Date of Degree
English Language and Literature | Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America | Literature in English, British Isles | Other English Language and Literature | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies
Anglophone, Dialect, Scots, Scotland, Trinidad, Caribbean, Suhayl Saadi, James Kelman, Samuel Selvon, Postcolonial
This dissertation explores the ways in which three postcolonial writers in Britain (Samuel Selvon, James Kelman, and Suhayl Saadi) have used the vernacular as a medium for third person narrative fiction. In doing so, they have emphasized the legitimacy, beauty, and utility of languages sometimes considered debased and ugly even by their own speakers. I argue that this shift from the margins to the center of dialect or minority language in fiction is a radical—and relatively recent—one, beginning in the mid-twentieth century. By utilizing the vernacular as a medium for third person narratives, these authors are bringing non-prestige vernacular voices to the center of their fiction.
In Chapter 1, I explore how Selvon utilizes a modified Caribbean dialect for third-person narration in The Lonely Londoners (1956); his method is to ease readers in and instruct them in the dialect. Selvon is able to offer a sharp social critique of black British life in London in the long “Summer is Hearts” passage in The Lonely Londoners, where it is partially hidden by dialect and a lack of punctuation, and again in Moses Ascending (1975), where a somewhat foolish narrator and heavy use of humor soften the blow.
In Chapter 2, I engage with Kelman’s use of working-class Glaswegian Scots dialect in the Booker Prize-winning How Late It Was, How Late (1994) and in his earlier short story “Nice to Be Nice” from An Old Pub Near the Angel (1973). I consider public perceptions of Glaswegian Scots, criticism which highlights the “difficulty” of reading Kelman, and objections to “obscenity,” which at times appear to be conflated with objections to speakers of non-prestige vernaculars or to the vernaculars themselves. I explore how Kelman’s use of free indirect discourse furthers his project of amplifying voices we might not otherwise encounter.
Chapter 3 focuses on Saadi’s fiction including “Ninety-nine Kiss-o-Grams” and “Beltane” from The Burning Mirror (2001), and Psychoraag (2004), which utilize both Standard English and Glaswegian Scots, as well as Scottish Gaelic, Punjabi, Urdu, and other languages. Saadi forces readers to accommodate in the act of reading, but also in terms of their concepts of nation, region, and ethnicity. Sheldon Pollack’s and Robert Young’s concept of the “cosmopolitan vernacular” offers us a helpful way of reading Saadi. I also examine Saadi’s process of selectively glossing vocabulary.
A brief epilogue considers the role of the vernacular in an episode of the contemporary television mystery series Shetland. It questions why vernacular speakers in television and film are often mediated by standard written text subtitles, and provides one notable example in which the creators chose instead to place the vernacular at the center.
Moss, Kathryn N., "Postcolonial Urban Vernacular Narratives in Contemporary Britain" (2020). CUNY Academic Works.
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Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America Commons, Literature in English, British Isles Commons, Other English Language and Literature Commons, Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies Commons