stay long. After Obejeta's birth, Umeadi wears her cowries so that she protects
her from death:
«Your child will stay this time if you tie her with
safety charms. These must consist of cowries, tops of tins brought here by
protokis, and real bells made from metal.» (Buchi, 1977: 18)
Once more, this example shows that cowrie is one of the key
elements for protection. This feature can be extended some human organs.
Evidently, it is relevant to say from the passage below that Africans believe
in cowries for they protect female genitals against evil spirits and they allow
them be more healthy. Accordingly, Denis Roberson (1977: 45) declares:
«As I understand it the cowrie also represents
Goddess protection; in the Yoruba tradition this would be Yemonja /Olukan - who
also is the energy of water and the sea incidentally. My understanding is the
cowrie's similarity to the appearance of the female genitals.»
Considering the importance given to motherhood in African
communities, it is quite understandable for these people to care for female
genitals as stated in the above quotation. Bringing fertility is an important
factor for good.
In fact, cowries symbolize also dowry given to parents before
getting married. Besides, cowries symbolise the power of destiny and
prosperity. The most telling example will come from Alafia Happyshel's
assertion (1945: 25):
«For many people in Africa, there are associated (as
I understand it) with Eshu / Eleggua, the Orisa of the crosswords, of destiny,
warriors Orisa and prosperity, all over yorubaland, as well as with many other
Obviously, cowries have different attributes in Buchi
Emecheta's The Slave Girl. They play an important role in African
society since religion is highly valued in this environment. Beside this
symbol, we also find kola nuts in The Slave Girl.
4.2. Kola nuts
According to African culture, kola nuts are the pods of
various evergreen trees that grow mostly in Africa. These fruits are often used
during ceremonies, presented to chiefs or guests. They are eaten daily without
any particular purpose. Sometimes, they are used to make non-alcoholic drinks.
Because it contains caffeine, the kola acts as a stimulant to be alive. In this
regard, it is considered as a symbol of life in Africa.
In some parts of Africa, especially in West Saharan countries,
kola nuts are given or shared between people to welcome visitors entering a
home, usually during some formal ceremonies. On page 16 of The Slave
Girl, for instance, Ukwuenkwu, the interpreter, shares kola nut with the
District Officer to welcome him during the court ceremony between the villagers
and the missionaries as the narrator reports:
Okwuenkwu had smiled, and he had chewed kolanut with the
new D.O. and his interpreter (who was called locally the «tapilita»).
(Buchi, 1977: 16)
Actually, it is relevant to note from this passage that
offering a kola nut is a gesture of friendship and hospitality. In the same
vein, Eze Ugo (1985: 25) asserts:
«Oji [kola] is the first thing served in
every function or ceremony, personal or communal agreements, welcoming of a
visitor to an Igbo home, and settlement of family disputes.»
The above assertion shows that kola nuts symbolise peace and
welcome. It provides an important symbolic message in Africa, mostly in Western
Africa. Actually, the kola nut is eaten with among people to welcome each
other. In fact, Ojebeta's aunt does not hope to see her anymore; surprisingly,
Ojebeta is back home (Ibuza) after a long stay in Onitsha. To celebrate her
arrival and to welcome her, Uteh shares kola nut with Afo:
«Afo, have this chalk, and eat this peace of kolanut,
for my daughter who I thought had died is back, Afo, eat kolanut....»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 149)
From the above utterance, Buchi Emecheta shows the importance
of kola nut in African society. Here it also symbolises affectivity.
To summarize this chapter, we can say that Buchi Emecheta uses
a very simple style with everyday language rather using complex metaphors or
symbols in The Slave Girl; besides, her language used in this novel
can just be powerful in evoking an emotional reaction to the reader. As a
matter in case, Buchi Emecheta (1979) believes that the oral tradition has
influenced her style:
«I put all those things a bit but I try to limit
them, just concentrate on the story. You can evoke such emotions especially
when feel deeply about what you are talking about even if you use ordinary
language. I think that is my style.»
After the analysis of the chapter related to the author's
style, let us examine the next one linked to the narrative techniques.
CHAPTER 2: THE NARRATIVE TECHNIQUES
When we undertake the narrative techniques' analysis of a
work, the resort of stylistic considerations seems to be inevitable. This
aspect, which constitutes a bridge between linguistics and literature, refers
to various techniques of literary creation. Its good use enhances the aesthetic
quality of literary work through its structure and expression. In fact,
language is the main resource writers work with.
The purpose of this chapter lies on the answer to the
following subsidiary question: what are the narrative methods applied by Buchi
Emecheta in The Slave Girl to highlight ideas and feelings? In order
to deal with this point, the following aspects will be tackled: dialogism and
Dialogism can be defined as the representation of an author's
thoughts through the use of dialogues between two or more of his/ her
characters. Throughout this section, we are going to consider first dialogues
and then monologues.
A dialogue is a verbal exchange between two interlocutors at
least. In literature, it makes the characters sound normal so as to meet the
principle of verisimilitude. They can on their own express their emotional
states. In other terms, dialogues are the literary transcription into direct
speech of actual or fictional conversations which is opposed to the story
related by the narrator. The latter allows characters express their own
viewpoint in a given situation as Todorov (1981: 77) asserts:
«Aucun membre de la communauté verbale ne
trouve jamais des mots de la langue qui soient neutres, exempts des aspirations
et des évaluations d'autrui, inhabités par la voix d'autrui et ce
mot en reste rempli. Il intervient dans son contexte à partir d'un autre
contexte, pénétré des intentions d'autrui. Sa propre
intention trouve un mot déjà habité»
In fact, dialogues are used by people in everyday life to
express their thoughts, feelings, and their state of mind. In Buchi Emecheta's
The Slave Girl, dialogues are recognized by open and close inverted
comas, and by the use of the first and second personal pronouns and possessive
Actually, African novels are rich in dialogues because oratory
is highly praised in our communities. In this respect, it is evident to remark
that Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl is rich in dialogues. In fact,
dialogues found in this novel enable readers to reveal the characters'
In this sub-section, we are mostly concerned with crucial
conversations and everyday ones. Defining the first type, Joseph, Grenny, Ron
Mc Millan and Al Switzler (2002: 13) writes: «Crucial conversation -
conversations that occur when there is a lot at stake when emotions are strong,
and when opinions differ». Referring to the above statement, it comes
out that crucial conversations mean hot dialogues between characters where
nasty things can be said. Considering the topic of The Slave Girl, it
seems obvious that this kind of exchanges can be found. Thus, the following
conversation between Miss Victoria and Ojebeta is a perfect example of crucial
«How dare you keep me waiting? Don't you know we'll
miss the ferry?» She raises her right hand to strike as usual.
«I am not going to Bonny with you.» She shouted
defiantly. «I am going to my people. I'm going home!
«You can't go. We bought you. You'll be treated as a
runaway slave. I will not come with you.
«No Miss Victoria, I will not come with
you....» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 144)
It results from this passage that the characters' words or
speeches are between inverted comas. In this dialogue, we remark the use of
personal and possessive pronouns. The personal pronoun «you» in the
following passage «How dare you keep me waiting? Don't you know we'll miss
the ferry?» points out the interlocutor of Miss Victoria who is the major
character named Ojebeta.
On the other hand, the pre-verbal particle «I»
refers to both the addresser and the addressee when exchanging roles. The hard
words used in this dialogue shows that Ojebeta is challenging Victoria who is
using nasty words against her mistress's. She does not want to undertake the
trip suggested by her master's daughter. She wants her to take care of her
children but she refuses.
This verbal violence is also found in the tenth chapter of the
novel when Clifford reacted strongly against the way Miss Victoria ill-treated
«You good for nothing - for - nothing slave! You
«You must stop now, Victoria, I say stop...
«Why, she's only a slave! What is she to you?
«But she is our relation too.» (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 114)
Actually, this passage is a dialogue explaining the crucial
conversation between Miss Victoria and her brother. This dialogue is recognized
here by the use of inverted comas and of the first and the second personal
pronouns. «You» refers to the interlocutor whom speaker is addressing
to and «I» in this dialogue is essentially the interlocutor's turn
taking. Additionally, this dialogue is characterized by the exclamation marks,
expressing Miss Victoria's emotional states or feelings.
Apart from crucial conversations characterized by violence and
insults, there are also friendly or everyday ones in Buchi Emecheta's The
Slave Girl. Here, they are categorized by non-violence. In this novel, the
friendly conversations are first expressed by the casual chat amongst
characters as evidenced in the dialogue below between Palagada and Okolie:
«I am going to the food stalls to eat some pounded
yam. I shall not be long.
«I will show you the way», Ma Palagada said
casually to Okolie. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 54)
Actually, this dialogue is mainly expressed by the use of the
present continuous tense, implying the near future during which the action will
take place, and the future simple. This future, in fact, involves here the
addresser's wish. However, in this passage, we remark the use of the personal
pronoun «I» in the two interactions. These refer to both the speaker
and the interlocutor. Moreover, we observe that this paragraph is attached with
the narrator comment «Ma Palagada said casually to Okolie».
Secondly, Friendly conversations concerns the feeling of
lamentations to female characters. The best example is observed in the
«Well, it is like a man cutting a lock of a girl's
hair - it makes a marriage last forever until either of them dies. But unlike
the cutting of the hair, the husband is restricted too. He has to marry only
me, just one wife as the Bible says.
«Suppose you did not have children for him, what
would he do? What would his people say to you, holding their son like
that?» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 173)
Evidently, this passage is a dialogue between Ojebeta and her
aunt, Uteh. This dialogue is recognized here by the use of inverted comas.
Different to other dialogues, in this one we remark the use of third person
pronoun «he», that helps us to guess that the speaker and the
interlocutors are talking about another character. Put otherwise, this dialogue
is mainly expressed in the simple present tense to update the situation in
which they are concerned with. Besides, Buchi Emecheta raises women's fate due
to sterility through this conversation because it seems to be one of the causes
Friendly conversations are also uttered to express
superstitious realities as the dialogue below illustrates:
«Why are you washing them, big mother?
«To be buried with your mother. She will need them to
cook for your father in the land of the dead. Look, I have even filled a big
calabash with soap for her, so that she will never lack any.» (Buchi,
This passage is a dialogue between Ojebeta and Eteh. But it is
interesting to note from this conversation that we notice the use of
«you» and «I». The second person pronoun «you»
expresses in fact the interlocutor, that is to say the person to whom the
question is asked. And the first person pronoun «I» underlines the
interlocutor turn-taking; it means that he responds to the question.
Friendly conversations are then expressed in The Slave
Girl to elucidate character's emotions, projects and confidentiality. In
fact, during her talk with Amanna, Ojebeta reveals her ambition to leave Ma
Palagada's home for Ibuza. So, the excellent point in case is the utterances
«Do you still have my share of the money we got when
we did that dance during the harvest? She asked
«Yes, I buried it, where we buried the canes.
«Do you want your share, then? Amanna asked her voice
low and tremulous.
Ojebeta nodded. After a pause she added, «I want to
go back to my people.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 142)
From this passage, we remark the use of questions by the first
interlocutor. To be clearer, the first speaker's utterances are expressed in
the interrogative form, while the interlocutor's response is in declarative
one. Moreover, the verbs in this dialogue are essentially conjugated in the
simple present. Yet, these utterances are accompanied by the narrator's
commentaries «She asked», «Ammana asked...» and
Apart from dialogues, monologues are also our main concerned
in this section.
The word monologue comes from the Greek `monologos' which
means `speaking alone'. The Collins English Dictionary (fifth edition,
2000) as for it defines the monologue as:
«A literary attempt to present the mental processes
of a character before they are formed into regular patterns of speech, or
In other terms, it is a speech made by one individual
expressing aloud his thoughts alone. A monologue can be expressed by the speech
during which a character speaks about a real or imagined audience, and
unconsciously reveals his or her character at the same time. We have inserted
this sub-section in the section related to dialogism because within a monologue
conceals a constant dialogue between a character and himself so as to reveal
his inner thoughts, or the speakers and the virtual interlocutor or reader,
bearer of certain expectations what he wants to satisfy or disappoint. Thus, in
The Slave Girl Buchi Emecheta uses different kinds of monologues in
which «a character is alone on the stage to attract the readers'
attention». But we are going to deal with only two of them found in this
novel: soliloquy and the interior monologue,
Soliloquy is in fact a kind of monologue during which
the addresser is speaking once alone, especially when used as a
theatrical device that allows a character's thoughts and ideas to be conveyed
to the audience. The dictionary `Le Petit Robert (1996) defines it as follows:
«Le soliloque est un discours d'une personne qui, en
compagnie, est seule à parler ou semble ne parler que pour
Actually, monologues stating soliloquy are characterized by
the fact that the speaker is among other people but he manages to converse to
himself. That is the case of Ojebeta's cries when thinking about her dead
mother: «Oh, my mother, I am lost.» «Save me,
Mother, I for now I am lost» (Buchi, 1977: 59). Evidently, this
monologue is a soliloquy because the addresser is in fact speaking to himself
amongst other people to express her sorrow or emotions.
In likewise manner, soliloquy is also obvious in the passage
«If I can't find him, my big brother», she said
to herself as she run, «I shall go back to Ibuza to the hut of my big
mother and wait for him. (Buchi, 1977: 57)
This monologue implies Ojebeta's obligation to find her
brother and her plan to go back to her village. Here she is speaking alone to
himself among other people. Thus, it connotes brotherly or fraternal love. In
fact, this passage comprises the narrator's comments «she said to herself
as she run».
Additionally, soliloquy produces the immense effects in order
to communicate or express some of the individual opinions as well as emotions
of characters without resorting to first personal narration. In this respect,
Ukwueku's thought is very illustrative:
«So she has at last decided to stay with us, this
regular visitor who has been visiting for a long time. Ogbanje Ojebeta: that
will be her name, even though it is not very decorative. Only let
live....» Okwuekwu communicated with himself as he took the court to his
compound by the Eke market. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 19)
As can be read from this monologue, Ukwuekwu is speaking to
himself along with other people to express his thoughts. From the above
monologue, what helps us to imagine that it is a soliloquy is the narrator's
commentary «communicated with herself». The passage of this soliloquy
is expressed in two tenses: the present perfect (simple and continuous) and the
simple future. The future in this sentence implies the speaker's plan. As a
matter of fact, we can assert that this soliloquy involves a hope and a wish of
the addresser not to lose his daughter anymore.
After the brief examination of soliloquy, it is important to
deal with the interior monologue. The French writer Edouard Dujardin (1931:56)
gives the following definition:
«Le monologue intérieur est [...] le discours
sans auditeur et non prononcé, par lequel un personnage exprime sa
pensée la plus intime, la plus proche de l'inconscient,
antérieurement à toute organisation logique, c'est-à-dire
en son état naissant, par le moyen de phrases directes réduites
au minimum syntaxial, de façon à donner l'impression du tout
As it can be read in this quotation, the interior monologue is
a literary technique which consists of expressing the character's interior
viewpoints without putting out a word. This describes «the stream of
thoughts that run through our heads when we are alone» (Richardson, 1967:
97). Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl is fraught with interior
In the interior monologue, the reader is psychologically put
in the character's mind and becomes finally as the narrator. It is branded by
the character's' disorganized and uncontrolled thoughts that suddenly appears.
In fact, the interior monologue plays an important role in the renewal of the
twentieth century novel. Actually, the interior monologue in The Slave
Girl is introduced by verbs expressing the inner thought: `to think', and
sometimes with verbs attached with the adverbial particle like `to say to
himself'. During the Onitsha inhabitants' meeting about the regulations the
white men were trying to introduce, Pa Palagada is accused of being friend of
the white men. As a result, he is furious and decides to go back home. On his
way back, Pa Palagada's mind lets itself go through speculations. He uses the
monologue to express his indignation:
«If we kill them and they go who will trade with us
then they will take all our possessions from us, so why can't we reason with
them? Accusing my wife and me of going to their church and drinking tea in the
afternoons! What has that to do with it anyway? It's jealous. Just because you
are getting on well, getting rich, they think because we go to the C.M.S.
church....» So run Pa Palagada's thoughts on his way home. [...].
«I wish these stupid white men would not ask our
women to pay tax», he thought by way of compromise. «That will be
worse the whole issue.» (Buchi, 1977: 122)
Actually, the above passage is an interior monologue. It is
recognized through the use of the verb «thought» introduced by the
narrator. It is interesting to note that this interior monologue is expressed
in the direct speech. The verbs of this monologue are mainly conjugated in
conditional tense to demonstrate the speaker's wish and regret. Yet, it refers
to the beginning of the revolt against the white men's authority. Besides, it
implies dilemma of Pa Palagada to kill white men or not.
Likely, the interior monologue is also observed throughout
So he bought them for me, Ojebeta thought, and that woman
wanted me to think that it was her own idea - as if a woman like that would
ever give anything to anybody.
This passage is an interior monologue because it is introduced
by the verb «thought». In this monologue, we remark the use of the
third personal pronoun «he», the first personal «me», and
the possessive «her». Indeed, «me» refers to the
monologist, «he» here to Clifford, the one who `bought the
earnings»; and finally «her» refers to the person whom the
monologue is oriented to - Miss Victoria -.
Moreover, what is important to note from this monologue is
that the verbs are conjugated in the past tense as if it is the narrator's
report. In fact, this interior monologue reveals, thus, Miss Victoria's
behaviour and implies Ojebeta's expressivity or feelings. Talking about bells
and charms, Okolie thinks of the importance of them that he thought that
Ojebeta must wear them until they reach Onitsha Village were she is sensed to
be sold. So, the following passage is the case at issue:
«Suppose anything should happen to her», he
thought. «They would say that I kill her. No, let her wear them until I
get her into the house of a master.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 46)
This sequence is really an interior monologue. We recognize it
once more by the narrator's use of the verb «thought». It is
characterized by the use of conditional tense. Besides, this interior monologue
comprises the personal pronouns her which refers to Ojebeta, and her referring
to the speaker, Okolie.
This monologue, in fact, implies the importance of traditional
virtue linked to symbols. In other way, it involves the fact of being careful
in advance in order to prevent Ojebeta from the woe.
To conclude this section, we have to admit that there is a
match between characters and the quality of their speeches. Dialogues and
monologues are of great help to grasp their inner feelings so as to picture
their introspection. Accordingly, The Slave Girl provides readers
with character's insight found in many African works of literature. All this is
tightly connected to oral traditions.
2. ORAL TRADITIONS
Content and form of African works are different from Western
ones in the sense that African writers use oral traditional technique in their
writings to express their double inheritance. This may be the reason why Locha
Lateso (1986: 346) writes: «Le romancier (africain) réactive un
discours chargé de la sagesse ancestrale et l'adopte au contexte
moderne». In this respect, we think it is fair enough to find out
orature characteristics in The Slave Girl.
Amongst different features of African rhetorical arts, few of
them will be selected to illustrate our point: proverbs and songs.
Proverbs tend to have meanings that are true both literally
and figuratively. As a matter of fact, Mulyumba wa Mamba, cited by Jacques Fame
Dongo (1985: 27) defines a proverb as follows:
«Le proverbe est un énoncé, une
proposition ou un groupe de propositions concis et fort condensés
renfermant une sagesse populaire et tirant son origine de l'expérience
empirique des sages de la société.»
Mieder (1993: 24) gives the following definition:
"A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the
folk which contains wisdom, truth, moral, and traditional views in a
metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from
generation to generation.»
In Africa, wisdom which characterizes discourses is embedded
in proverbs. Actually, no difference is made between proverbs, paraboles,
sayings to mention only a few. In this study, all these rhetorical features are
called proverbs. In many cases, abstract ideas are expressed through these
linguistic means to let people guess the actual meaning. Speaking of the role
of proverbs, Chinua Achebe (1986: 6) asserts: "The proverb is a palm with
which words are eaten." In clear, this assertion explains that in Africa
conversations are full of proverbs.
Similarly, Isidore Okpewho (1992:226) affirms:
«Every proverb must have started its life as the
product of the genius of an individual oral artist. But it becomes appropriated
by the people at large because it contains a truth about life by them and
appeals to their imagination by the neatness and beauty in which it has been
Like many African cultures, proverbs play an important role in
expressions within the Nigerian community. Proverbs tell much about people's
traditional way. This is certainly the reason why Buchi Emecheta uses them in
The Slave Girl. In this novel, proverbs are used by characters for a
variety of purposes. They are first of all used as a way of saying something in
a veiled way in order to attract interlocutors. In other terms, they are
utilized to convey a precised moral lesson as exemplified in the quotation
If you did not help your neighbour in such situation, the
day the same trouble befell you, people would turn a blind eye rather than
earlier assistance. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 59)
Actually, this passage explains African solidarity between
surrounding neighbours. To be clearer, this proverb implies the necessity to
help people when they are in trouble. This refers to the African social aspect
determining that one must help each other.
Sometimes, proverbs are used to support the locutor's position
when discussing. In that case, a weak person is able to enlist the tradition of
the ancestors to back up his position. So in one passage in The Slave Girl,
the narrator reports Pa Palagada's words throughout this proverb:
«Nevertheless Pa Palagada knew the Ibo saying that we
speak the truth when you are drunk, or when you say you joke" (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 122).
Proverbs can also be used to educate people because their
messages are often linked to the character's behaviour so as to learn the best
manners to live in society. Wanting to know why the white wants to stay in
Ibuza and fights Ibuza people, Ukwuekwu replies by a proverb to support his
"But is it not a wicked man who would fight someone who is
knocking at the gates of death?» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:15)
What is interesting to note from this proverb is its
linguistic structure. This proverb is expressed by a rhetorical question to
allow the interlocutors be implicitly aware of wrongdoing towards other people.
The use of these proverbs in a literary work may have a didactic purpose.
Attentive readers will manage to discover all the intended moral lesson behind
this piece of discourse.
Additionally, the use of proverbs is not fortuitous. They take
into account the situation in which the man faces in order to establish the
real match of facts. In that case, they are pulled out by characters in The
Slave Girl to simply transmit a moral lesson. Arriving soon at Onitsha
with Ojebeta, Okolie has conversation with Ma Palagada. To be more hospitable,
she thinks that the first thing to do is to give them food. As a case of
matters, she tells it through this proverb:
Ma Palagada also knew that Okolie was hungry and, since a
hungry man was an angry man, that was the first thing to rectify. (Buchi
emecheta, 1977: 65)
Actually, this passage is a popular proverb. It is used here
to welcome visitors. What we can note from it is that the sentence is written
in indirect speech, implying eventually the narrator's point of view, and its
structure is declarative.
Moreover, proverbs are used in The Slave Girl to
direct an individual in relation with other people. So, the following passage
is very illustrative:
She remembered a saying of the people of Ibuza, where her
mother had come from, that if you cooked dinner for the crowd, the crowd would
finish it and even ask for more, but if the crowd should decide to cook for
you, an individual, you could never finish it. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
The above proverb implies the African communion in the sense
that it teaches current readers to work together instead of working alone.
Through it, Buchi Emecheta implicitly condemns the fate reserved to
Proverbs are also used to sum up the situation, an action or
an idea in a single stroke loaded with wisdom. They are mingled in everyday
conversations to illustrate or emphasize the message. The good but excellent
illustration is observed in the passage bellow:
There was a saying in Ibuza, that those who have people
are wealthier than those with money. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 151)
Actually, the above utterances are used to mean that people
are very important than wealth or money. Indeed the structure of this sentence
is well- built and complex because it is composed of noun phrases, verb phrases
and embedded lexical item 'that'. We notice also the comparison led in
superlative '...are wealthier than...'.
The supply of Ibo proverbs is so abounding that it is not
possible to understand the real meaning of a conversation without getting the
proverb. Accordingly, Doob (1958:28) describes its function in the Ibo
traditional life in declaring as follows:
Dans un débat la victoire revient à celui
qui est le plus habile à citer les proverbes. Les Ibo respectent, celui
qui sait parler de façon convaincante. Comme le sel relève la
main les proverbes précisent avec propos les faits.
At last, proverbs are used to express natural believes or
realities. So, the following example illustrates this point quite well:
"Those who are born to survive will always survive" (Buchi Emecheta,
1977:42). In clear, this proverb means that death and life depends on God,
whatever problems human beings are victim of. Besides, this passage is
expressed in direct speech and conjugated in the present and the future tense.
The function of this tense implies here a wish.
Broadly speaking, we can say that the use of proverbs, in many
parts of the world, is a mark of being a good orator. Its primary role is
really to educate, to advise, and to bring wisdom to people. In short, the use
of proverbs constitutes to the most authentic africanisation of texts.
Apart from proverbs, songs are also our main concern in this
2.2. Songs and dances
Songs constitute an important element in the African society.
They represent a major activity during which the Negro Africans show their joy,
their unhappiness. In this regard, writers use them in their works for various
occasions. They are songs appropriate to every situation: funeral songs,
religious ones, and so on. Accordingly, Maxime Le Forestier (27 mars
20037 : 12) asserts that «La chanson, c'est le dernier
refuge de la tradition orale».
Truly, African writers bestow a particular interest to songs
to evoke the real feeling throughout their characters. In fact, most of
ceremonies are celebrated with songs. That is the reason why Buchi Emecheta
uses them in The Slave Girl.
Actually, in this novel, songs are embedded in it
discourse. Indeed, in the seventh part of The Slave Girl, one old
woman and the members of the group begin singing to congratulate Okolie's way
of dancing. This is elucidated below:
"Who was born in the centre of the biggest market in
"He!" the crowd replied
She went out: "Who makes the earth shake when he
"Who has a body like those of the polished images made by
«Who is going to be the greatest farmer of this
«He, he, he is now going to be the greatest farmer -
'Ugbo Ukwu', the young man with the biggest farm.»(Buchi Emecheta,
It results from the above passage that the main function of
this song is to make praise and cult of personality and give eulogy to the
interlocutors. What is literary interesting in this song is the arrangement of
sentences. We remark that the structure is rich by the use of adjectives which
explain description of Okolie, and the use of superlatives «the biggest
market», «the greatest farmer», «the biggest market».
Also, this paragraph comprises some hyperboles. Additionally, there is the use
of inverted comas, which means that this song is expressed through the direct
The use of songs in The Slave Girl raises a
particular interest when expressing characters' state of mind. This is
sometimes expressed by the dance. As a case of matters, needing to satisfy his
need to have money in order to gain and celebrate the dance's coming day,
Okolie comes to sell her only sister to Ma palagada as illustrated in the
I deserve to have the money I need so badly for my coming
- of - age dance. What does it I have to trade my sister to get it? (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 37)
All goes to show that African people really are interested in
songs and dance because it constitutes the way of maintaining their cultural
identity as Henri Lopès (1976: 46) puts out:
«Moi, je chante mon bonheur dansa langue dont je n'ai
pas honte, vous vous avez vendu vôtre âme aux Blancs.»
All by all, the insertion of proverbs ands songs in the novel
involves a harmonious aesthetic diversity of the narrative. Buchi Emecheta's
work is a symbiosis where the Western novelistic technique merges with African
tradition work. Accordingly Professor Joseph Kizerbo (1977: 60-61) quotes:
«Ce qui frappe cette littérature outre sa
richesse, c'est son caractère fonctionnel utilitaire. Rien qui ressemble
à la contemplation devant la nature. Certes on fera aux gazouillis des
oiseaux, mais on ne composera pas uniquement pour les fleuves et des murmures
To close this chapter, we could say that Buchi Emecheta's
style and her use of oral traditions in The Slave Girl comprises
various African narrative characteristics. This analysis will be sustained by
what will be done in the next part. Language functions and linguistic forms
will bring more light in what has been said previously.
Erreur ! Source du renvoi
Referring to the importance given to language in a work of
literature, it sounds interesting to analyse the author's language skills as to
have an overview on the writer's literary talent. In this respect, Emmanuel
Ngara (1982: 10) asserts:
An African critic has said that language is the `thing' by
which we judge the process of the author. Although a work of art consists of
various elements - such as plot, theme, character and ideas - without language
these elements would not be what they are; in other words they are realized and
given form through the medium of language.
The second part and the last part of our study is devoted to
language functions and linguistic forms. In fact, language is a key issue in
literature because it is the medium through communication is established. It
comes out that African writers have to express ideas, feelings, and emotions
into European languages although structured and organised differently as stated
by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o (1981: 8):
«As a writer who believes in the utilization of
African ideas, African philosophy and African folklore and imagery to the
fullest extent possible, I am of the opinion the only way to use them
effectively is to translate them almost literally from the African language
native to the writer rite whatever European language he is using as medium of
expression. I have endeavoured in my words to keep as close as possible to the
vernacular expressions. For, from a word, a group of words, a sentence and even
a name in any African language, one can gleam the social norms, attitudes and
values of a people.»
From this assertion, we can assert that the issue will always
be debated when analysing a work of Anglophone African literature. This lies my
interest in the work of Buchi Emecheta.
Actually, our main concern in this part is to answer the
following subdiary question: How does Buchi Emecheta organise ideas to express
her character's feelings in The Slave Girl? That is the question we
will try to answer trough two chapters: Language functions and linguistic
CHAPTER 1: LANGUAGE FUNCTIONS
The main function of language is to convey a particular
message between a sender and a receiver. But this can be expressed differently
by various domains of human activities. In this connection, a dichotomy is made
between intentional communication and unintentional one. According to Emmanuel
Ngara (1982: 10), the following description of language functions is
These are many different functions of language. They
range, from basic forms of communication, such as the cry of a hungry child,
and mare complex ones, such as political control, to self-expression: when a
speaker or writer expresses himself in `this form, these words and this order,'
simply to satisfy himself and to relieve himself of a burden of emotion within
him. But the main function of language is to communicate, to give and receive
As quoted above, Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl
provides characters with the opportunity to express their feelings, emotions
and ideas throughout the language use. To do so, phatic, emotive (expressive),
metalingual, and conative functions will be the main concern of this
1. Phatic function
The phatic function can help interlocutors open the channel
for communication. It means to establish, prolong, or discontinue
communication as greeting, farewells, and «idle talk» (Duranti, 1997:
284-286). Speaking of the role of the phatic function, G. W. Tunner (1973:
Similarly informality in language has its less extended
parallel in greetings, solicitous inquiries about health or comments about the
weather, designed mare to put a hearer at ease than to convey information. No
special grammatical form marks this `phatic' use of language either, especially
and words such as please and thank you, normally have phatic function.
In Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl, characters pull
out lexical items which express the phatic function. Sometimes they are used to
maintain conversation between addressers and addressees as illustrated in the
«Well, there's nothing wrong in that. You do that for
Ma anyway, so what's so bad in doing the same for her son.» (Buchi
In this passage, the lexical item expressing the phatic
function is «well». As far as pragmatics is concerned,
«well» here is used to fulfil a gap during the conversation.
Another example of phatic function is used in this quotation:
«And your little sister is part of this errand too? I
mean is she going to say something at this urgent meeting that guaranteed your
leaving Ibuza when everybody was still asleep?» (Buchi Emecheta,
In the above quotation, the phrase that expresses the phatic
function is «I mean». This phrase is evidently used here to correct
or precise what has been said before. Moreover, phatic expressions can also be
found in the conversation between Nwayinuzo and Ojebeta because he has trouble
to answer her questions as stated in the following utterances:
«Hmmm»,» sighed Nwayinuzo, «it is sad.
This place is not the same without Ma Palagada. It is the end of the story.
What will have from tomorrow will be the beginning of another story.»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 138)
It is relevant to assert from the above utterances that the
lexical «Hmmm» expresses the phatic function. Clearly speaking, this
lexical item helps the wheel of conversation to move smoothly. In addition to
this function, it is also a means to discharge the emotional burden which is
expressed two words by the adjective «bad». To back up what we have
said, the use of the verb «sighed» is full of meaning. Put otherwise,
the function of «Hmmm» her is to establish and maintain conversation.
Also, it implies thinking before an answer to questions asked by the sender.
The phatic expressions are also to attract the interlocutor's
attention on a topic. Thus, the passage below is illustrative:
«Look» whispered the smallest girl, loudly for
Okolie and Ojebeta to hear, «look, she is wearing bells like market
dances.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 47)
From this passage, the word «Look» implies the
phatic function. As a matter of fact, it is used in imperative form to attract
the receiver's attention to see Ojebeta. Some phatic lexical items are used in
The Slave Girl to express agreement as shown in this dialogue.
[...]. «I can keep them under my head. I'll look
after them, [...]. My father bought them for me. I went to Idu to see the king,
and he brought them for me. Please let me keep them.»
«All right», Chiago compromised once more,
«keep them.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 90)
In this dialogue, we can note that the phrase «All
right», expresses the phatic function. This phrase is used here to mean an
All by all, Buchi Emecheta's use of phatic function is in the
straight line of its connotative meaning which is missing. It plays first the
role of a gap - filler and then the moves to sub-roles such as drawing
attention. This part cannot be said that it is specifically African because any
human language possesses this faculty. However, its use in The Slave
Girl is not exaggerated because African languages where verbal art is
highly praised require people to emphasize on other functions.
Apart from phatic function, emotive function also
characterizes the language functions in The Slave Girl.
2. Emotive function.
Emotive is an adjective which derives from emotion which
comprises in everyday language terms of feelings and passion. In other terms,
it is a temporary trouble caused by an intensive feeling of joy, fear, sadness
and so on. And emotive function can be defined as the way characters, the
narrator, or the author, express their thoughts, feelings, in a given literary
genre. That lets the reader handle and explain their emotions. The passage
below from Raman Selden (1988: 165) suggests
After the seventeenth century the terms `emotions',
passion', and `feeling' become gradually more complex in their connotations and
usage as they are moulded by different psychological theories. `Emotion'
usually conveys either the poet's experiment of an inner state of mind and
body, or the reader's experiencing of the original expression. `Feeling' in
Romantic usage, often alludes to the organic state of bodily emotion, pleasing
or painful, which accompanies perception.
In general, emotion refers to the inner state and the physical
attitudes which are translated by interjections, exclamations, and to some
extend monologues in The Slave Girl.
Interjections are lexical items which express a feeling, a
command, and a state of thought. They are characterized by words like `chut',
`oh', eh', ah. Therefore, they concern words which express affective state of
the speaker. Actually, some interjections in The Slave Girl are found
in connoting different meanings. They are used, in fact, for different
In this novel, Female characters use different interjections
to express their feelings or emotions. So, the following Ma Palagada's
utterances are the perfect illustration: «Oh, oh - have you been
waiting for me long?» (Buchi Emecheta, 1997: 52). This passage shows
that Ma Palagada is surprised to see Okolie waiting for her. Besides, the modal
interjection «oh, oh» refers here to sympathy. It is also the way of
Interjections are pulled out to express also despair or regret
as evidenced in this quotation: «Ah, ah!» the other girls gasped,
for to them Pa Palagada meant big punishment» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
71). It is obvious that a male character would have reacted differently from a
female one. In the second instance, Okolie pulls out an interjection before
conveying the meaning when he is first received by Ma Palagada'
«Are you sure from Ogbaru?»
«Oh, no, he is from the bush somewhere.»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 74)
As it can be seen, the interjection «oh» shows that
the speaker is a bit annoyed because she did not expect such a question.
Besides, we remark from this conversation the irony sentence 'he is from the
bush somewhere». Thus, we can say also that Okolie could hide his feelings
because this modal interjection came out involuntarily.
Buchi Emecheta uses some interactions to answer questions.
Surprised to notify that there are also kind people in Ibuza, Ojebeta asks an
indirect question to Angelina Ifenkili. And she answers by using an
interjection at the very of his utterances to prove her sympathy:
«I don't know we had such people in our town.»
«Oh, yes, we do. [...] I'd like to go to olu oyibo
too, to get away from this place.» (Buchi emecheta, 1977: 161)
Interjections are also used in The Slave Girl to
express characters' sorrow
«Oh, you will find plenty to do. Your people bring
gallons at palm oil to out to sell.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 146)
Some interjections referring to emotive function are used to
insist on characters' sayings or to emphasize on questions as in the following
«What were you shouting for like that, eh? Were you
hungry? Didn't you know where your brother was, eh? So why were you shouting,
eh?» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 71)
Evidently, the word «eh» is an interjection mostly
used in Bantu languages. It is placed at the end of the sentence to mark
insistence on a request, a command, and a begging. But this interjection
uttered in many places of this passage implies Ma Palagada's distress towards
Additionally, interjections are used to express characters'
pity or sorrow. Being left with Ma Palagada and other 'slaves', Ojebeta could
not manage to stay without her brother. That leads her try to run away, but in
vain. To express her pity, Ojebeta, puts out an interjection: «Oh, my
mother, I am lost» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 59). After the succinct
analysis of emotive function through interjections, we turn on examining it
Emotive function is also expressed by the use of exclamations
in this novel. Basile Ngassaki (janvier 2006: 62) gives the following
«Exclamation is a category of discourse which shows
the natural and inner expressivity. A link is established between a thought and
a word or a linguistic structure which pulls it out.»
And Ngassaki adds:
«Exclamation is the most illustrative way to express
[...] emotion because the speech is launched involuntarily, caused by a past
experience which is stated rather than declared.»
Buchi Emecheta uses many exclamations marks (!) in The
Slave Girl to express her characters' feelings, emotions, and states. On
page 44 for instance, the narrator reports the major character's feelings to
point out her state of mind. As a result, Buchi Emecheta finishes the sentence
with an exclamation mark to express her characters' great emotions:
«So many people and so many different kinds of Ibo dialects!»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 44). From this passage, it is relevant to assert
that Buchi Emecheta uses finally the exclamation mark to demonstrate how
Ojebeta is troubled by the crowd. Besides, exclamation marks can explain the
behaviour of some characters in the novel. It is the case with Miss Victoria
who ill- treats Ojebeta:
«Hey, you there!» Miss Victoria was soon
standing in the back veranda and shouting. «Hurry up, we have to catch an
early ferry. Ojebeta! Ojebeta! God, where is that girl?» (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 143)
It falls out from this passage that the use of the exclamation
in many places here reveals Miss Victoria cruelty. This puts across a great
expressivity. The use of exclamation is also observed through the following
utterances: «Hold her! Please hold her for, she is new- hold
her!» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 59). These utterances imply Chiago's
fear of letting Ojebeta runs away. «Hold her!» demonstrates the
speaker's emotions to get her.
Emotional expressions also occur in sentences featuring the
convincing lexical items. Accordingly the below narrator's report backs up the
point at issue:
Who is my sister, who generally came as visitor but has
decided to say? Come. Come and ride on your big mother's shoulders, like the
queen of the gods on the horse that is part human and part animal. Come!
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 36)
In the above example, the expression that explains the emotive
function is the use of the verb 'come' as an exclamation. It is employed here
to show Ma Palagada's hospitality to Ojebeta. This involves her emotion and
expressity to convince Ojebeta to be her 'slave'.
Apart from interjections and exclamations, some monologues in
The Slave Girl also express emotive function. In that case, characters
speak to themselves as if they were speaking to other people. For instance, in
the very end of the fourth part of The slave Girl, the narrator
reports Okolie's thoughts as follows:
He wondered why God had created so many people, and for
what reason. And why some of the people created could be as rich as this Ma
Palagada and her husband and others as poor as those in Ibuza where he came
from, so many farmers all struggling for survival. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
Being a slave, it is very difficult for the author to express
her feelings overtly about equality between human beings. That is the reason
why he uses monologue to discharge all the psychological effect derives from
this phenomenon. Rich and poor people should be treated in the same way.
Lamentations and complaints are well expressed through monologues.
At the end of what precedes, the use of emotive actions
is the main feature of characters' chatting in The Slave Girl.
But expressions and social actions in real life are not always under conscious
control. It is certainly the reason why Buchi Emecheta's characters pull out
some affective features to express their emotions or feelings. Apart from
emotive function, metalingual function is also a linguistic feature which
characterizes language functions.
3. Metalingual function
Communication demands participants' agreement on convention in
order for it to be efficient. Message is transmitted either by using speech
sounds or by using gestures. The second means is what we call metalingual
function. Referring to Roman Jakobson (1960: 351), the metalingual function is
used to reference to itself establishing mutual agreement on the code. This
involves the use of gestures and symbols which imply different meanings
depending on the culture as the eminent anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1959:
118) points out: «Gestures are used by all peoples although their
differ in form and meaning».
The metalingual function can be used either on its own or to
give more period information as a complement of oral speech. And regarding the
African people, gestures are common in everyday conversations. In this respect,
Richard E. Wood (1977: 118) asserts:
«If we talk without making any sort of movement of
the hands, body, forehead, or face, we will probably soon find communication
the almost impossible.»
In recent years, much attention has been directed toward the
variety of kinesics (the study of gestures, or body language) people make where
meaning is conveyed through non- verbal ways. Actually, both interlocutors
should have the same cultural background to better interpret the message.
Although a word is not said, the action is understood. A few examples of this
language function are found in The Slave Girl. But in this section, we
are going to consider only gestures and then facial expressions.
Since a literary text does not provide images, words
describing gestures are used instead. Accordingly, in this novel lexical items
like shrudding, nodding, waving are used. Paying attention to what Ozubu is
saying, addressees use cultural gestures to express communication. This is
illustrated in the passage below:
«There is some truth in the saying that we die as we
die,» Ozubu, the plump wife of Nwadei, remarked as she watched the
sorrowful group move away. Her listerners nodded in silence. (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 24)
In this quotation, the verb expressing the metalingual
function is 'nodded» because it implies the non- verbal communication.
From this passage, we might assume that «nodded» means 'yes'. Thus,
we could say that receivers' characters agree on the saying.
The same gesture is also observed through the following
«Don't blame me,» said the big girl, defending
herself. «The Owerri people marry their wives like that, and then come to
the market for her to be equipped.» Okolie nodded. «Not just Oweri
people. Many of our people do it.» To himself he said, Is it not the same
as I am now about to do to my little sister, you as she is [...].»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 50)
It is relevant to note from the above passage that
«nodded» does mean the same as the preceding one. Here it is used
ironically to get rid from stupid questions which Ma Palagada is asking Okolie.
The metalingual function is also expressed through facial expressions. In fact,
they are mostly concerned with laughs, and smiles in The Slave Girl.
The first facial expression we are going to be concerned with
is laugh. According to Glenn (2003: 5), it is «an action by which
participants can affiliate or disaffiliate with each other». In fact,
the nature or the function of laugh is not unified, but differ depending on the
context. People laugh for different purposes. In The Slave Girl, they
are used to express happiness, mockery and irony.
In fact, in The Slave Girl, as in most of African
culture, laughs are used to express first happiness. In this respect, sharing
laughter (laughing with) constitutes time out from sorrow. Thus, the most
telling example is from the sentence below:
They all laughed again and someone, probably Chiago,
wondered if a woman as thin and ill-looking as that could ever bear children of
her own (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 102)
Actually, the lexical item expressing the metalingual function
in this passage is the verb «laughed». This verb connotes the sense
of friendliness between characters.
However, laugh, pulled out by some characters, also expresses
mockery amongst them as illustrated in the example below:
Uteh burst out laughing. «I went to Onitsha some
time ago,» she said, «and I saw a group of people playing and beating
a funny kind of drum, and they were blowing some shiny things - is that what
you call a band? (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 153)
In the above quotation, the phrase that expresses the
metalingual function is «burst out of laughing». It is used here by
Uteh to disappoint Ojebeta about her ambition to be married in the church.
Additionally, laugh expressing mockery is observed the following narrator's
They all laughed briefly, and Ojebeta covered her face as
she ran preceding her mother to the kernel sellers' stall, her waist beads
juggling with her safety charms. (Buchi Emecheta, 1997: 25)
Evidently, it is important to note from this passage that
«laughed briefly» expresses the metalingual function in the sense it
is used here to signify the addresser' state.
All these usages of laugh have one thing in common. Laughter
marks and reflects sensitivity and delicacy of confrontational practices. In
all, laugh displays participants' understanding of the affective nature of
action. In this respect, laugh is deal more than a mere index of amusement.
Another facial expression conveying the metalingual function
in The Slave Girl is the verb `smile'. It is used to show agreement,
shame, hesitation, search of comfort, and proving comfort. But our work will be
restricted to providing comfort and shame.
In fact, facial expressions may supplement words, that is to
say to give additional meaning. The following quotation is the good
illustration: «Okwuenkwu had smiled, and he had chewed
kolanut with the D.O. and his interpreter» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
16). In the above quotation, the lexical item which expresses the metalingual
function is the verb «smiled». It is used here to give comfort to the
British and to communicate them a sense of friendliness.
On the hand, the facial expression `to smile' connotes the
meaning of shame as illustrated in the passage below:
Latter in the evening, when their house was being filled
with people who had come for a taste of the food and drinks before the actual
day of thanksgiving, and Ojebeta was busy handing drinks to this guest and
sliced cassava to that one, Clifford touched her gently on the arm. She stopped
and smiled at him shyly. She saw that he had been drinking, for the extra
brightness in his eyes betrayed him.
Actually, in the word expressing the metalingual function is
the verb «smiled». The denotation of this verb is utilized when the
addresser appears to be in a state of happiness or enjoying good fortune or
pleasure. But in the above example, it refers to shame since Ojebeta is in
front her master's son.
However, Buchi Emecheta explains facial expressions in a
written style. This can be observed in this quotation:
Okolie had to smile. His lips parted uncontrollably, and
he had to steel himself so as no to burst out into a roaring type of laughter.
He wiped away the tears of amusement that had sprung into his eyes. (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 48)
In the above utterances, it seems relevant to assert that this
passage is mainly composed of non-verbal communication. It comprises four
expressions which explain metalingual function: «to smile», «his
lips parted uncontrollably», «burst out of laughing» and
«wiped away the tears». In fact, «his lips parted
uncontrollably» is just the explanation of the first facial expression
«to smile»; «bust out of laughter» is Okolie's unintended
reflex, perhaps even an exposure of his emotions. And «wiped away of
tears» is the logical consequence of Okolie's elated state because they
express at he same time happiness and misfortune. Therefore, these expressions
are mixed up together to focus on the connotation of the verb «to
smile». So the function of these facial expressions is simply to express a
degree of emotions usually symbolized by excitement or joyful reactions
In short, since kinesics - the study of gestures - states that
body language depends on the ethnic groups or cultures, the metalingual can be
a source or cause of misunderstanding. Moreover Gestural language is used in a
given place and time. It seems evident that the non-verbal communication
encompasses limits about the range of expressions. It requires light while oral
speech can proceed in the dark and at some distance from the person being
addressed. The language functions finally results in conative function.
4. Conative function
Also called directive function, conative function centres the
message on the addressee. In that case, the speaker wants to produce a certain
effect on his interlocutor: to get something from him/her (in the case of an
order or a command for instance), or to implicate him. In fact, this function
is mainly represented by the use of imperative, apostrophe, and vocative. But
in this section, our work will be concerned with imperative and apostrophe.
Imperative describes the mood or a form of a verb that
expresses a command or request. Indeed, Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl
has a lot of sentences applying the conative function. These are used for
different purposes. Some sentences are sometimes uttered to give an order. One
of illustrations is drawn through the passage below: Give me back
everything my mother gave you, you ungrateful slave! (Buchi Emecheta,
1977: 145). In this sentence, the verb is utilized without a noun phrase at the
beginning (explaining the imperative form) to produce a vocative effect towards
readers. And the noun phrase «you ungrateful slave girl» which forms
the sentence is put at the end to express the speaker's state of mind or to
result in her behaviour. In that case «you ungrateful slave»
indicates the person whom the addresser is speaking to.
A few sentences expressing the conative function are elliptic:
«Order in the court» or Silence in this court» (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 15). Actually, this imperative has a social connotation in the
sense it is especially used by the speaker in the court to require somebody
involved in the legal action to do something or refrain from doing something.
It is announced to attract the audience`s attention and invite receivers avoid
The conative function appears mainly in independent sentences.
It expresses a wish addressed by the speaker towards the receiver as
exemplified in the passage below:
«May the spirit of your dead father guard you,»
they said, and touched the heads of the children and gave each a few
cowries. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 24)
The conative function in this sentence is expressed by the
modal verb «may». It implies incantation during ritual events. But
this sentence is addressed to an imaginative character.
Also, the conative function is observed throughout Miss
Victoria's speech addressed to Ojebeta:
«Get your clothes basket, girl! Did my mother not buy
you one? Come and get it. Don't waste time! (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 143)
Actually, this passage clearly explains an order given by the
speakers to the interlocutor. This also explains the addresser's state because
she is in hurry and angry. Put otherwise, the use of the imperative explains
that the speaker wants to get reaction from the receiver.
Apart from imperatives, apostrophe -an abrupt interpellation -
expresses also the conative function as exemplified in these utterances:
Ojebeta watched for a wile, feeling disinclined to go and play
with her friends, and then she called out: «Mother, Mother come here. I
want to have a suck.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 22)
From this statement, it is relevant to note that the phrase
expressing the conative function is «come here». This apostrophe
implies the speaker's need to have something done by the interlocutor.
Additionally, in this passage, Buchi Emecheta raises a social aspect. As far as
sociolinguistics is concerned, it seems impolite to a child to give orders to
elders. Actually, communication has got norms. The way people interrelate
depends on the sex, the age and the status of whom interaction takes place.
The directive value explains the characters' feelings or wish
addressed towards receivers. In that case, the speaker employs an imperative
sentence to address to an interlocutor to obtain what he needs. In The
Slave Girl, the conative function is mainly represented by the use of
imperative and vocative sentences.
To sum up this chapter, the language functions in The
Slave Girl meet different purposes: to express feelings, emotions and
state of minds of characters. As a matter of fact, speech almost occurs in a
context rich in information that is provided by means of physical movement,
culture gestures, emotional expressions, and intonation.
Language functions are all described into language forms which
will be examined in the following chapter.
CHAPTER 2: Linguistic forms
Linguistics can be broadly defined as the systematic study of
language. Any approach to a description of language is based upon a set of
axioms and postulates. In fact, language is the main issue which writers need
to vehicle their message. But to handle the meaning of sentence structures,
linguists have established five levels of analysis or description: syntax,
semantic, phonetics, lexis, and morphology.
However, language has another dimension in literature. In this
respect, Roland Barthes (1953: 14) writes:
Langue et style sont des forces aveugles;
l'écriture est un acte de solidarité historique. Langue et style
sont des objets; l'écriture est une fonction; elle est le rapport entre
la création et la société, elle est le langage
littéraire transformé par sa destination sociale, elle est la
forme saisie dans son intention humaine et liée ainsi aux grandes crises
This quotation shows how complex an author's style can be. To
better understand Buchi Emecheta's literary technics, this chapter is divided
into two main sections: syntactic analysis and semantic analysis.
1. Syntactic analysis
This section is devoted to syntactic analysis. It is the
linguistic field that studies the way lexical items are combined to form
sentences in a paragraph. In this respect, the purpose of this section
is to determine the structure of the text input used by Buchi Emecheta in
The Slave Girl. Basically, the interpretation (decoding) of language
construction occurs at the sentence level, that is to say the whole
construction that generates the meaning. This can be in form of sentences or
In fact, a sentence is a building of words syntactically
correct, semantically meaningful and pragmatically acceptable. Accordingly, J.
Dubois and R. Lagane (1973: 14) assert:
«Les phrases sont des suites de mots ordonnées
d'une certaine manière, qui entretiennent entre eux certaines relations,
c'est-à-dire qui répondent à certaines règles de
grammaire et qui ont un certain sens»
Broadly speaking, most of sentence structures of African works
are a key issue in their analysis as Charles Larson (1975: 25) points out:
Les recherches linguistiques sont donc une des
premières différences, une des premières barrières,
que l`on rencontre immédiatement dans un roman africain écrit
dans une langue européenne.
As it can be seen from this assertion, the sentence structures
of African novels are mostly disconnected. In that case, our work in this
section will be concerned with the complex sentences, the simple sentences,
awkward sentences, incomplete sentences, and the problem of the word-order
found in The Slave Girl.
A complex sentence is a hypotaxis one where there are main
clause and subordinates. In this novel, there are two types of complex
sentences: first the periodic sentence and then the loose ones.
Periodic sentences are those sentences in which the main
clause comes last and is preceded by the subordinate clause. In fact, Buchi
Emecheta uses excessively periodic sentences. But the most telling point in
case is found in the following sentence:
When the rumour had first reached the ears of many Ibuza
people, all noise, joyous music and all kinds of loud cries were stopped until
the rumour was fully investigated.
In this sentence, there is one subordinate sentence. This is
introduced by the adverb of time «when». And the main clause of this
sentence is «joyous music and all kinds of loud cries were stopped
...». This sentence is a full one because it is composed of the noun
phrase (NP), and the verb phrase (VP). Nevertheless, it is important to know
that this periodic sentence, by having the completion of its main clause to the
end, produces an effect of suspense towards the readers.
Similarly, the passage that comes after is also an
illustration of the periodic sentence:
As a gesture of affectation, and to help assuage his
guilt, he pulled Ogbanje Ojebeta on his lap and sat there on the bench,
watching the bustle and jostle of the market. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
Actually, this passage is a periodic sentence since it begins
with two subordinate clauses linked by a comma and the coordinator
«and». These subordinates are expressed by the adverb «as»
which introduces the dependent sentence. Therefore, this is followed by the
main clause «he pulled Ogbanje Ojebeta on his lap and sat there on the
bench. In fact, this main clause is composed of the noun phrase «he»,
the verb phrase «pulled Ogbanje Ojebeta» and the adverb phrase
«on his lap». But what is important to notice is that the main clause
is followed by another dependent clause «watching the bustle and jostle of
the market». They are separated by a comma.
The periodic sentence is observed in the illustration
And just like a hunter's narrow, that had been quivering
impatiently in its bow while the hunter covered his prey until the opportune
moment to let fly, so did Ogbanje Ojebeta dash out of the Palagada cloth
stall.(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 56)
In the above example, the subordinate comes before the main
clause. This is presented by the coordinator «and» and by the
conjunction «while». What is interesting to assert here is that the
author lets the reader in suspense.
Apart from periodic sentences, there are also loose sentences
in The Slave Girl. In fact, a loose sentence is the contrary of
periodic one. It is a kind of complex sentence which does not end with the
completion of its main clause, but continues with one or more subordinate
clauses or other modifiers. Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl is full of
examples of loose sentences. So, the example that follows illustrates the point
Ojebeta stood and looked at her for a moment, wondering
why the child-catchers should want to take her away (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
Truly, this sentence is complex since it comprises the main
clause and a subordinate one. Unlike in the preceding sentences, the main
clause «Ojebeta stood and looked at her for a moment» is put
initially and followed by its subordinate «wondering why the
child-catchers should want to take her away».
After being concerned with complex sentences, it is necessary
to deal also with simple ones used by Buchi Emecheta in The Slave
Girl. Indeed, a simple sentence is a parataxis in which the clauses or
phrases are juxtaposed without the use of coordinating or subordinating
conjunctions. Evidence of simple sentences in The Slave Girl are
abundant. Thus, the most telling will come in the following instance:
«The rumour had come true. There is a kind of death
coming from across the salty waters. It has killed many people in Isele Azagba,
it is creeping to Ogwashi, it is now coming to us. They call it Felenza. It is
a white man's death. They shoot it into the air, and we breathe it in and
die.»(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 24)
It results from the above passage that this whole paragraph is
mostly composed of independent clauses. In fact, each sentence of this
paragraph comprises the noun phrase, the verb phrase one. Additionally, these
sentences are linked together by commas, certain by full stops. The use of
independent clauses by this character may refer to wisdom. It means that he
thinks twice before saying a word. He is supposed not to say much.
Another example of simple sentence can be marshalled in the
The silence was profound. The night animals had gone into
hiding and the day ones were still reluctant to come out into the open to start
their early morning business. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 31)
From the above sentence, each one is independent, that is to
say they do not depend on other sentences. But what is important to note is
that the second sentence is melted into two dependent sentences. They are
linked together by the conjunction of coordination «and». Those
sentences are mainly conjugated in the past. As a matter of fact, they are
correct regarding syntax, semantics and grammar.
Similarly, Buchi Emecheta`s The Slave Girl awkward
sentences. So one of the illustrations is found in the following passage:
It looks very like the white otuogwu your people like to
wear. Just feel its smoothness. It is a cloth in a million. (Buchi
Emecheta, 1977: 48)
This quotation is inaccurate as far as syntax rule is
concerned. What makes it incorrect is the noun phrase `it looks very'. The
adverb «very» is in fact a bound morpheme, that is to say it could
not stand alone. It must be followed by an adjective or an adverb called in
syntax «the head» of the sentence. Additionally, the comparison made
in this sentence has no sense because it lacks the comparing noun to what
«the white otuogwu» is compared.
In the same vein, other instances can be found in The
Slave Girl. The following passage backs up this idea:
She had ordered from the best pounded yam stall in Otu
market, and it was served piping hot, with the aroma from the kelenkele soup
curling visibly in the form of a dewy stream. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 65)
In the above sentence, the main clause «she ordered»
is loose in the sense that the verb «to order» is a two- place -
predicate. In other terms, «to order» requires an object or a factive
to be grammatically correct. In that case, this sentence is inaccurate for the
narrator does not tell really what was «ordered from the best pounded
Some sentences in The Slave Girl are too long and
confusing. The point in case is illustrated in the quotation below:
So, tightening her voluminous lappa round her substantial
posterior, her breast heaving in unison to her great, she rushed forward
prepared to do battle with and if necessary maim this market thief causing the
outcry, if she could lay curfs on whoever it was, for dancing to go into her
absent colleague's stall. (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 59)
In this sentence, the structure is difficult to understand
because of its length; besides it seems quite complex or difficult to dissect
it into constituents (noun phrases, verb phrases, and adjective phrases).
Therefore, a normal well-built sentence must be composed of the noun phrase
(NP), and the verb phrase (VP). Accordingly, William J. Kerrigan (1965: 75)
Your very best can only be your attempt to be as clear as
possible in language familiar to you if you try to do better than your best,
you'll hand in the soup.
Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl, also comprises the
incomplete sentences as illustrated in the following example: «A sad
girl, strong, healthy and almost beautiful» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
115). In this passage, it is important to note that this sentence is imperfect
because it lacks a verb. Here, the narrator uses three adjectives without a
verb to describe the major character. Actually, it requires the main clause in
order to be complete.
Similarly, the following passage is also a good illustration
of incomplete sentences: «For her to have lost everyone...»
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: As a matter in case, this example is an independent
clause since it lacks the main one. In addition, the fact of ending this
sentence with dots proves that it is not finished. But, it is important to say
that this technique is called 'aposiopesis' (stopping a sentence in midcourse
so that the statement is unfinished). It is used here to allow readers guess
what the addresser wants to say.
The problem related to sentence structure concerns also the
word-order, that is to say, the way words are arranged to form a sentence. In
that case, the writer must well organise sentence so that they be accurate.
Therefore, the word-order of some sentences in Buchi Emecheta`s The Slave
Girl is not well organised. This is elucidated through these lines:
«... .So shut up, and let's go and help in the
kitchen,» said Ijeoma as she began to walk out of the room. (Buchi
emecheta, 1977: 90)
From this example, we remark that the lexical items
arrangement is not correct. In a reported style, verbs are always put after
their subjects. Since this sentence is a semi reported speech, the verb
«said» must come after the subject «Ijeoma» so that it to
be well- built. In this regard, the best words' construction would be
Moreover, some sentences in The Slave Girl are
difficult to understand in the sense that there are certain lexical items which
are not necessary. This passage is a good example:
«If I go about challenging all thing people buy
about me, who will be my friend? For whoever I challenge about spiteful things
they are said to have said about me, that person will deny It, and I will only
have more enemy to the list I have already.» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977:
In this passage, syntax is confused because «they are
said to have said about me» is not the correct arrangement of lexical
items. In fact, this transcription seems to be a mere oral translation of the
`departure language' (DL) or the first language.
In the same token, the following sentence is also the point at
The Eke market was the biggest market Ojebeta had
previously even seen before, but this one looked to her like a whole city.
(Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 44)
In this passage, syntax is inaccurate since the author uses
the lexical items having the same explanation. What is in fact inadequate in
this sentence is the use of the adverbs of time «previously» and
«before». As a matter in case, this is the tautology. Normally, the
author might choose one of them instead of writing both at the same time. After
dealing with the syntactic analysis, it is important to consider the semantic
2. Semantic analysis
The Wilkepedia website gives the following definition:
Semantic analysis is a process of relating syntactic
structures, from the level of phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs to the
level of the writing as a whole, to their language independent meanings,
removing features specific to particular linguistic and cultural contexts, to
the extend that such a project is possible»
Semantics is a branch of linguistics that deals with the study
of meaning in a language. It is linked to syntax. The main difference is that
syntax describes the rules by which words can be combined into sentences, while
semantics describes what they mean. Accordingly, Jerrold Katz and Jerry Fodor
(1963: 170) quote:
Linguistic description minus grammar equals semantic.
Syntax provides data to the semantic component which then interprets (gives
meaning to) the sentence.
A theory of language must explain only general principles of
phonology, morphology and syntax, but also meaning as Jerrold Katz and Jerry
Fodor (1963: 39) assert:
«At the heart of an adequate theory of language must
be an adequate theory of semantic structure.»
It means that semantics is really an important field as far as
linguistics is concerned. It allows readers understand the author's literary
creativeness. In this section, we are going to consider first referential
problem and then analysis of the misused lexical items found in The Slave
Actually, some sentences of Buchi Emecheta's The
Slave Girl do not respect semantic rules. This is explained by the problem
of reference. In fact, in this novel, the author sometimes misses references of
lexical items. The following example is the issue in case:
After that, it seemed to Ojebeta's young mind that the
whole word was dying, one by one (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 27)
In this sentence, it is interesting to note that this passage
raises the problem of reference. This is handled by the phrase «one by
one». Semantically, this phrase is irrelevant since there is only one
world. Additionally, this sentence is contradictory because «one by
one» is not in concordance with the «whole world».
The problem of reference is also raised throughout this
quotation: «But sleeping in the same room as her was hair
raising.» Actually, this sentence is inaccurate. What makes it
incorrect is the phrase «as her». But that leads us to imagine that
the narrator certainly wants to say «sleeping in the same room with
her...» or «sleeping in the same room as she does».
The problem of reference is also undertaken by the confusion
of the narrator's point of view and the character's one. In that case, it seems
difficult to handle the passage as illustrated in the example below:
For days she had cried silently, since the joy of letting
others know your sorrows was denied slaves like her. (Buchi Emecheta,
Actually, it is interesting to assert that the construction of
this sentence is semantically inaccurate. It is expressed in reported speech,
that is to say it is the narrator who is reporting facts. In this sentence, the
author mixes the narrator's report with the characters' thoughts. What makes it
incorrect is the use of possessive adjective «your». Instead of
saying «your», the narrator would normally say «her»
because the second and first pronouns «your and my» refer to direct
As a matter of fact, another example of reference problem is
drawn from this passage: «She has missed Mother so, haven't you?
Chunking her under the chin» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 42). This case in
point is inaccurate. What makes it incorrect is use of the tag question
«haven't you?». Semantically speaking, the tag question must refer to
the person whom the addresser is speaking to. Since the doer in this sentence
is «she», the construction of this tag question must also finish with
«she» so that it be in concordance with its referent. In that case,
the construction of this tag question must be «hasn't she».
Apart from sentences being semantically inappropriate, Buchi
Emecheta's The Slave Girl has also good sentences capable of being
semantically analysed. Thus, the following sentence is the point in case:
«I think you're very wise» (Buchi Emecheta, 1977: 142). This
instance is semantically accurate since it can be easily divided into
constituents. In this respect, there are a doer «you», a verb
«are» and an object «very wise». This sentence respects
perfectly the construction of the subject- verb- complement.
In short, the sentence structure of Buchi Emecheta's The
Slave girl is mostly expressed in the simple style in order to allow her
readers understand clearly her writing. In other ways, syntax and semantic
analysis deal with the description of the different internal structures of
language that authors use in their writings. As a mater of fact, syntax
describes the rule by which words can be combined into sentences, while
semantics describes what they mean. Semantic features and syntactic features
may be combined; he uses «the term case to identify the underlying
At the end of this work devoted to discourse analysis in Buchi
Emeheta's the Slave Girl, it is necessary to say that our main
preoccupation was to find out Buchi Emecheta's techniques in the handling of
English language. To complete our target, we have divided this work into two
In the first part, we have dealt with the narrative analysis
of The Slave Girl. Here, we have first analysed the style Buchi
Emecheta uses in this novel to express her ideas. Then, we have examined the
different literary techniques found in this novel. In Fact, its literary
writing seems to be a mere aesthetics of the mixed literature for it brings out
the factors of Western and Negro African artistic creation. It comes out that
Buchi Emecheta's novel remains near African society realities in the sense that
she uses style which is mingled with local words and oral traditional
The second part of our work was therefore devoted to the
language functions and the linguistic forms. First of all, we have analysed the
different aspects of the language functions. In this chapter, we have studied
the role or the interpretation of characters' way of addressing speech in
taking into account of the relationships among them. From this analysis,
indeed, it comes out from this study that the author expresses the emotive
sentences and non-verbal communication words to provide readers with the mental
insight which pilot them to a high layer of interpretation. In this respect,
the discourse is most affected by talking implying effectives, emotions or a
command. Then we have been concerned with the syntactic and semantic analysis.
In fact, in the first chapter we have demonstrated that the sentence structure
of The Slave Girl is most composed of the simple sentences than the
complex ones. Moreover, we have asserted that Buchi Emecheta's novel comprises
long sentences which do not allow readers to really handle the meaning of them.
Finally, in the second chapter, we have dealt with the analysis of lexical
items. It comes to the end of this chapter that Buchi Emecheta sometimes
All by all, it is fitting to underline that Buchi Emecheta
through her writing fulfils the features which characterizes the Negro-African
novelistic creation. In fact, she mixes Western and African realities to show
her double inheritance.
It is important to note that the discourse in Buchi Emecheta's
The Slave Girl comprises several factors characterizing oral
literature. Therefore, it is difficult for non-native readers to handle the
real significance of the novel.
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