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Orality and the Body in the Work of Harris, Philip, Allen, and Brand
This book develops a theory of multimodality – the participation of a text in more than one mode – centred on the poetry/poetics of Lillian Allen, Claire Harris, Dionne Brand, and Marlene Nourbese Philip. How do these poets represent oral Caribbean English Creoles (CECs) in writing and negotiate the relationship between the high literary in Canadian letters and the social and historical meanings of CECs? How do the latter relate to the idea of “female and black”?
Through fluid use of code- and mode-switching, the movement of Brand and Philip between creole and standard English, and written orality and standard writing forms part of their meanings. Allen’s eye-spellings precisely indicate stereotypical creole sounds, yet use the phonological system of standard English. On stage, Allen projects a black female body in the world and as a speaking subject. She thereby shows that the implication of the written in the literary excludes her body’s language (as performance); and she embodies her poetry to realize a ‘language’ alternative to the colonizing literary. Harris’s creole writing helps her project a fragmented personality, a range of dialects enabling quite different personae to emerge within one body. Thus Harris, Brand, Philip, and Allen both project the identity “female and black” and explore this social position in relation to others.
Considering textual multimodality opens up a wide range of material connections. Although written, this poetry is also oral; if oral, then also embodied; if embodied, then also participating in discourses of race, gender, sexuality, and a host of other systems of social organization and individual identity. Finally, the semiotic body as a mode (i.e. as a resource for making meaning) allows written meanings to be made that cannot otherwise be expressed in writing. In every case, Allen, Philip, Harris, and Brand escape the constraints of dominant media, refiguring language via dialect and mode to represent a black feminist sensibility.
Studies based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence
What role has social status played in shaping the English language across the centuries? Have women also been the agents of language standardization in the past? Can apparent-time patterns be used to predict the course of long-term language change?
These questions and many others will be addressed in this volume, which combines sociolinguistic methodology and social history to account for diachronic language change in Renaissance English. The approach has been made possible by the new machine-readable Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC) specifically compiled for this purpose. The 2.4-million-word corpus covers the period from 1420 to 1680 and contains over 700 writers.
The volume introduces the premises of the study, discussing both modern sociolinguistics and English society in the late medieval and early modern periods. A detailed description is given of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence, its encoding, and the separate database which records the letter writers' social backgrounds.
The pilot studies based on the CEEC suggest that social rank and gender should both be considered in diachronic language change, but that apparent-time patterns may not always be a reliable cue to what will happen in the long run. The volume also argues that historical sociolinguistics offers fascinating perspectives on the study of such new areas as pragmatization and changing politeness cultures across time.
This extension of sociolinguistic methodology to the past is a breakthrough in the field of corpus linguistics. It will be of major interest not only to historical linguists but to modern sociolinguists and social historians.