Foregrounding in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign God’s Inc

Foregrounding in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign God’s Inc.


The study is a graphological inquiry on foregrounded elements in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign god’s Inc. The various paralinguistic graphological devices in the text complement the verbal signifiers and foreground critical and strategic aspects of meaning in relation to context of situation and textual function. Conventional wisdom that is linguistically oriented has it that, to properly decipher a literary work, it is essential to examine the linguistic peculiarities- styles, of the writer. Interestingly, stylistic analysis opens up forays for the appreciation of any literary work. This assertion necessitates a graphological inquiry on the select text, as it bears relevance to prevailing socio-cultural realities of contemporary Nigerian society.

Consequently, the research design for the study is Content Analysis. This framework addresses various stylistic and semantic orientations through a treatise of the several foregrounding elements. Admittedly, the study established the prevalence of some distinct foregrounding elements which may pose challenges to readers. And these elements express great ideas, consequential to the entire narrative. It is quite revealing as the research outlines the fact that foregrounding as an analytic tool is of great stylistic import in the sense that they help writers to express contextual or stylistic meaning, enhance text aesthetics and appeal as well as aid readers to conveniently comprehend and interpret the ideological propositions of writers contained in text.

By extension, language performs a multitude of functions constantly unveiled in relation to communication needs. The study therefore concludes that interpretation of textual meanings without proper recourse to the covert nuances of graphological patterning would be largely ineffective and fall short of the requisite standards in linguistic analysis of texts.



1.0 Background to the Study

Foregrounding is a term usually used in art, having opposite meaning to background. It is a very general principle of artistic communication that work of art in some way deviates from norm which we, as members of society, have learnt to expect in the medium used and that anyone who wishes to investigate the significance and value a work of art must concentrate on the element of interest and surprise, rather than on automatic pattern. In stylistics, the notion of foregrounding, a term borrowed from the Prague School of Linguistics, is used by Leech and Short (48) to refer to ‘artistically motivated deviation’. Foregrounding refers to any attention-catching device in a text including lexical or structural repetition, coupling, collocation, etc. which makes parts of a text to stand out in specific contexts. The term traverses the entire gamut of discourses and presupposes any deliberate device, linguistic or paralinguistic, which authors and writers deploy to emphasize or make prominent a particular aspect of a text. It is a major component of arts criticism, helping scholars to distinguish between the background and foreground of paintings.

Writers deploy diverse ways not only to encode and disseminate their artistic vision and message but also to achieve formal aesthetics in their works. This study explains why writers take advantage of the elasticity of language in sundry ways in their discourses, in the sense that ‘language implies the availability of an internal structure which makes it possible for the writer or speaker to construct texts that are not only coherent but also situationally appropriate’ (Adeyanju,87). In addition, this study also explains why writers employ various paralinguistic devices to complement linguistic choices, make meaning more precise as well as enhance the aesthetic texture and appeal of the texts.

Among the latter set of stylistic resources (paralinguistic devices) highlighted above are graphological elements or patterns such as italicization, capitalization, dashes and ellipses. These paralinguistic resources help writers to capture particular pragmatic senses in texts and aid the readability, comprehension and interpretation of linguistic forms in given situational or textual contexts. According to Adegoju, graphology concerns ‘such matters as spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, typography, lists, underlining, italicization, paragraphing, color, etc. which can all create different kinds of impact, some of which will cause the reader to react differently’ (160).

Ngara (17) echoes a similar viewpoint when he observed that graphology covers such areas as the layout of the text, color, shape of the printed marks, punctuation, paragraphing and spacing, etc. Short (54-57) adds that splitting of a word to separate letters, writing all words together without orthographical spaces, etc., are also graphological patterns or symbols. Etymologically, the term has Greek roots; grapho’ meaning writing and logos meaning word. Basically, it focuses on or deals primarily with handwriting. The term has, however, become very crucial and strategic in linguistic circles particularly in descriptive stylistics and its uses have extended to the study of all subtly meaningful symbols and signs including pictorial devices, which help writers to communicate messages. It is apparently most effective and applicable to an ideophonic language like English, whose writing system largely depends on a set of symbols and signs. According to Alo (5), the descriptive study of style rests on the analysis of language resources which can be found at the various levels of language description including the following: phonology (sounds/sound effects), lexis (word usage and diction), grammar (word and sentence structure), semantics (units of meaning), graphology (orthography or writing system) and pragmatics (language for action or getting things done).

A close look at the above outline etches the fact that stylistic analysis is an empirical linguistic tool whose insight and methodologies do not only cover all aspects of language use but also accounts for all the linguistic choices made by individual authors and speakers in all communicative engagements or situations. Hence, Alo (1) posits that the verbal style encapsulates or embodies “… all the devices of language that are used to achieve communication goals in speech and writing …’ Mullany and Stockwell (15) corroborate this view point inter alia: Stylistic analysis can be conducted…across the linguistic rank-scale, from phonology, morphology and lexicology through syntax and semantics, and up to text or discourse levels.

The significant point, however, as earlier mentioned, is that style which is central to stylistics, distinguishes one form of language use from another at all these constitutive levels or layers, according to the specific interactive or communicative context. Hence, Wales in Missikova (18) defines style as variation in language, literary or non-literary, the set or sum of linguistic features as the characteristics of an author or as the choice of items and their distribution and patterning. Crystal (440) lends credence to this view when he defined style as situationally distinctive uses of language by an author or speaker. Turner (7) adds that stylistics focuses on variation in the use of language, often, but not exclusively, with special reference to the most conscious and complex uses of language in literature.

The term ‘foregrounding’ had its origin with the Czech theorist Jan Mukařovský. It is how Mukařovský’s original term, aktualisace, was rendered in English by his first translator Paul Garvin in the 1960s. It refers to the range of stylistic variations that occur in literature, whether at the phonetic level (alliteration, rhyme), the grammatical level (inversion, ellipsis) or the semantic level (metaphor, irony). According to Leech (56-57), foregrounding manifests in linguistic parallelism and linguistic deviation and can be studied from lexical, grammatical, phonological, semantic and graphological angles. Leech and Short (48) are of the view that there are essentially two kinds of foregrounding viz: quantitative and qualitative foregrounding. Quantitative foregrounding is deviating from some expected frequency while qualitative foregrounding is the deviation from the language code itself. Yankson (3) alludes to the latter kind of foregrounding when he defines it as ‘…the aesthetically intentional distortion of the linguistic components of a text’. He opines that ‘the normal language code is the background. Any deviation from the normal code is the foreground, because it brings the message to the forecourt of the reader’s attention’. In the same vein, Halliday (98) describes the term as ‘motivated prominence’ given to a particular textual feature, in the sense that it covers all the linguistic and paralinguistic strategies used by literary artists or other authors to make parts of a text prominent which contribute substantially to their cumulative meaning, and attract the attention or close scrutiny of scholars and readers alike. There are two main types of foregrounding; parallelism which can be described as unexpected regularity while deviation can be seen as unexpected irregularity. As the definition of foregrounding indicates, something can only be unexpectedly regular or irregular within a particular context. This context can be relatively narrow, such as the immediate textual surroundings (referred to as a ‘secondary norm’).

No doubt, foregrounding is a relevant, even indispensable, strand of textual texture, particularly in literary texts by its very nature and function, as outlined earlier. Babajide (131) highlights the relevance of foregrounding in graphological analysis inter alia: foregrounding is a major device in the graphological aspect of a text. This simply means bringing a certain item to the fore. Foregrounding manifests in different forms such as capitalization, italicization, dashes, and all sorts of signs and symbols used to demand attention. As such, the present study focuses on analyzing foregrounded elements which have been deliberately deployed by Okey Ndibe to draw attention to critical and strategic aspects of meaning in his Foreign God’s Inc. The idea noted earlier is to demonstrate the fact that there is an intrinsic connection between visual appeals and meaning interpretation in texts, the appropriation interpretation of meaning in discourse is not entirely dependent on the use of formal linguistic elements.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

This study analyzes some foregrounded elements in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc. Literary writers use language in a particular way for aesthetic effect and meaning, although, the literary aspect of communication carried out through foregrounding enhances the effectiveness of communication to a very high level. This is also applicable to Okey Ndibe.

The problem this study seeks to investigate therefore is to explicate how effective these features such as the graphological and lexico-grammatical features have been used in conveying the subject matter and preoccupation of the writer to intended readers. Whenever a writer employs foregrounded features, he is able to express his message to the reader more effectively and more forcefully than if he employed non-foregrounded language. This study will illuminate and explore some of the foregrounded features mentioned above used by the author of this text as a chosen means to communicate to us more forcefully and effectively.

1.3 Significance of the Study

Since every literary artiste has his own particular way of thinking and writing, stylistic devices use is different from one writer to another. The goal of this study is to sharpen our awareness of how language works in literary texts. Language is an immensely complex and variable instrument. The literary artiste cannot cut himself adrift from the role language plays in our everyday lives. So, literary expression is an enhancement or a creative liberation of resources of language. Examining the language of a literary text can be a means to proper understanding and appreciation of the artistic achievement. Therefore, this study is an invaluable piece of writing as it analyses linguistically, the use of foregrounding as an aspect of style in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc. It will also make it easy for linguists to appreciate the unique style of the writer whose work is understudy. This is consequent on the propensity of writers to consistently adopt certain stylistic features over others. This study can also help in unraveling some ambiguous aspects of the author’s style. It is also a means to sensitize readers and students alike on language.

1.4 Aim and Objectives of the Study

The study examines the elements of foregrounding as an indispensable linguistic feature in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc. In other words, the artistic as well as the communicative effects created through the employment of foregrounding will be investigated in detail. Foregrounding, being the phenomenon through which the writer’s creative ability in using language is reflected, is also an important way through which this study is examined. To this end, the underlying objectives are:

a. to decipher the foregrounding features; graphology and lexico-grammatical features deployed by the writer in the text. identify and explain some of the various foregrounding element the literary artiste used to pass across his intended message, and

c. to explicate how effective these features are in conveying the subject matter and preoccupation of the writer to intended readers.

1.5 Methodology

An in-depth reading of Foreign god’s Inc. was done and the relevant chapters sampled, a case study design is used since it seeks to describe a unit in detail, in context and holistically. The study aimed at collecting and analyzing foregrounded element such as graphology and lexico-grammatical features from the text. For the primary sources of data, this study will sample various chapters from the text, Foreign god’s Inc. that specifically have the features to be analyzed. With secondary sources the study will relies on library research by going through books, projects, thesis and papers presented on the same. There are three hundred and thirty-two pages that make up the novel and twenty- seven chapters, data collection will involve random sampling. The data sampled depends on the context in which it occurs this is to assist the study in analyzing the significance of the collected data. Data analysis involved scrutinizing the acquired information and making inferences. This research uses the content analysis technique.

1.6 Scope and Delimitation of the Study

Linguists use the term stylistics in a variety of ways as a cover term for a wide range of linguistic studies. The concept can be divided into literary and linguistic stylistics. The focus of this study is linguistic stylistics with preference on foregrounding. It attempts to analyses some of the foregrounding elements in Okey Ndibe’s Foreign god’s Inc. These foregrounding the elements of graphological foregrounding such as the author’s use of italics, capitalization and dashes for either emphasis or for foreign words will be investigated in this study. Lexical, where the author creates new words (neologism) and how some words are used differently from their conventional usage. Furthermore, the use of semantic foregrounding alongside the author’s use of idioms and proverbs.

1.7 Synopsis of the Text

Ikechukwu Uzondu (“Ike for short”) has a degree in economics, cum laude, from Amherst College, but has been driving a New York City taxi for thirteen years. His first obstacle to employment more fitting to the level of his education is his lack of a green card. The solution, when it comes, is worse than the problem: a shrewish wife pathologically obsessed with both sex and shopping. But the green card was not enough: despite earning all As in English at Amherst, Ike, has an accent that makes him all wrong for Corporate America. Ike’s accent, his speech, comes up repeatedly as shorthand for his inability to belong anywhere. Struggling under the weight of debt (brought on, in part, by a horrific divorce from his sociopathic wife), Ike gambles in hopes of supplementing his taxi-driver earnings, and drinks to numb it all. E-mails from family in Nigeria plead for financial help. A solution seems apparent when a friend hands him an issue of New York magazine profiling an art broker, Mark Gruels, who owns a gallery called Foreign Gods, Inc. Ike is disgusted the first time he read Gruels’s story. The idea of a few wealthy individuals buying up so-called Foreign Gods and sacred objects just didn’t sit well with him. But then his friend encourages him to return to his village to steal Ngene, the war god of his people. When an e-mail from his sister tells him that the local pastor, Uka, has insisted that the Ngene has to be destroyed “in a huge fire” so that millions of dollars can be “released” in blessing, Ike finds a justification for what has begun to seem like the solution to his inability to stay ahead of rent payments. A long back story detailing the coming of Christianity to Ike’s people via the missionary efforts of one Mr. Stanton (whose name, on local tongues, turned into something that sounds a little too obviously like “Satan”) Mr. Stanton is given to preaching peace and love one minute and then to slapping his interpreter the next. A similarly flat portrayal of Pastor Uka follows. Ike discovers that his mother’s resources have been pouring steadily into Pastor Uka’s coffers. Ike’s mother wasn’t always a devotee of Pastor Uka’s brand of Christianity; they were Catholic, when his father was alive, and for Ike’s uncle, this was a point of ridicule as well. Ike’s uncle’s god, Ngene, gave him all kinds of things to eat–goat, yams, and chickens –while Ike’s father’s God gave him “only a tiny wafer pasted on his tongue.” Such were the consequences when his people went from worshiping a powerful god of war to worshiping a God “whose love was so overpowering that he assented to being impaled.”

Ike finally does land in Nigeria, at the airport he was harassed by venal custom officials, he visits the home of a rich and powerful friend who keeps a room in his house for “poor people” to watch TV. They only appear to be entranced by an old game between the Lakers and the Bulls; actually, it’s the astronomical salaries of NBA players that dominate their chatter. Ike observes they hardly cared for the dunks, the pump fakes, the cross-over dribbles, the fade-away jump shots from impossible angles, these fans in faraway Utonki seemed enthralled by the basketball players’ storied wealth. Everyone in this novel is greedy and grasping, particularly women, including a former lover of Ike’s, Regina, who ditched him when they were teenagers for a richer guy, who ended up dying when a heroin-stuffed condom burst inside him at a British airport. All the while, he tries to figure out a way to steal Ngene from under the watchful eyes of his uncle, Osuakwu, the deity’s attendant. Meanwhile he visited his grandmother who reveals to him what he had long dread to hear as it confirm the sick feeling, fainting and dizziness especially when it rains he was inform that he will be the next deity attendant. He finally was able to steal the god and hurriedly travel back to America he sold the god to Mr. Gruels.


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