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LINGUISTIC STUDY OF SELECTED NIGERIAN CHILDREN’S POETRY IN OSSIE ENEKWE’S GENTLE BIRDS COME TO ME AND IKEOGU OKE’S SONG OF SUCCESS AND OTHER POEMS FOR CHILDREN
1.1 Background of the Study
One striking characteristic of human beings is our ability to use language and to use it creatively. The relevance of language to man is inestimable. It is a vital medium through which human beings are able to communicate their desires, thoughts, and emotions. Therefore, it stands as the only means through which people in a community, successfully, interact and disseminate information. Ideas forming in human minds are generated in language and transmitted through language in an organized pattern. It is in the light of this that Chomsky, quoted in Akmajian et al., asserts that:
language is a mirror of mind in a deep and significant sense. It is a product of intelligence created anew in each individual by operations that lie far beyond the reach of will or consciousness (9).
Language is a mirror of mind in that it reflects what is in the mind. It is through language that a person’s thought is laid bare. Akmajian et al., go further to state that the study of language is ultimately the study of the human mind and that as we come to understand more about human language, we will correspondingly understand more about the processes of human thought and may as well discover abstract principles that govern its structure and use which when put together helps to convey ones thoughts and feelings to others.
Similarly, Finch writing on the language as an instrument of thought contends that:
a common view of language is that it is merely a tool of thought, that we have ideas forming in our minds for which we need to find the appropriate words: the words are the ideas because our ideas are generated in language (34).
He goes further to state that “most people feel that they have not really understood something until they have been able to express it in language”. Language does not just express thought, it also creates it. Akwanya quoted in Nsolibe also gives the definition of language as:
a means of conveying information about social reality, about human nature, about the states of consciousness of the writer, and their personal visions of life or information about values and practices relevant for everyday life in a community (46).
These definitions of language, given by some scholars, centre on language as a means of conveying information about the contents of the mind. Thus, through language, the mind of a writer is x – rayed to the readers in an ordered and artistic form to communicate messages about the society in which we live and the nature of people that live in it.
Literary writing is an art that uses language as its basic tool to convey thoughts that already exist in human mind to society for the purpose of education, correction, pleasure, entertainment etc. In other words, it is through language that poets, authors and playwrights are able to communicate their thoughts meaningfully to their readers. Therefore, one has to understand the language use in a text in order to make meaning of what is read. Language and literary creation are inextricable. One hardly talks of understanding literary work without first understanding the language in which it is created. Thus, the raw material of literature is language, in other words, we can say that literature is language which comprises certain specialized forms, selection and collections of linguistic elements unto a point of convergence.
Literature as a creative art achieves its aims through the manipulative use of language. One may then ask: What is literature?
According to Onuigbo “Literature is apparently the mirror of the society with the reflections of the image of this society captured and given flesh through language”(41).
Brooks Opines that:
literature is the most sophisticated example of the process by which we come to grasp our own environment especially our human environment, with its complex and ambiguous value (9).
From the above, it can be deduced that through literature, one is able to understand the environment in which one finds oneself and as well communicates back in an ordered and artistic form through language. Literature uses language to represent man’s experience.
Poetry is one aspect of literature through which man extends his limited experience by means of extolling one’s intellectual expectations and imaginations, thus, literature deepens one’s imaginative involvement. Ngonebu puts that “poetry is one form of literature that derives much impetus from the creative and imaginative embellishments of language” (48).
Everything, we have said so far, points on language as an important tool in effective communication and man’s artistic creation and rendering to fellow human beings. And this is strikingly similar to that espoused by Jackson and Stockwell that:
language is the human faculty that enables us to exchange meaningful messages with some of our fellow human beings by means of discourses and texts (4).
Onuigbo also submits that “no critic can adequately appreciate the beauty of literature outside language” (7). And Chomsky in Akwanya concludes that:
Today, there is no better or more promising way to explore the essential and distinctive properties of human intelligence than through a detailed investigation of the structure of this unique human possession.
Finally, Fowler quoted in Onuigbo sums them all by stating that:
some knowledge of how language works provides some indispensable information for the students of literature, because linguistics is a theory of how language works, how it communicates meaning and what kind of structure it employs(41-42).
It is against this background that the researcher, therefore, intends to embark on a systematic and exhaustive description of the linguistic features of Nigerian children’s poetry with a view of finding out how language use in these poems contributes to meaning.
Children’s poetry selected are poems exclusively created for and addressed to schoolchildren within the age range of 6 – 14 year or schoolchildren in upper primary and junior secondary school as target audience. It is a literary genre which caters the interest of children. Thus aids in sharpening children’s imaginative experience and knowledge.
1.1.0 Background of the Poets
1.1.1 Biography of Onuora Ossie Enekwe
Ossie Enekwe was born in November, 1942 in Enugu Nigeria. He graduated in 1971 from English Department of the University of Nigeria Nsukka with 2nd class Honour (Upper Division). After the end of nearly three years of civil war, Enekwe travelled to the United States in 1972 to complete MFA in writing, M. Phil and Ph.D degrees in Theatre Arts, Columbia University, New York. He was poet-in-public service at New York, and poet-in-residence/writing fellow at other American universities.
Enekwe was the editor of Okike African Journal of New Writing founded by Chinua Achebe at the University where he was also director of the institute of African Studies.
Some of his books are “Broken Pots” (1978), “The Last Battle and Other Stories” (1996), Matching to Kilimanjaro (2005) among others. Enekwe was described as a prolific writer who manipulates irony and dramatic action for aesthetic effect. As an ex-soldier whom fortune has spared the death that took his kinsman and fellow poet, Chris Okigbo, in a war, it is easy to understand the unavoidable tragic notes of his stories and the “Threnodic essence” of most of his poetry which underlie the artist’s sensitivity to human friendship, citizenship and nationhood. Enekwe’s poetry and fiction on the war of 1968 – 1979 have equally thrown light on polemical issues in Nigerian writing glossed over by critics of Enekwe’s own, and most of the younger generation.
Enekwe’s dogged pursuit of academic evidence and social justice has marked him out as a scholar of note. His works, which have been translated into several world languages, have distinguished him as one of the most important writers and critics to emerge from Nigeria.
As a result of Enekwe’s outstanding contributions on the Nigeria literary creativity, Ezechi described him as a leading light among the oft-cited second generation of Nigerian literary scholars, to whom the credit of sustaining the dignified heritage of Nigerian literary intellection as diligently inaugurated by the now legendary pioneers of the tradition is most glowing. He went further to state that beyond being one of the dominant forces of Nigerian literary creativity within the same period with telling interest in all genres of literature, Enekwe’s contributions to Nigerian literature as a literary/dramatic critic rank among the most seminal.
1.1.2 Biography of Ikeogu Oke
Ikeogu Oke hails from Akanu Ohafia, Abia State, in South-Eastern Nigeria. He holds a BA English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar and an MA in literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Oke’s poetry has appeared in print on both sides of the Atlantic since 1988. He has published four books of poetry, “Where I was Born, “Salutes without Gun”, “Song of Success and “Doggy Tells the Truth and other Poems” one of which was selected as a Time Literature Supplement (TLS) book of the year 2010. Nadine Gordimer, the 1991 Nobel laureate in literature, wrote on Salutes without Gun, Oke’s second book of poems: “Here is a writer who finds the metaphor for what has happened and continued evolving not the way we want in our lives in Africa and the world. He does so timelessly and tellingly, as perhaps only a poet can”.
Renowned poet, Ikeogu, has received the poetry award of the 1st Anambra Book and Creativity Festival held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka on 24th November 2012. The award, according to a statement by thy organizers, was in recognition of Oke’s “outstanding accomplishments” in the area of poetry and the noble example he has set for the young and old in Africa and the world especially through his creative enterprise.
The poems in Song of Success and Other Poems for Children premiered during the 2nd Nigeria international Book Fair held in Lagos.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
It is pertinent to note that many literary studies have been done on children’s poetry, but the linguistic aspect of it is not common. However, literary studies will not be able to fully account for all the use of linguistic elements in this poetry that led to its meaning.
Moreover, we found that, more often than not, adult poems and other genres of children’s literature are written, explored and researched into, but just a little is said of children’s poetry. Ironically, children need poems even more than adults. Reading, reciting, and memorising of poems will help a child begin a life of reflection very early in life. Advantages abound: their words will be coordinated, their imaginative ability stimulated, their sensitivity and perceptive powers to be responsive to society, and their ability to understand poems later in life improved.
My choice of children’s poetry stems from the fact that it is as if children’s poetry is being relegated. Hence, good poets concentrate more on writing adult poems. However, if students are enlightened earlier in life on the language usage in poetry, by the time they will enter higher level, they will find poetry comprehension and interpretation much easier because, today, most students refrain from studying poetry and those that the researcher interviewed answered that it is the most difficult and demanding of the literary works to interpret and understand. Then, one may ask; why is poetry that is supposed to be more emphasized, less emphasized. The reason is not farfetched. No one gives what one has not got. The teachers that are supposed to teach it may not have been acquainted with the linguistic constituents of it, and so the subject is not well taught. As a result, students are prone to have poor background in it which affects them later in life.
Submitting on the importance of linguistic features as a good guide to poetry comprehension, Randall observes that:
anyone who has spent much time finding out what people do when they read poem, what poems actually mean for them, will have discovered that a surprising part of the difficulty they have comes from their almost systematic unreceptiveness, their queer unwillingness to pay attention even to the reference of pronouns, the meaning of the punctuation, which subject goes with the verb and so on, after all, “they seem to feel, I’m not reading prose” you need to read with an altitude that is a mixture of sharp intelligence and of willing emotional empathy, at once penetrating and generous(16).
Randall is saying that the knowledge of the linguistic constituents of a poem contributes immensely to the understanding of poems. It is, therefore, pertinent that students and the reading public know and interact with the linguistic constituents of a poem for better comprehension.
Thus, inasmuch as children’s poetry is still in its growing stage in the Nigeria literary circle, not many studies have been done to investigate its language use that led to its meaning and aesthetic. Therefore, this study sets out to explore and analyse the linguistic constituents of the language of Nigerian children’s poetry in order to find out what makes it distinctive, aesthetically appealing and as well meaningful.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
This study, being a linguistic study into Nigerian children’s poetry, aims to:
- Find out what makes Nigerian children’s poetry distinctive and aesthetically appealing.
- Explicate the linguistic constituents of the language of poetry, and how the knowledge of these linguistic elements may contribute to better comprehension and appreciation as well as how the reader needs to interact with them in order to make sense on what is read. Thus to create awareness of how language use contributes to meaning.
- Investigate and analyse the linguistic features of Nigerian children’s poetry and compare with that of adults. Thus, finding out if poems meant for children evoke literary responses in the manner that it does in adult poetry.
- Finally, effort will also be made on ascertaining the relationship between the language use in poetry and that of ordinary language with a view to de-mystifying language use in poetry in order to develop everybody’s interest in reading poetry. Thereby, reduces people’s fear of poetry as a result of its language and at the same time makes them to understand that language and poetry are inextricable. To achieve these aims, therefore, the analysis will be focused on the phonological, syntactical and semantic aspects of the language of children’s poetry.
1.4 Significance of the Study
This study will contribute towards a better understanding of language usage in poetry to all lovers of poetry. The knowledge of how language works or structures in poetry leads to meaning making and appreciation of verse. Meaning is fundamental in poetry comprehension and language analysis is the surest means of conveying meaning. Stressing the importance of meaning to literary work, Lesley avers that:
meaning was a kind of invisible unclothed being waiting for the clothes of language to allow it to be seen. This assumes that meaning and language are in a simple relationship where language reflects some given reality (4).
Again, this study is significant because students can extend the knowledge got from the study of poetry to other areas of learning even later in life. Obviously speaking, if students are enlightened earlier in life on language usage in poetry, it would enable them to increase their knowledge in later years and as well in other subjects. Thus, this study would to some extent enable students or the reading public explore various possibilities of language use, differentiate between literary and ordinary language for deep comprehension of the poetic language.
Moreover, a study of this nature can elicit creative thinking in students. The knowledge got form this study may help to develop students’ ability to write poems.
Furthermore, even though this study is linguistically descriptive, nevertheless, it can also be of immense help to teachers of English and literature because teachers who understand and apply the knowledge of linguistic features to poetry classes will find the task of analyzing poems to their students very much facilitated.