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Linguistic Analysis of Ifeoma Okoye's the Fourth world.

Updated on March 20, 2017



The study of general linguistics is concerned with linguistic description of language at various levels: phonetic, grammatical, lexical and semantic. The domain of stylistics uses the principles of general linguistics to single out the distinctive feature of a variety of language used by an author. The application of general linguistics in a stylistic analysis is to identify a peculiar feature of language which is restricted to a given social context and situation and to account for the reasons why certain linguistic norms and practices are common to all languages. But there are peculiar linguistic repertoires ranging from one author to another. The function of stylistics is to discover and describe the pattern of language usage which marks one from another. Crystal and Davy (1969:77) maintain that linguistic stylistics seeks to… ‘explain as far as possible why people speak in a certain way and to determine what alternative forms of expression they choose to ignore in particular situation’. Linguistic features such as lexical, grammatical or even graphlogical features mark a difference between one author and another. Lethbridge and Mildorf believe that when examining the style of a text, one scrutinizes mainly two aspects diction (the choice and use of words) and syntax (the sentence structure) (89). However, the work of Crystal and Davy (1990) identifies three levels of stylistics analysis: graph logical features, lexical features and grammatical features.

Ifeoma Okoye’s The Fourth World is written in English using the techniques and features of language such as grammatical structure, diction, figures of speech, register and tone. That is why in order to arrive at a satisfactory understanding of Okoye’s style; one must have an understanding of the nature of her language.


Diction refers to the lexical choices made by the writer in the expression of the items of the text. No two individuals or authors can write or express their ideas in exactly the same style; it can be determined whether the author’s usage is vague or concrete, denotative or connotative

Concrete Words

These are words used to refer to things that are tangible and can be touched. It refers to words that describe qualities that can be perceived with the five senses as opposed to using abstract or generalized words. Examples from Okoye’s The Fourth World include: ward (11), plastic bag (5), shovel (9), mortar (9), machete (9), head pans (9), cornflakes (10), coconut (10) firewood (27) sardines (51) gutters (59), mortuary (69), coffin (77), money (82) and box (98). The use of word ‘plastic bag’ paints a mental picture of the patient in the next bed near Chira’s father and how a blood filled tube empties its content. ‘Mortuary’ is correctly used by Okoye to paint a picture of a hospital building where dead bodies are kept.

Abstract Word

These are words used to refer to intangible items. It describes qualities that cannot be perceived with the five senses. Examples from the text include: Madness (54), laughter (68), guilt (71), death (77) anxiety (77), truth (79), anger (82), hunger (177), love (187), destiny (199), poverty (207) and smile (301). Okoye uses the word ‘guilt’ appropriately to show Chira’s unhappy feelings with herself as a result of how she treated her father during her first year at FGGSS. Okoye gives guilt an arrow. ‘Hunger’, Okoye uses this word to show Chira’s state of having no food to eat.

Formal Diction

Formal diction is a style of writing or speaking that uses complicated sentence structures, perfect grammatical form and a wide range of vocabulary words. Diction in the formal category is frequently characterized by a narrator’s use of longer, more complex words than people are used to hearing but at its heart the style is not really about appearances as much as it is about accuracy. This way of speaking or writing might involve the use of rare or obscure words but only if they are the best fit for the ideas they are trying to convey. Here are some examples from Okoye’s The Fourth World: shooed (5), sisal (20), putrid (29), trotted (45), surreptitiously (51), hilariously (52), vicious (56), precocious (97), concocted (114), vicious (56), warily (205), covered (180), livid (80), pouted (93) warily (205, obliterated (212), hysterical (76), acerbic (75) etc.

A good number of readers who are educated can understand the main points or message in the book or novel but the words above are some words that could make comprehension quiet challenging for the average reader. Okoye’s diction is effective because the words she chooses are appropriate for the readers and the purpose since they convey her message accurately and comfortably. Okoye’s use of diction projects her to be a skillful writer because she tries to mix general and particular, abstract and concrete words to administer a series of small but telling surprise.

‘As Chira watched the flies converge on another putrid guava’. The use of the word ‘putrid’ paints a horrible picture of decay or rottenness in the mind of the reader and leaves the reader imagining how flies converge on the guava and were feasting on it. Okoye uses this word accurately because the purpose of its usage is achieved.

‘Kodili trotted towards the ward, wondering whether to disobey her or not’. Okoye uses the word ‘trotted’ (45) correctly to show how Kodili hurried to meet the nurse that ordered her to come to the ward at once. The use of the word trotted implies that Kodili moves forward at a speed that is faster than a walk to show urgency of the call.

‘Nebolisa pouted and grinned and shook her head’. The use of the word ‘pouted’ by Okoye shows a disdainful grimace and display of Nebolisa’s displeasure at what Kodili said. The use of this word implies that Nebolisa pushed out her lips, to show that she is annoyed with Kodili’s response and her present predicament.

Okoye uses the word ‘acerbic’ tactically to give a vivid description of Amos’ (Chira’s uncle) harsh or corrosive tone when he talks especially to Akalaka.

‘Chira is a precocious girl’. This means that Chira has developed particular abilities and ways of behaving at a much younger age than usual. Okoye uses this word instead of ‘hardworking’ to sharpen her readers’ perception of Chira as an intelligent girl and a girl whose precarious situation has made her develop abilities that are above her age.


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