Linguistic Analysis of Dahl and Blyton

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Jennifer Sanders

Linguistic Analysis of Dahl and Blyton

Literary Review

When looking at the critical and theoretical work that has been written on the subject of children's literature, one finds that there is a surprising dearth in the amount of material written on the importance of linguistics. The challenge was not to select which linguistic theory would best apply, but rather to find any theory that would have significance to the interpretation of children's literature. In order to complete this analysis, therefore, I found it most constructive to work with two texts. The first, Generative Grammars and the Concept of Literary Style by Richard Ohmann, is a text which gives a comprehensive overview of the ways in which linguistics can be used to determine the way style is constructed in a literary text. The second, The Reader in the Book by Aidan Chambers, is a text on literary criticism in children's literature which discusses the importance of style in the critique of a piece of children's literature. It is by examining the arguments of the latter that one is able to effectively apply the theories of the former in order to analyse the linguistic differences between the two children's texts, and determine the implications of such differences.

Before selecting the Ohmann text, I looked at another linguistic approach to style, Nominal and Verbal Style by Rulon Wells. This piece discussed the common preference for a verbal style in English prose, over a nominal one, and the syntactical consequences of each style. Wells argued that because a predominant use of nouns would necessitate other syntactical elements, and the same would apply to a predominant use of verbs, then the choice of nominality over verbality or vice versa would inevitably mean other stylistic variations. While this argument would be interesting applied to literature generally, I rejected it in favour of Ohmann's theories which, being more comprehensive in their linguistic application, would better suit an analysis of children's literature.

Ohmann, in Generative Grammars and the Concept of Literary Style, picks up, as it were, where Wells leaves off. Ohmann points to the slippery way in which critics have been accustomed to trying to determine exactly what constitutes the style which Chambers indicates is so important. While critics have been inclined to look at such differences as those caused by time period, syntactical and grammatical usage, the usage of tropes, etc., he points out that these remain unsatisfactory without an underlying and unifying linguistic theory. He indicates generative grammar- concerned with the transformational rules of grammar- as the solution. By looking at the methods in which transformation grammar can create stylistic variations without altering actual meaning, Ohmann shows how it can be used to show the linguistic causes of stylistic variations between writers.

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The result of using Ohmann's theory in conjunction with Chambers' guidelines for criticism (discussed in the analysis below) is that one can show how linguistic variations in text can account for the changing reception of a children's book, or how they can be related to the changing conditions in which a children's book was written. This is what the following analysis will attempt.


Aidan Chambers' The Reader in the Book presents arguments which make clear the need for linguistic analysis of children's literature, and is therefore supremely useful to this analysis. Chambers argues that, firstly, in order to properly ...

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