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Talking Back at the Centre: Demotic Language in Contemporary Scottish Fiction

Scott, Jeremy (2005) Talking Back at the Centre: Demotic Language in Contemporary Scottish Fiction. Literature Compass, 2 (1). pp. 1-26. ISSN 1741-4113. (doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2005.00148.x) (KAR id:3262)

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This article attempts a survey of a common trend in contemporary Scottish fiction(1994–2003): a unifying concern with issues of ‘voice’ in narrative. The survey

proceeds from an assumption that many Scottish writers make use of so-called demotic voices within their work (i.e. sociolects and dialects from everyday situations, or ‘street language’). Very often, this concern with the demotic arises

out of ideological standpoints peculiar (arguably) to Scotland: attempts to create a distance from Standard English, a nationalist position, or the ambition to reassert

the primacy (or, at least, the equivalency) of oral over written forms of language. The conclusion must be that choices made with regard to narrative technique are

ideological choices, and that the demotic method is not without its pitfalls. This assertion is demonstrated through an exploration of three writers: James Kelman, Alan Warner and Anne Donovan. All of these demotic techniques are aided and abetted by the writer’s intense identification with place, with Glasgow (for Kelman and Donovan) or with Scotland as a whole, and the intrinsically ‘polyphonic’

conditions which exist there, i.e. a range of dialects and voices standing as ‘other’ to Standard (colonial?) English. The writers’ goal is to exploit the particular cultural

and linguistic conditions peculiar to the country in order to produce a narrative art form which could adequately aspire to represent them; in other words, to create a

distinctive literary voice the better to represent a particular regional or national constituency. The pitfalls need to be addressed too: a tendency towards the mundane

and repetitive in demotic narratives, a certain belligerence which can alienate readers and the essential question of who this writing is written for. Can it be read with

true engagement outside of its target constituency? If not, is such writing open to the charge of parochialism?

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2005.00148.x
Uncontrolled keywords: Literature, Language, Narratology, Postcolonial, Fictional technique, Dialect, Contemporary British Fiction
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Jeremy Scott
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2008 16:34 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 09:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Scott, Jeremy:
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