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  • Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

There is no discourse without communication. Communication is said to be a social activity requiring coordinated efforts of two or more individuals. It is only when a move has elicited a response that one can say that communication has taken place (John Gumperz, 3), In other words, mere talk to produce sentences, no matter how well formed or elegant the outcome, does not by itself constitute communication. To participate in such verbal exchanges, that is to create and sustain conversational involvement, one requires knowledge and abilities which transcend grammatical competence. In other words, one needs to decode short isolated messages.

When we communicate, we do so by means of texts and discourses. For some linguists, for instance, Jackson and Stockwell (75), the term ‘discourse’ includes both spoken and written ‘discourses,’ Discourse, therefore, for many scholars, is regarded as an extended verbal expression in speech or writing. According to Gumperz (5), it is one of the natural units into which linguistic messages can be analyzed.

An approach in which data from talk exchanges and written texts are collected and closely analyzed, with the aim of shedding light on the ways people do things with words is the focal concern of Discourse Analysis. Discourse analysis studies the use of language as a social practice or a set of social practices. Nicholas Allot is credited with the view that “practitioners of discourse analysis see participants in discourse as constructing it through their speech acts. He also sees discourse as a way that social arrangements are constructed” (65). To understand the role of language in public life and the social process in general, there is need for a closer understanding of how linguistic knowledge and social factors interact in discourse interpretation (5). In other words, how does one begin to make sense of the array of discourses that one encounters all the time?

According to Jackson and Stockwell, texts and discourses are usually divided into those that are interactional fundamentally and those that are primarily transactional (76). In interactional discourse, the focus is on promoting the relationship between participants, whereas the focus of the transactional discourse is on the content of message whether that is to convey information, to complete a piece of business, to tell someone how to do something, or to tell a story. A text or discourse can convey some information like establishing the level of relationship between interactants, that is, showing whether one speaker is rich or poor, privileged or not, educated or not, and other levels of relationship that may exist.

Apart from transactional and interactional categories of discourse mentioned above, one can also categorize discourse by means of a number of other criteria and parameter, according to Wallwork (8). This categorization could be done by register, which is a term that describes a variety of language according to who is using it, and the uses to which it is being put; according to function, that is, whether they are telling a story, describing something or getting someone to do something; then, according to structure, this is concerned with how conversations work, how multimodal texts that contain images as well as text integrate the two and what kind of structure can create coherent texts.

All texts and discourses occur in a context. Each is produced at a particular time, in a particular place, by some persons and for some purposes. Scholars have observed that context serves to itemize those aspects of the situation which have a bearing on the form used. The role of context in the interpretation of a linguistic event has long been considered, even if from different perspectives: from the view that regards context as an extra linguistic feature, to the position that ‘meaning is only meaning in use’, and, therefore, pragmatics and semantics are inseparable. This is precisely what Tomori (2) suggests when he describes Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics as a sociological theory, thus any analysis of language must involve not only its grammatical units but also the meaning and context of situation. Time, place, person and purpose are categories external to language (extra-Linguistic), but they influence the form and content of the text: whether it is spoken or written; whether it has a formal style or an informal one; how it is constructed, and so on. Context factors that will play a huge role in our approach to this study include register, field, tenor and mode.

The term register is used in various ways within linguistics. It is sometimes used to refer to the formality of a text or discourse, on a scale from very formal (such as an act of parliament) to ‘very informal or ‘colloquial’ (such as a conversation between friends). Register will be used here in the sense employed by the linguist, Michael Halliday, to refer to the features of the language of a text or discourse that reflects associated features of the context in which the discourse or text is situated or takes place. But features of field answer the question: what is the text about? The subject matter of a text or discourse is primarily expressed through the vocabulary that is used, which will usually be found to belong to one or two semantic fields or domains, according to the 1999 Microsoft Encarta.

Moreover, features of tenor answer the question ‘who participates in producing and consuming the text or discourse, and what is their relationship’ (Wallwork 78)? This is just like features of mode relate, first of all, to the distinction between the transmission of a discourse or text in the spoken or written medium. All these are the interactions that this study shall attempt to investigate in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Iyayi’s Violence in relation to female characters in the works.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In many African novels, women are in most cases relegated to the background. Bicknell, for instance, observes that Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, “treats the significance of the role of men in a realistic fashion and that of women symbolically” (267). To buttress this point, she noted that in his first and last novels, Achebe grappled with the problem of what the women’s role in society actually is. Women in traditional African society as reflected in many African novels are presented as people to be seen and not to be heard. Okereke summarized this view point when she observes that:

…in the political, judicial realms of traditional life, women are silent, voiceless creatures whose minds are assumed to have been spoken by the men. They say little and when they are bold enough to speak, they are hushed by the men who see this as an intrusion into the male sphere (300).

However, with the advent of western education, women acquired a new status in terms of their speech, communication with men and society in general. Okereke, writing on the impact of education on women, noted that in Achebe’s No Longer At Ease, formal western education with its liberalizing influence, economic independence and urbanization has assisted in conferring new self-concept in women’s speech. She observed that “Woman (Clara) communicates with man (Obi) more as an equal than as an inferior” (303).

We cannot but agree with Okereke, who in her analysis of the author’s use of speech to show woman’s self-image states that:

From the docile, male-dominated traditional woman, the image changes gradually to the assertive, self-defined woman- externalized in the speech of the female characters (309)

From the foregoing, one can infer that the earlier analysis of women characters in African novels has been based on perception of women as docile, helpless and obedient creatures. This study hopes to examine educated and non-educated female characters in selected Nigerian novels using Discourse Analysis approach  to see if western education has an  impact on the development and language of the characters. In other words, it is the discourse strategies and patterns used by female characters to resist the chauvinistic patterns in male-centric African society that this work is centered on.


  • Objectives of the Study

This study aims at bringing to the fore the linguistic /discourse peculiarities of some female characters in selected African novels with the aim of identifying how the educated and the uneducated women communicate in the novels. In this case, the research examines the discourse strategies of female characters in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Iyayi’s Violence. The thrust of the study is to appraise how the characters in the novels use language creatively to achieve a functional role. The specific objectives of the study include:

  1. Identify discourse strategies in the selected texts and establish their relevance to the lives of the female characters.
  2. Examine discourse patterns used by female characters to resist the chauvinistic patterns in male-centric African society.
  3. Establish how chosen discourse patterns of female characters reveal the background of such characters in the texts selected.
  • Relevance of the Study

It is expected that this research will be of immense benefit to researchers who are interested in gender studies. The research will determine the strengths and weaknesses of the discourse of female characters in the chosen novels. The research will add to the already existing body of knowledge for future researchers in gender issues.

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