“… even if I am not getting anything in this life, I will go to school. I will finish my primary and secondary and university schooling and become teacher because I don’t just want to be having any kind voice… I want a louding voice.” The Girl with A louding Voice, Chapter 4, page24
The Girl with a Louding Voice is Abi Daré ‘s debut novel. It is a genius piece of art. The author crafts together this book using non-standard and mixed varieties of the English language.
Adunni the main character is a 14-year-old semi-literate girl growing up in rural Nigeria in a village called Ikati. Using a combination of pidgin and broken English to create Adunni English the reader meets a spirited young girl who leaves an indelible impression, the reader is forever changed.
Confronted with the harsh realities of her existence as a girl in a world that puts no value to the girl-child. Adunni’s prospects are doomed as she is married off by her father to a much older man, Morufu, against both her and her late mother’s wish and desires.
Kayus is Adunni’s younger brother with whom she shares an intimate bond. Still a child herself and grieving the loss of her mother, Adunni is extremely distressed as she is severed from her younger brother and friends and forcibly enters a polygamous marriage.
The author does not spare the reader the descriptive details of Adunni first night with her husband Morufu.
“You are now complete woman” Chap 8 pg. 45. The Girl With A Louding Voice
A deeply traumatic event that informs on real lived experiences of young girls all over Africa. From as young as 9 years of age, girl-children are married off to much older men. Girl-child marriages are endemic throughout the African continent.
In recent events a 14-year-old pregnant girl in Zimbabwe died in childbirth at a church shrine. The church known as Johanne Marange encourages marriages of young girls to much older polygamous men with the consent of the parents who attend and are members of this church
“Don’t cry Adunni, l warn myself, don’t you never, ever cry for any nonsense foolish old man like Morufu” Chapter 8 page 46 The Girl With A Lounding Voice.
Pain and loss become familiar to Adunni as she navigates marriage life. She bonds with Morufu’s second wife, Khadija who helps Adunni to cope with the cruelty of her marriage brought on by her husband and the first wife Labake. Khadija is kind, patient and generous with Adunni as they both suffer a similar fate of being traded off young into marriages of convenience.
Unexpected events unfold and suddenly Adunni is on the run from her home and village of birth Ikati. She escapes to Lagos, Nigeria with the help of Iya the old woman her mother was kind to whilst she was alive.
In Lagos, Adunni finds work as a housemaid through Mr Kola, Iya’s brother. Life does not get easier for Adunni. She is treated cruelly by Big Madam her employer. Big daddy, Big Madam’s husband is lurking in the dark shadows waiting to pounce on Adunni as he is a rapist who takes advantage of the vulnerability of the young girls who come to work for his wife. The only kind people to Adunni are Kofi the chef and Ms Tia a neighbour whom she meets at one of Big Madam’s luncheon’s hosted at the house.
Adunni’s spirit refuses to be broken despite the many challenges that confronts her daily. Her only escape is getting an education. She is naïve, vulnerable and lacks any filters. Adunni is however extremely resilience, and yet she acknowledges her vulnerability and need for support and help from others. She is introduced by Kofi to a scholarship program for housemaids. If Adunni can write a good and convincing essay as well as get a guarantor, she may finally catch a break in her hard and sorrowful life.
The author deals with heavy themes that include poverty, grief, loss of innocence, child-marriages, rape, human-trafficking, modern slave-trading, infertility, cultural alienation, education, power dynamics between the rich and poor in Nigeria among others.
Abi Daré successfully narrates a heavy book in a light often humorous manner through the character of Adunni. This technique of storytelling encourages the reader to absorb and process important themes in digestible bits.
The Use Of ‘Non-Standard’ English In The Girl With A Louding Voice
The author’s use of language brings depth and uniqueness to the protagonist, Adunni. Her characters come alive.
The language that became English arrived around the 5th Century with Germanic warrior tribes, the Angles, Saxon, and Jutes together called Anglo-Saxon.
In Africa, English arrived through white colonial settlers. Africa has a complex relationship with English because of its association with its colonisers.
English like any language underwent a process called codification. When a language is codified, it becomes formalised through the development of grammars and dictionaries and rules for the functional use of the language (Haugen (1966). It is used in literature, by the judicial system, education, administration and becomes the standard for economics. This norm becomes the standard that everyone aspires to as the idealised norm. This norm is linked to power and status
Wardhaugh (2006: 34) argues that a language that has been standardised “becomes possible to teach in a deliberate manner.” However, language is not homogenous and can change and provide new varieties. Wardhaugh, (2006) states that language is not an object of study but something we use every day and as users we contribute to its variation. However, this does not mean that we can do whatever we want with the language and still be understood. It can be said that variations therefore have certain parameters.
Today the development of post-colonial English has created many world Englishes. Examples of hybrid varieties of English are Tsotsitaal, SA Indian English, BSAE, Singlish, Spanglish, Chinglish among other. Language and varieties change, morph, borrow and modify as a result of need.
Schneider (2011: 223) explains that “gatekeepers of linguistic propriety tend to resent these mixed varieties everywhere, for fear of seeing ‘good’, pure, standard forms of language polluted”, but he argues that “in reality it’s just the opposite: these language habits are cognitively creative and culturally appropriate”
The very use of the terms “standard” and “non-standard” privileges one over the other and create negativity surrounding the “non-standard” dialects.
The genius of The Girl With A Louding Voice in its use of ‘non-standard’ English is that, though all the rules around language structure, syntax, lexical and grammatical features et cetera are broken, readers from anyway in the world can read the book to understand.
Whilst it is initially difficult to grasp this unique way of writing, a few pages into the book a liight bulb does switch on. It then becomes easier as the book progresses to comprehend the content and context of the novel.
We see here how language is used as a result of need. Adunni the character becomes real within the nuisances of her lived experiences. After putting down this book the reader would want to meet Adunni in real life, that is how believable she is!!
A highly recommended read!