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Breaking English: Postcolonial polyglossia in Nigerian representations of Pidgin and in the fiction of Salman Rushdie

Gillian Gane, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The literatures emerging from the postcolonial world bring new dimensions of linguistic heterogeneity to English literature, opening up rich possibilities for the heteroglossia and interanimation of languages celebrated by Mikhail Bakhtin. Two case studies illustrate the “breaking” and remaking of the English language in postcolonial literatures. Pidgins, oral vernaculars born in the colonial contact zone and developed outside institutional channels, compel our interest as linguistic realizations of a subaltern hybridity and as the most markedly “broken” varieties of English. Within Nigerian literature, representations of pidgin English play a variety of transgressive roles. In two specimens of Onitsha market literature, pidgin is spoken only by clownish chiefs, but in one of these, Ogali A. Ogali's 1956 Veronica My Daughter, pidgin also functions as an anti-language providing a critical perspective on the “big grammar” of standard English. In Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease (1960) pidgin is often associated with the seamy underside of life, while in Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters (1965) it is the vehicle for a resistant counterknowledge. Finally, in Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy (1985), “rotten English,” a mixed language strongly colored by pidgin, escapes the confines of quotation marks to become the language of narration. The second case study is of the work of Salman Rushdie, arguably the paradigmatic postcolonial author—a writer positioned between East and West, between the English language and the polylingualism of South Asia, and renowned for his inventive linguistic experimentation. Chapter 7 explores his short story “The Courter,” a story of linguistic and personal dislocation and transformation in which a mispronounced word brings about a new reality. Chapter 8 is an extended exploration of the languages in Midnight's Children and the translational magic of Saleem Sinai's “All-India Radio.” Chapter 9 examines ways in which Rushdie unsettles borders, redefining the boundaries of words and bringing languages into new relationships by means of such devices as the translingual pun. The concluding chapter briefly explores the implications of this postcolonial breaking of English for the novel and for the language of English literature.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|African literature|Asian literature

Recommended Citation

Gane, Gillian, "Breaking English: Postcolonial polyglossia in Nigerian representations of Pidgin and in the fiction of Salman Rushdie" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950154.