Tag Archives: language

Narayan and Language

“What a pity, Rama Rao! I am awfully sorry, there is nothing at present. If there is an opportunity I will certainly remember you” (92).

Narayan, R.K. “Out of Business.” Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print.

Much like Anand, Narayan uses expressions that would be said in native Indian language but is then translated into English. Unlike Anand, Narayan does not use non-English terms in the novel, allowing the novel to be more easily accessed by the world.

Hurston and Use of Language

“Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah’d take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through the wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

The above passage is unique in that it depicts the way in which Hurston uses African American Vernacular English in the dialogue between the characters while also using vocabulary that would remove the possibility of creating any caricatures of the characters. She also manages to do this in the way she gives the character dialogue more depth than the narration. Though the narrator reveals much of the internal world of the characters, the character dialogue gives more insight into each of the character’s inner feelings and philosophical pondering than the narrator is able to convey.

Names and Autonomy

“‘And now we’ll listen tuh uh few words uh encouragement from Mrs. Mayor Starks.’

The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself.

‘Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home'” (43).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

This moment reflects the themes of both being silenced and being named in Hurston’s novel. When Joe does not allow Janie to speak it is a sharp denial of Janie’s human right to speech because of her gender. Its problematic effect is heightened because this is the first time in which Janie is called “Mrs. Mayor Starks,” with Joe’s following clarification of “mah wife.” This denotes ownership, but it is also follows a theme in other parts of the book, such as when she is called Alphabet, which is before she even realizes the color of her skin. This shows that when names are imposed upon Janie, it stifles the progress of Janie’s self-actualization and self-determination, in turn stifling the novel itself.

Power, Language, and Identity

There is no question that Their Eyes is spearheaded by dialogue. Hurston takes advantage of the familiar southern dialect and guides the novel accordingly.  Jody’s need for dominance over Janie is apparent through his actions, especially during the mayoral speech.

“The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself.

‘Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife dont know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat.  She’s uh woman and her place is in de home'” (43).

The contrasting identities of Janie and Jody regarding independence result in a power conflict observed by the town.

“‘Maybe he make her do it.  Maybe he skeered some de rest of us mens might touch it round dat store.  It sho is uh hidden mystery tuh me.’

‘She sho don’t talk much.  De way he rears and pitches in de store sometimes when she make uh mistake is sort of ungodly, but she don’t seem to mind at all.  Reckon dey understand one ‘nother'” (50).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Levels of Language

“What dat le forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?–Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?–Thought she was going to marry?–Where he left her?–What he done wid all her money? Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs–why she don’t stay in her class?–”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. 2.

Immediately, the reader realizes the different thresholds of language the narrator utilizes to depict her story. There is an interesting contrast between the language used by the protagonist and Hurston. The narrator’s voice is sophisticated, elegant, and articulates her thoughts with precision. On the other hand, Janie and Nanny’s voice can be seen as an entirely different prehistoric dialect.

Hurston’s style of narrative

“The cooling palma christi leaves that Janie had bound about her grandma’s head with a white rag had wilted down and become part and parcel of the woman. Her eyes didn’t bore and pierce. They diffused and  melted Janie, the room and the world into one comprehension.

“Janie, youse uh ‘oman, now, so – ”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. Print. pp. 18

I noticed that Hurston’s style of narrative is split. There is one third-person voice that is highly intellectual with descriptive imagery and metaphors. The other voice is one that is in African American Vernacular English as shown in the dialogue above. I think that this particular style of narrative is important as it actually shows the division of the language on paper. Hurston may want us to realize how important language and how two different styles of narrative can be put together to tell a story.

Language in Hurston

“I god, yeah. But not de house Ah specks tuh lives in. Dat kin wait till Ah make up mah mind where Ah wants it located. Ah figers we all needs uh store in uh big hurry.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. Print. pp. 40

The language plays an important role in the novel because it makes the dialogue seem more casual as Hurston uses the rural Black dialect, like the story is being told instead on being written in a book.

Hurston and Language

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feeling untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. Towards morning she muttered, ‘Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do. De trest is left to you.'”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. Print. pp. 35

Here it is interesting how Hurston juxtaposes the language of the narrator with that of the character’s dialogue and suggests how inner thoughts are not always mirrored in outer speech.

The use of language to emphasize the difference of race and class

“‘What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?–Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?–Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?–What dat le forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?–Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?–Thought she was going to marry?–Where he left her?–What he done wid all her money? Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs–why she don’t stay in her class?–‘”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. 2.

This passage was interesting because it was the first time Zora Neale Hurston used dialect to immerse the reader into the perspective of the character. The way the character talks is not standard English and in fact she uses a different language to show the reader the difference in class and race. The use of language reminds me of the novel “Untouchable” as well because Bhaka always had traces of his own language in combination with English to show the reader how he was different from an English person.

Zora Neale Hurston’s use of language

“You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ’em dey got to go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ ’bout yuh than you do’ yo’ self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done “hear” ’bout you just what they hope done happened.”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. p5.

I think it’s interesting to see how the saying is written with no grammatical/spelling errors and included in a dialogue that reproduces a slangy language. I think it somehow reflects the constant shift between slangy dialogues and well written prose.