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Caribbean Literary Discourse

Voice and Cultural Identity in the Anglophone Caribbean

Barbara Lalla, Jean D'Costa, Velma Pollard

Publication Year: 2014

Caribbean Literary Discourse is a study of the multicultural, multilingual, and Creolized languages that characterize Caribbean discourse, especially as reflected in the language choices that preoccupy creative writers.

Caribbean Literary Discourse
opens the challenging world of language choices and literary experiments characteristic of the multicultural and multilingual Caribbean. In these societies, the language of the master— English in Jamaica and Barbados—overlies the Creole languages of the majority. As literary critics and as creative writers, Barbara Lalla, Jean D’Costa, and Velma Pollard engage historical, linguistic, and literary perspectives to investigate the literature bred by this complex history. They trace the rise of local languages and literatures within the English speaking Caribbean, especially as reflected in the language choices of creative writers.

The study engages two problems: first, the historical reality that standard metropolitan English established by British colonialists dominates official economic, cultural, and political affairs in these former colonies, contesting the development of vernacular, Creole, and pidgin dialects even among the region’s indigenous population; and second, the fact that literary discourse developed under such conditions has received scant attention.

Caribbean Literary Discourse
explores the language choices that preoccupy creative writers in whose work vernacular discourse displays its multiplicity of origins, its elusive boundaries, and its most vexing issues. The authors address the degree to which language choice highlights political loyalties and tensions; the politics of identity, self-representation, and nationalism; the implications of code-switching—the ability to alternate deliberately between different languages, accents, or dialects—for identity in postcolonial society; the rich rhetorical and literary effects enabled by code-switching and the difficulties of acknowledging or teaching those ranges in traditional education systems; the longstanding interplay between oral and scribal culture; and the predominance of intertextuality in postcolonial and diasporic literature.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The authors thank the University of the West Indies and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the funding that supported this project. We are also grateful to Ryan Durgasingh for his assistance with sorting and preparing material for this collection. This volume includes content that has appeared elsewhere in published form...

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pp. 1-14

Caribbean discourse—in literature and in oral performance alike—has attracted international attention as much for its inherent richness and diversity as for its strange and unique origins. With an eye to discourse from the wildly popular to the erudite and formal, a wide range of audiences increasingly looks...

Part I - Fusing Forms and Languages: The Jamaican Experience

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1. Songs in the Silence: Literary Craft as Survival in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica

Jean D’Costa

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pp. 17-41

Exiles created Jamaica’s literature.1 Transcending loss of home and culture, they endured wars, forced migrations, captivity, transshipment, enslavement, and desperate loneliness, and yet they kept memory and instinctive genius alive despite all odds. Such were the ancestors whose amnesiac memories together...

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2. Black Wholes: Phases in the Development of Jamaican Literary Discourse

Barbara Lalla

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pp. 42-67

Caribbean Creole has participated fundamentally in the evolution of literary discourse in the Anglophone Caribbean. Among the linguistic choices available, the choice of Creole for literary discourse was, traditionally, severely constrained, yet this unprestigious, indeed stigmatized language evolved to the extent...

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3. The Caribbean Novelist and Language: A Search for a Literary Medium

Jean D’Costa

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pp. 68-92

The Caribbean writer operates within a polydialectal community with a Creole language base. The relationship between Jamaican Creole and other oral and written varieties of English exemplifies this direct challenge to the fiction writer.1 The medium—written language—belongs to the sphere of standardized...

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4. To Us, All Flowers Are Roses: Writing Ourselves into the Literature of the Caribbean

Velma Pollard

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pp. 93-100

The language of the earliest written creative efforts of colonized peoples the world over has tended to be the language of the colonizer, which is the language of education and of all official transactions in these societies. In the former British West Indies, that language has been English. The very act of writing...

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5. Creole and Respec’: Authority and Identity in the Development of Caribbean Literary Discourse

Barbara Lalla

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pp. 101-110

Recognition, acceptability, and prestige of a language are closely associated with (indeed consequent on) its distinctiveness, on recognizable norms associated with it, on its standardization, and on the social status of its users.1 The inclusion of Caribbean Creole in Anglophone Caribbean literature, described...

Part II - Language and and Discourse in Caribbean Literary Texts

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6. Bra Rabbit Meets Peter Rabbit: Genre, Audience, and the Artistic Imagination—Problems in Writing Children’s Fiction

Jean D’Costa

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pp. 113-121

Every culture produces literary genres that serve culture-specific purposes. This function is a given, an obvious cliché. Genres pass from culture to culture, are modified, absorbed, and reabsorbed. Such transference is also cliché, a given. Certain kinds of transference and absorption, however, produce a unique pattern...

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7. “The Dust”: A Tribute to the Folk

Velma Pollard

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pp. 122-130

Comment and criticism in Anglophone Caribbean literature in the last decade or so have established the Euro-tradition and to a lesser extent the Afro-tradition as the pervasive influences on the themes and forms of Caribbean poetry. Too little attention has been paid, however, to a third and eminently valid...

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8. Collapsing Certainty and the Discourse of Re-Memberment in the Novels of Merle Hodge

Barbara Lalla

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pp. 131-142

Each of the novels of Merle Hodge, Crick Crack, Monkey and For the Life of Laetitia, presents a world in which a schoolgirl is displaced from a familiar and supportive location (considered valueless to those with whom she goes to live) to an unfamiliar space in which she strives to find meaning and to construct...

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9. Cultural Connections in Paule Marshall’s "Praise Song for the Widow"

Velma Pollard

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pp. 143-156

Paule Marshall’s Praise Song for the Widow1 will probably be viewed primarily as a major addition to the growing collection of novels written by women about the conditions of women, a subject that received considerable attention during the United Nations decade for women 1975–1985. The present analysis...

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10. Louise Bennett’s Dialect Poetry: Language Variation in a Literary Text

Jean D’Costa

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pp. 157-190

In his 1966 introduction to Louise Bennett’s Jamaica Labrish, Rex Nettleford describes her as “a poet of utterance” who, having “had the benefit of schooling,” was “exposed to, in fact saturated with, models such as Sir Patrick Spens and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”1 Few Caribbean writers have, however...

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11. Conceptual Perspectives on Time and Timelessness in Martin Carter’s “University of Hunger”

Barbara Lalla

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pp. 191-202

However, in “University of Hunger,” only the last verse is Standard English past tense, with the single exception of line 20: “is they who had no voice in the emptiness.” On the other hand, Caribbean English-lexicon Creole may convey reference to past time without marking past tense. Therefore, the time reference...

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12. Mixing Codes and Mixing Voices: Language in Earl Lovelace’s Salt

Velma Pollard

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pp. 203-212

The opening paragraph of J. Edward Chamberlin’s Come Back to Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies runs as follows: “Slavery shaped the West Indies. It was expensive and inconvenient, and presented considerable problems of governance; but nobody came up with an alternative, especially for the production...

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13. Opening "Salt": The Oral-Scribal Continuum in Caribbean Narrative

Barbara Lalla

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pp. 213-220

Gordon Rohlehr refers to a continuum that “exists between a living oral tradition, and a growing scribal one in the West Indies. It relates,” he continues, “to the continuum that exists between the various West Indian Creoles and Standard West Indian English.”1 In his continuing discussion, Rohlehr applies this...

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14. Mothertongue Voices in the Writing of Olive Senior and Lorna Goodison

Velma Pollard

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pp. 221-231

Jean D’Costa contends that West Indian writers who wish to satisfy themselves, their local audience, and their foreign audience must evolve a “literary dialect” that not only satisfies both these audiences but also is an authentic representation of the “language culture” of this community.1 And Garth St. Omer...

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15. The Facetiness Factor: Theorizing Caribbean Space in Narrative

Barbara Lalla

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pp. 232-250

If poetics refers to patterns defining a literature and its regulating laws, how should we theorize poetics for a literature that defines itself (at least in part) in terms of its contempt for regulation? This question probes a crucial discursive dimension of our literature: namely, how our writers position themselves...


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pp. 251-266


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pp. 267-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387020
E-ISBN-10: 0817387021
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318079
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318070

Page Count: 293
Illustrations: 9 tables
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Caribbean literature (English) -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, Caribbean, in literature.
  • Discourse analysis, Literary -- Caribbean Area.
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