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Several studies have been carried out on the old poetry of Niyi Osundare using both literary and linguistic approaches; however, there has been a dearth of studies on his new poetry. This study therefore examines the language use in one of his collections of new poetry, Random Blues, with a view to extracting important pieces of information that are relevant to the national life of Nigeria.
The data for the study are all drawn from Sunday Tribune newspaper. Only three years of the publication are examined. Three poems are randomly selected from each of the years (2010, 2011 and 2012), making a total of nine poems; the poems are sequentially looked at. The analysis in the study is done using M. A. K. Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) framework.
The analysis of the poems reveals that Osundare uses lexico-semantic features, such as code mixing, inter-language blending, hyponymy, near synonyms, Yoruba lexical items, as means of targeting the Nigerian masses in order to inform and influence them, and repetition of lexical items to emphasise crucial pieces of information about the Nigerian society. Also, the graphological features deployed by the poet such as morpho-graphological deviation are used to lambast certain people in the society who have done something wrong. It is also found that the poet employs certain syntactic features such as code switching, simplification of various sentence types, imperative verbs, syntactic parallelism, first person plural pronouns, and interjections to target the Nigerian masses, inform and influence them, to create a sense of collectivism, and to achieve textual unity among the poems. By sequentially looking at the statements used in the poems, the analysis reveals that the poems chronicle important contemporary national issues in Nigeria which are very crucial to the history of the country.
Based on the findings, the conclusion has been reached that the primary motive of Niyi Osundare in Random Blues is to bring about social reform by adequately painting the picture of the contemporary Nigerian society and using various rhetorical means to influence the common man in Nigeria to bring about the change. This study has contributed to the field of stylistics by showing that it is possible to link stylistic features with specific happenings in the society and that stylistics is reliable in establishing the meanings expressed in literary texts.
1.1 Background to the Study
In this age of science, little or nothing is left for intuition or unexperimented claims. If, for instance, one claims that life exists on the moon or that the moon can be penetrated, people do not value calculating such claims in imagination. They want one to objectify or experiment it so that there is no room for doubt and to do this one needs a science – astronautics. This same logic applies to a person interpreting a text, literary or non-literary, who needs a science to objectify their conclusions so that their findings are as reliable as possible. As one needs astronautics to prove the fact that the moon can be penetrated so does one need stylistics (the scientific study of instances of language use or of language variation) to validate such claims as ‘Soyinka is critical of military government in Nigeria’, ‘Achebe re-wrote the history of Africa’, ‘Niyi Osundare believes in poetry as a means of social development’, etc.
The phenomenon of language is a complex one; hence, the need for a sophisticated approach to study it and this is the reason why a science has evolved to examine all its manifestations – this science is called linguistics. What is language? Language has been variously defined by scholars but what seems the meeting point of the definitions is that language is a means of communication. Chomsky (1957) cited in Amuseghan (1997), for instance, has the following definition:
Language is a set of specific universal principles which are intrinsic properties of the human mind and form parts of our genetic endowment. Language can thus be defined as an arbitrary system of conventional (spoken or written) symbols by means of which human beings as members of a social group communicate.
Mcarthur (1996: 523) also defines language as a human form of communication which uses structured vocal sounds and can be embodied in other media such as writing, print and physical signs. In a similar vein, Murthy (2007:1) sees language as the medium of communication through which we express our emotions, ideas, feelings and thought to our fellow people. This presupposes that any medium through which there is a transaction of human meaning can be regarded as language. This is why language is usually divided into two basic categories: verbal language and non-verbal language. The former refers to a mode of human communication characterized by the use of vocal signs which may be spoken or written while the latter is a mode of human communication which employs non-oral signs such as movement of the body, gesticulation, etc.
Language has domains. That is, language is related to many things and so if linguistics, the science of language, would be truly scientific, there is the need for it to look into all those things with which language has relation. Thus, we now have several branches of linguistics. We know that there is a vital relationship between language and the human brain and to examine this relationship has evolved the branch of psycholinguistics, just as sociolinguistics which studies language against society. Linguists in the early nineteenth century and even till the twentieth century made laudable efforts to establish linguistics on a purely scientific basis and so were looking for all those areas to which language is related. For example, in 1968, Jan Svartvik, a
professor of Linguistics, came about the term Forensic Linguistics which has now been well developed into an established branch of linguistics and which studies language in relation to law and crime (Wikipedia).
The same thing applies to Stylistics which is our major concern in this work. The German linguist and philosopher, Wilhelm von Humboldt began to recognize that language should be studied in relation to its style in various domains. This is the main reason why he titled one of the chapters in his book, ber die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluss ‘functional style’(Mikov 2003:11) . Though Wilhelm’s observation at the beginning was not purely linguistic, it was later developed into a purely scientific field by scholars, especially members of Prague Linguistic Circle (1926), V. Mathesius, B. Havrnek, etc. It is this endeavour and several others that gave birth to the branch of Linguistics called Stylistics.
Stylistics can simply be defined as the scientific study of the styles of a language in various contexts such as letter writing, advertisement, literature, music, etc. By style is meant the manner of expression i.e., the way an idea is conveyed such that ‘I am hungry’ possesses a style different from that of ‘I need food’, though both of them roughly refer to the same idea of hunger. Since stylistics operates on a solid scientific basis, its investigations are often reliable, universal and experimentable. Here, we look at what style a speaker or writer employs in conveying meaning, why such a style, and what effect it has on the overall message of a given text, in a way that our findings are as reliable as findings in the field of physics or chemistry. For this, stylistics is a reliable means of extracting pieces of information, ideas, etc. from a text.
It is based on the reason above that we have resolved to apply this science of style to some of the poems in Niyi Osundare’s Random Blues, published weekly in Sunday Tribune Newspaper in his column, Lifeline.
The poems in the publication easily catch one’s attention perhaps because the socio-political issues raised in them are what one can easily refer to in the society in spatiotemporal terms or because of the humorously satirical manner, typical of African oral tradition, in which such issues are often treated. What one quickly recognises is that the poems sequentially follow the happenings of the contemporary Nigerian society as well as pass comments about them. However plausible these observations might be, they remain a bunch of mere intuitive hunches until we are able to provide concrete evidence for them. We, for this reason, heavily rely on the science of language (linguistics) in interpreting the poems and it is believed that the interpretation can be conveniently relied on.
Nigeria, a country that has all the reasons to be a better place than is now, has in recent time witnessed several bizarre occurrences that cannot but attract the attention of poets like Niyi Osundare who craftsmanly lock the memory of such occurrences in the teeth of poems. In the last three years, there have been numerous debasing national (and perhaps continental) embarrassments in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. In 2010, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua left the country for Saudi Arabia to treat the kidney disease which bedevilled him and which later claimed his life without delegating power to the Vice President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The country remained president-less for about fifty-six days. Nigerians complained in the newspapers and shouted on radio and television stations, and from across the world, condemning the act as uncivilised while the whole world watched the country in pitying amazement. Around that time a similar situation occurred in the United States but in a blatantly diametrically opposed dimension. President Barrack Obama went on leave with his family but did not leave the country without delegating power to the appropriate quarters.
One other such occurrence was witnessed in the House of Representatives when the members of the legislative arm under the leadership of Dimeji Bankole turned the lower chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly to a typical Lagos street setting. The representatives, having had an argument for a while, began throwing chairs on one another while the whole building became surprisingly pandemonic.
It is occurrences such as the ones just related that prompted Osundare to open a weekly-inked poetic diary for the contemporary Nigerian society. These and several other Nigeria’s national issues, which deserve critical examination and thorough investigations, are raised in Osundare’s Random Blues. Hence, we can conveniently posit that part of Osundare’s motive for composing the poems in the publication is national. If these occurrences are so important as to merit poetic record, then the poems recording them must also be so important as to merit scientific analysis. Our focus in this essay, therefore, is centred on using stylistic tools to tease out meaning and the poet’s point of view from the selected poems such that whoever has access to this material can see how it is possible for poets to, through their art, record happenings in the society and pass comment about them for national development.
1.2 Statement of Research Problem
Most stylistic (and of course literary) analyses of Niyi Osundare’s poetry have concentrated on his popular (and old) collections such as Village Voices, The Eye of the Earth, Moon Songs, Days, Songs from the Marketplace, and Songs of the Season. However, there is a dearth of studies on his new poetry, specifically Random Blues which is published weekly in Sunday Tribune Newspaper and which serves in keeping issues of contemporary time in Nigeria. It is
therefore with a view to interpreting Osundare’s new poetry from a scientific point of view that this research has come into being.
1.3 Justification for the Study
Since there have not been much work on the contemporary poetry of the giant poet, Niyi Osundare, particularly his Random Blues published weekly in Sunday Tribune newspaper, it becomes necessary to attempt interpreting the poems in the publication. Also, since the offshoot of this study is to examine how language, in the contemporary age, has been deployed by Niyi Osundare to relate the current social situation of the Nigerian society and to, in a general sense, use poetry to directly follow history in his new poetry, Random Blues, a collection of his new poetry, becomes an appropriate object of this study.
1.4 Aim and Objectives of the Study
The aim of the study is to highlight the textual and social significance of Niyi Osundare’s Random Blues. The specific objectives of the study are to:
1. identify and describe graphological and lexico-semantic features in the selected poems;
2. identify and describe the syntactic features of the poems; and
3. determine how the weekly publication is a reflection of the Nigerian social context.
1.5 Research Methodology
The main source of data for this research is ‘Lifeline’, a column in Sunday Tribune newspaper, where Random Blues, a collection of contemporary poems by Niyi Osundare, was weekly published. The method used in the long essay is such through which general statements could be made about the publication as a whole. Since all the poems in the publication would be too cumbersome for this study, there is the need to find representatives for them and this is the reason why nine poems which can conveniently represent the collection as a whole were selected. Nine poems from the whole collection are examined. These include three poems among those poems published in 2010, three among those published in 2011 and another three among those published in 2012. The exact number of the poems in the publication could not be ascer
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