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A Study of the Idiolects in the Color Purple

Author LongYan
Tutor LiuJinLing
School Hunan Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords idiolect factors The Color Purple
Type Master's thesis
Year 2005
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The Color Purple is the most influential work of Alice Walker (1944- ), an American black woman writer. It became very popular ever since its publication in 1982, arousing wide attention in the critical field, and creating a lot of enlightening research of its form and language. With idiolects, this epistolary novel mainly written in colloquial Black English creates a vivid image of the black women who have been silenced under the double oppression by the whites and the black men.The novel adopts an epistolary form, uses the first person, and tells the whole story mainly by employing the idiolects of the heroines Celie and Nettie. In the novel, Celie is a poor and humble black woman. Like other blacks, she lives in the lowest layer of that white-dominating society and is discriminated and oppressed by the whites. Thus her idiolect is characterized with the general features of the black language. For example, she often uses the passive object rather than the active subject. That is the very reflection of the blacks’ lack of self-consciousness in the long-term discrimination and oppression.Meanwhile, the black community itself, being in the lowest layer of the society, has its own "scale" according to the blacks’ differences in gender, economic situation, social status, etc. For example, a black president in the colonized Africa speaks Standard English and uses the word "native" to refer to his black people, which shows hisdiscrimination against them;the black men discriminate against and even wantonly bully the black women, etc. These differences are further influencing each character’s idiolect which then has its unique features. That’s how Alice Walker vests the novel with perfect unity, distinct gradation and realistic authenticity, strengthens the aestheticism of the novel, and makes The Color Purple enjoy high reputation in the past, the present, and the future.Language is not only a cultural phenomenon, but also a social phenomenon ranging over many factors. An idiolect is the language or speech of one individual at a particular period in life. It is a variety of a language that is manifested by way of using grammar, selecting and using words, phrases or idioms that are unique to that individual.This thesis tries to analyze the characters’ idiolects, and by combining each character’s background and situation, attempts an exploration of the probable factors that have influence on people’s idiolects, such as ethnic group, educational background, gender, social & economical situations, social interactions, etc.

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