LINGUIST List 23.621

Mon Feb 06 2012

Diss: Applied Ling/Langi: Stegen: 'In Quest of a Vernacular Writing...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 04-Feb-2012
From: Oliver Stegen <>
Subject: In Quest of a Vernacular Writing Style for the Rangi of Tanzania: Assumptions, processes, challenges
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Institution: University of Edinburgh Program: School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2011

Author: Oliver Stegen

Dissertation Title: In Quest of a Vernacular Writing Style for the Rangi of Tanzania: Assumptions, processes, challenges

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Langi (lag)
Dissertation Director:
Bob Ladd Miriam Meyerhoff
Dissertation Abstract:

Despite increased efforts by linguists and educationalists to facilitateliteracy and literature development in minority languages, there are stillmany languages worldwide which do not have a written form. One area thatneeds attention in literature production for a newly written language isthe question of writing style. As the features of good style arelanguage-specific, writing style guidelines have to be developed for eachlanguage anew. It has been assumed that such vernacular writing styledevelops predominantly by mother tongue speaker intuition. However, veryfew studies have been carried out to verify this.

This research is set within the confines of the literacy project in theRangi language of Northern Tanzania. As a contribution to the developmentof a natural writing style in Rangi, this research investigates whatevidence for stylistic preferences can be found in texts that were producedby Rangi authors writing in their mother tongue for the first time. Themain data of this study are 112 texts which were collected during a one-daywriters workshop conducted between May 2005 and January 2006 in fourdifferent locations.

One way of observing stylistic preferences is through analysing the changeswhich authors make in successive versions of their text. Of the 112 textsin the database, 71 display stylistic changes between draft and revisedversions. These texts are then investigated in more detail, e.g. withregard to text length, lexical density and story components. The subsequentcomparative analysis of draft version versus revised version of each textoperates at three levels: narrative elements at the text level, lexicalchoice at the word level, and word order, tense-aspect verb forms andparticipant reference at the clause level. At all three levels, stylisticconventions could be identified, e.g. formulaic introductions and codas,elimination of Swahili loanwords, or certain tense-aspect usages.

Despite such commonalities, this research suggests that, far fromdeveloping intuitively, vernacular writing style is influenced by a varietyof factors, not least by previously available literature in languages ofwider communication or in the target language itself. Among the concludingrecommendations of this study for future vernacular writers workshops isthe advice to employ guided editing which encourages multiple drafting andtreats the different levels of editing separately, i.e. story structure,lexical choice and grammatical features.

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