A Lexical Semantic Study of the Novel I Do Not Come to You By Chance
Background to the study
Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It covers the structure (morphology and syntax), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics) of a language. It goes deep into the history and relationship between languages, culture and human behaviour. Semantics, as a sub field of linguistics, is the study of the meanings of words and sentences in a language. Pragmatics, which is also a sub discipline of linguistics, is quite similar to semantics because it is more practical and interested in meaning in language in use unlike semantics which looks at language in isolation.
Semantics as a term became popular in the early 20th century. The nature of meaning is a discipline which has drawn scholars from anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy and etymology. Prior to the early 20th century, the philosophers studied semantics. They focused on finding the interrelationship between expressions and their physical representations in the real world.
Semantics is a branch of linguistics that is very important in human existence. Effective communication achieved through language plays a significant role in everyday communication. It is the possession of language which separates human beings from animals. The purpose of any piece of utterance is to remit meaning to a receiver. Hybels and Weaver (1989) in Ndimele (4) say that “understanding is a two-way process” the listener and the speaker. Sometimes, the meaning of an utterance cannot exactly be determined on the surface level; many other factors affect meaning. Semantics looks deep and tries to present meanings to utterances considering the factors surrounding the utterances. Some other times, an expression may sound meaningless or inappropriate in a given context but the same expression will be meaningful and appropriate in another context.
Lexical semantics focuses on the lexical items of a language, which is the basis for understanding meaning in a language. The lexical item could be a single word, a part of a word or a chain of words that make up a meaningful utterance. It reviews meaning, employing different literary devices, as well as techniques. It brings out the in-depth meaning of lexical items by finding out the conceptual, associative, or thematic meaning. It also concerns itself with meaning relations at the word and sentence levels. Words, sometimes do not have meaning in isolation, they share meaning relationships with each other. Words which share semantic features with each other tend to belong to the same field semantically. Words could share relationship with other words through sameness in meaning (synonymy) or as direct opposites (antonyms). A single lexical item could also have several related meanings (polysemy) or even share the same form yet have different meanings (homonymy). At the sentence level, the meaning of a chain of words or a part of a word is examined in terms of paraphrasing, ambiguity, contradiction, tautology, redundancy, meaninglessness, presupposition, anomaly, entailment or proposition.
The meanings of lexical items are not based solely on what they represent on the page but from the interpretation, which we create in our minds. Based on this, the concept, implicature, inference and schemata play roles in passing judgement consciously or unconsciously. Implicature is an additional conveyed meaning. Inference is the assumption we make from a write-up, while schemata is the abstract idea that exists in the mind and is achieved under various circumstances in the interpretation of what we experience. Other factors like shared background between the speaker and hearer, experiences of both parties involved in the speech process, among others, help in piercing together the meaning of lexical items.
The reason for conducting this research work is to find a contemporary Nigerian author, who appears promising and whose works have not been highly exhausted in the lexical semantics field. After carrying out research on modern Nigerian writers, Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come To You By Chance caught my attention. I noticed looking through reviews on the book, some readers commented on the writing style as being strange or unappealing, full of weird adjectives and proverbs, etc. These reviews motivated me to do a lexico-semantic study on the book in other to reveal the deliberate usages of West African English by the author who has aptly and hilariously used expressions that are related to a particular culture and society, and the writing should be taken as such- not as sub-standard English.
Adaobi Tricia Obinne Nwaubani is a Nigerian novelist who was born in Enugu, Nigeria, to Chief Sir Chukwuma Hope Nwaubani and Dame Patricia Uberife Nwaubani in 1976. She was raised by both parents in Umuahia, Abia State, among the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria. She studied Psychology at the University of Ibadan. Her debut novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Africa), a Betty Trask Book award, and was named by the Washington Post as one of the Best Books of 2009. Nwaubani is the first contemporary African writer on the global stage to have gotten an international book deal while still leaving in her home country.
Nwaubani was one of the pioneer editorial staff of Nigeria’s now defunct NEXT newspapers established by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dele Olojede. She was the editor of èlan, the fashion and style magazine of NEXT. She was later appointed to the position of opinion editor. Nwaubani is the first writer in the history of world literature to capture the 419 scams phenomenon in a novel. In 2012, she was selected as one of 15 emerging leaders in government, business and civil society from across West Africa, to attend a “Leadership for Change” training program sponsored by the Private Investors for Africa (PIA). She has also written several other publications such as: In Nigeria, You’re Either Somebody or Nobody; Nigerian Tribalism: A Personal Love Story; The Woman Champion; etc.
Statement of the problem
Adaobi Nwaubani’s literary works have shown an incredible use of language through her far-fetched, pictorial descriptive skills. However, her works have not been deeply explored in the lexico-semantic form in this study. Using her novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, the main questions considered are:
- How has the writer used certain lexical items to convey meaning?
- Why does she prefer to use such lexical items in the contexts they appear?
- What do these lexical items mean as used?
- What is the relationship between the lexical items and the entities they represent in the real world?
These questions reveal the yet-untreated aspects of Nwaubani’s writings- the aspects explored in this research.
Significance of study
This work is a contribution to semantic study of literary works as it draws more light and attention on the divisive, innovative and eloquent language exhibited by Adaobi Nwaubani in the selected novel. This study will be of great importance for those who have interest in English Language, especially those with special interest in semantics. It will also motivate them to embark on lexical semantics study of various literary works. Furthermore, this study can be an initial point for those who are interested in carrying out further research on the works of Adaobi Nwaubani.
Aims and objectives of the study
The main objective of this study is to carry out a lexico-semantic analysis of Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come To You By Chance. This research work will identify the predominant lexico-semantic devices used in the novel, and the effect these devices have in the overall evaluation of the text. Also, it shall illustrate the manner in which the writer’s experience is conveyed at the lexical and semantic levels to show case the distinctive Nigerian flavour of the novel. This study will help researchers or readers relate with issues that are on going in the present Nigerian society. Another objective of this research work is to correct some language usages as presented in the text because some readers may tend to go with some of the usages in the novel.
This study adopts the framework proposed by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards (1923)– the conceptual theory, where there is a triangular relationship between reference, thought and symbol (the semiotic triangle). This method is selected because it brings out the inter-relationship between the lexical items and the entities in the real world.
The research also adopts the random sampling method and other applied methodologies, including the concepts of inference and Implicature to draw out the meanings of the selected lexical items. Inference is an assumption or conclusion that is rationally and logically made based on the given facts or circumstances, while Implicature is a technical term coined by H.P. Grice which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance.
Scope and limitation of the study
This research work will make use of Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come To You By Chance as its primary source and will be limited to the lexico-semantic study. This will be done to identify some of the unique and fascinating lexical items used in the novel by analysing these items and ascertaining their semantic implications. Selected items from both lexical and semantic domains will be used in this study. This is because the study cannot handle all the lexical issues as well as semantic issues.