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Eroded into Being: Discourse, Style and Semantics in Russell Hoban's 'Riddley Walker'

Scott, Jeremy (2011) Eroded into Being: Discourse, Style and Semantics in Russell Hoban's 'Riddley Walker'. In: Hornsby, David, ed. Interfaces in Language 2. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge, pp. 87-102. ISBN 978-1-4438-3165-9. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:47738)

The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided. (Contact us about this Publication)
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Abstract

Though its premise is similar to other fictional renderings of post-apocalyptic dystopias, Russell Hoban’s 'Riddley Walker' (1980) is unusual and innovative in its narrative technique. The eponymous homodiegetic narrator writes (speaks?) in a futuristic version of English which attempts through phonetic transliteration a representation of the Kentish dialect. Contemporary terms assume new meanings, and even the place names, while recognisable, indulge in beguiling word play: ‘Dog Et’ for Dargate, ‘Do It Over’ for Dover and ‘Sams Itch’ for Sandwich. The River Stour, seeping its way through the radioactive tundra that was once the Garden of England, becomes, appropriately, ‘The River Sour’. While Riddley’s discourse is a believable-enough projection (in linguistic terms) of how English might evolve in such circumstances (bringing to mind the more recent creation of Will Self in The Book of Dead: Mocknee), the technique presents intriguing challenges to both the reader and the author, which this paper will elucidate in stylistic and narratological terms. In terms of the first, it will explore the tension between standard written English and the ‘dialect’ of the text, distinctive linguistic features (vocabulary, grammar, spelling), and the ‘dialect’ of the characters versus that of the narrator. In terms of the second, schema-oriented language, deictic expressions and discourse representation strategies (modes of speech and thought representation) will be examined.

The text sets in motion a narrative ‘suspense’; the reader is gradually inducted into the narrative voice, becoming accustomed to new ways of reading and understanding written discourse. In the terms of cognitive poetics, language and reading schema are invoked, then altered or even redefined. The reader is forced to ‘slow down’, and partake, just like Riddley the narrator, in a process of making sense, meaning, out of inchoate written language. The sensation the reader has of coming to terms with new connections between word and meaning chimes precisely with the central theme of the book: of a new, fracturing discourse ‘eroded into being’ to represent a new, fractured age. As Self writes in his introduction to the novel: ‘It is a grand book, a demanding book, a destabilising book’. It is this process of narrative and linguistic destabilisation which is be the focus of this chapter.

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: P Language and Literature
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages > English Language and Linguistics
Depositing User: Jeremy Scott
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2015 15:32 UTC
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2020 04:07 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/47738 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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