Lavender, Lilac, and Language: A Study of Linguistic Variation in Alice Walker's The Color Purple

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Since its publication in 1982, The Color Purple has been widely discussed. However, few of these analyses focus on the novel from a linguistic perspective. That is not altogether surprising considering that stylistics (the linguistic analysis of literature) has a contentious place in literary criticism. In part, this thesis aims to bridge the gap between linguistics and literary criticism by demonstrating how linguistics can aid in literary analysis. More specifically, however, the objective of this thesis is to answer the following research question: How does Alice Walker use language variation and for what purpose? My claim is that Alice Walker uses language variation to negotiate power, construct her characters’ identities, challenge the dominant culture, and expand the range of voices to be heard in American literature. To answer my research question, I collected data from all of Celie’s epistles in The Color Purple, which amounted to 47,057 words. In this corpus, I analyzed dialect usage and dialogue. The data quantify the language variation over the course of the novel. What I found was that Celie’s nonstandard dialect usage drops slightly over the course of the novel and she grows quantitatively in her conversations. Both of these represent her empowerment in her language. Ultimately, African American Vernacular English is a way for Celie and Walker to identify themselves and orient their position among speakers and authors who use Standard American English.

Sociolinguistics, Alice Walker, The Color Purple, Stylistics, Linguistic analysis of literature, Sociolinguistic analysis of literature, Dialects, Registers, Linguistic variation, Race, Gender, American literature, Twentieth-century literature, Literary criticism, African American Vernacular English