Linguistic Elements of English as the Building Blocks of Literary Styles

Published: 2022-02-18
Linguistic Elements of English as the Building Blocks of Literary Styles
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Linguistics Zora Neale Hurston
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1776 words
15 min read

Zora Neale Hurston, a storyteller, folklorist, and cultural anthropologist gained her notoriety as one of the most gifted writers of our time during the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston was masterful because she captured the essence of black life from a black perspective in the rural south. Three of her books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, Barracoon: Story of the Last Black Cargo, and Every Tongue Got to Confess. All of the characters in these books speak in Black English, which is common among blacks in the rural south in the 1920s and 1930s. In all of these works, Hurston is able to capture the black oral tradition of her childhood and make her characters come alive; Hurston also uses figurative language and narration to provide her reader with an understanding of black dialect. For example, common words used in Hurston's prose are ain't for isn't, Ah for I, and Uh for A, and her writings are also packed with a good deal of negative inversion in her sentence structure. Despite Hurston's gifts, she was met with hostility from her contemporaries of the Harlem Renaissance. Richard Wright and Langston Hughes questioned Hurston's authority to speak on race and took issue with her use of rural southern black dialect omnipresent in Their Eyes Were Watching God. However, it is precisely Hurston's ability to use the black dialect that lent authenticity to her representation of the rural black voice in literature and that provides Hurston scholars and readers with abundant examples of linguistic elements, most notably word formation, negative inversions, and code-switching, omnipresent in all three of Hurston's works.

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To apply narrations style in the southern dialect, Hurston uses irregular verb inflection. The novel commences with third-person narrations that set the pace of the text as a journey which is carried out to the end in a narrative manner. Phoeby is eager to know about Janie experiences while away from Eatonville (Beecroft 410). Janie related her story from her childhood when she was brought up by her grandmother and her nanny. A significant part of the narration entails Janie telling her story in first person narration by direct telling of experiences and events through code-switching between the Standard English language and African American dialect. At the beginning a pure English speaking reader views the characters as outsiders but as the story goes on a reader discover the patterns inherent in the language of the characters. The reader gets involved as an individual who overhears the description of Janie's story. Still, there is an abnormal inflection of verbs that are not turned into past tense by adding -ed in the standard English language. Phoebe hints to Janie by saying, ''Ah knowed you'd be hongry'' (Hurston 5). ''Knowed'' in the context is an irregular verb that is regularized through adding -ed to the word knows to indicate past tense rather than applying the Normal English standard. Inclusions of the sophisticated narrative style and combination of the same with vernacular language proves that Hurston is an intelligent writer whose use of dialectic was intentioned to tell the story in a manner that would make her characters real and relatable to the audience.

Figurative language style in Their Eyes is Watching God has been completed through the use of metaphors where temporal meaning is attached to content words to mention something different from their real and universal function. Throughout the dialectical conversations, the author applies metaphors that existed locally showing her ability to combine modernism creative writing aspects and localism. A prevalent metaphor in the text is that of the image of the horizon (Hurston 4). Janie sees the background at a time when she climbs a tree to see what is outside. Janie decides to focus on a journey to the horizon which entails travelling down the road to visit and marry Tea Cake. The 'horizon' in the text is the achievement of Janie long life desire for happiness.

Symbolism is another literary aspect of figurative language apparent in Hurston text; Their Eyes Were Watching God. Japle's hair and beauty is depicted as a symbol of unconventional identity and power. The exciting thing is the syntax in the phrase ''Daisy is walking a drum tune'' which is informed by direct translation of local language to English and which proves to be within the author use of African American dialect (Hurston 147). Reliance of geographical language plays a vital role in bringing out the symbolism in Japle's beauty, she is black and knows that white clothes look good on her' her hair is not what you might call straight. It was spread down thick and heavy over her shoulders (Hurston 147). Daisy wears white to look attractive because whiteness, as opposed to blackness, is viewed as a sign of superiority.

Huston use of figurative language is also evident with aspects of personification. Alteration of the standard order of syntax in the English language allows Hurston to describe death in the locally recognized way of death as a person. For instance, the grammar, that is the arrangement of subject-verb and object in the phrase ''Death who lived in the west'' leaves a meaning that Death is an individual capable of living in the world just like individuals do (Hurston 84). In the entire novel, the word death starts with a capital letter and presentation of the character of end of life in such a manner creates a more vivid worldview for the readers to try and understand.

Houston uses the stylistic device of dialogue to build his novel centering on the use of local language. The dialect in conversations between characters, such as when Janie meets Tea Cake, ''Ah sho didn't Wuzn't expectin' fuh it be needed De name mah mana gimme is vergible woods Dey call me Tea Cake for short'' serves to show that all the characters are from the region and they speak the same type of language (Horston 15). The characters in the novel are exchanging views through dialogue. Dialogue in the story follows a particular kind of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabularies that can interfere with a reader understanding of information. For example, the porch sitters are depicted talking about Janie absence and discussing how Janie eloped with Tea Cake. Phoebe tries to defend her friend, but Lulu Moss responds by telling her 'T ain't no use in you tryin' to cloak no ole woman lak Janie Starks'' (Hurston 3). In such a sentence, negative inflection is done in a manner that is different from the Standard English rules (Salmon 404). The use of the double negative 'tain't no' is used to emphasize the negative. Other examples of double negatives are evident in Janie and Phoeby conversations including where Janie says, ''Good Lawd, Phoeby! Aint you never goin' tuh gimme dat lil rations you brought me'' (Hurston 5). In the situation, Janie is feeling hungry and wonders when Phoeby is going to offer her food. Again, the phonetic respelling is a special kind of dialectical pronunciation apparent in Hourston works. Phoebe mentions 'Lawd, instead of Lord in the normal case. The phonetic transcription is completed through dropping of the intervocalic (r) (Barry 172). Also, conversation in the African American dialect seems to follow specific word forming rules that involve dropping the final and the initial consonants. 'You turn to Yuh' 'I' becomes 'Ah'. Again, other rules of word formation in the text comprise vowel shifts with words such as get occasionally spelled as 'git.' Further, reflexive pronouns such as 'himself' are formed as 'hisself' and such ethic wordings creates understanding within the dialoguing friends who all speak language that is rich in folklore references.

The exciting author applies the use of lyrical language in the entire novel. The word formation rule involving adding of the suffix-less to verbs facilitates the creation of lyrics in Janie story. The law comes from the traditional dialectical practice of adding less to indicate a lack of something. At the beginning of the text, Huston holds that the ''people all saw her come because it was sundown, the sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on the porches behind the road. It was a time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been toothless, earless, eyeless conveniences all the day long'' (Hurston 1). The negative connotations display the narrator's disapproval of the sitters move to pass judgment to Janie. Throughout the narrations, the southern dialect helps the author in telling the story through vivid descriptions of the persona of her characters using some words that are not inherent in English language but they are known to the characters. At the time when Phoebe tries to defend Janie from being gossiped about by the sitters, Moss replies that ''Taint no use in your tryin' to cloak no ole woman lak Janie Starks (Hurston 5). The syntax in the phrase seeks to show cloak as a verb (Foley 15). Modern readers are familiar with the use of the word cloak as a noun meaning an overcoat worn over other clothes. However, Moss applies the verb ''to cloak'' to describe Phoeby move of being protective towards Janie.

Hourston writing style is proves that linguistic elements vary from one society to another. The African American dialect has a unique set of linguistic features including pronunciation and grammar that follows specific rules of local word formation, verb inflection, phonetic respelling, negative inflection, codeswitching and temporal use of functional words. The literary devices used in the text including dialogue with each other, vivid descriptions and narrations can be understood as occurring in the context of dialectical language comprising the linguistic elements of the particular geographical area. In other words, each of literary devices is illuminated using certain linguistic aspects of the specific geographic region. It is apparent from Hourston text that local syntax is applicable in personification and symbolism, negative reflection enriches narrations and phonetic respelling are vital in dialogue. Some geographical areas may be more affluent than others in language, which will automatically affect the type of literary styles included in texts.

Works Cited

Barry, Betsy. "It's Hard Fuh Me To Understand What You Mean, De Way You Tell It: Representing Language in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." Language and Literature, vol. 10, no. 2, 2002, pp. 171-186.

Beecroft, Alexander. "The Narrator And The Nation-Builder: Dialect, Dialogue, And Narrative Voice In Minority And Working Class Fiction." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, vol. 42, no. 4, 2015, pp. 410-423.

Foley, William A. Functional Syntax and Universal Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp.15-20.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. University of Illinois Press, 1991, pp. 1-147.

Salmon, William. "Negative Inversion Camouflage and Style Across Two Varieties of US English." Style, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 404-422.

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