Multimodality in the poetry of Lillian Allen & Dionne Brand : a social semiotic analysis
This thesis develops social semiotic theory by asking it to account for the meaning-making practices of African-Canadian poets Lillian Allen and Dionne Brand. Its primary aim is to develop the theory, though it attempts to describe in new and interesting ways certain moments in these oral / written texts at the margins of the literary. The research question, what is the relationship between spoken creole and English writing? is an entry into the political issues raised by the texts themselves, and larger issues of clisciplinarity and the epistemologies of linguistic and literary studies. After giving an account of their literary-historical and black feminist contexts and an overview of the poetry of Allen and Brand, I look for a poststructuralist semiotic model of the relationship between letter and sound in Derrida's "The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing". Finding his -07 version phonetic writing too restricted to account for the practices of Allen and Brand, and deconstruction only a partial explanation of Caribbean feminist poetics, I develop a critical sociolinguistic / social semiotic account of language standardisation, conventionality, and grammar. With the aid of Saussure's Cours 4 linguistique generale, I work out the formal properties of the sign necessary to account for these, and then go on to explain how they work in the texts of Allen and Brand using two social semiotic principles of production: "projection" and "embodiment". My thesis is that orality is a mode, as is dialect (including standardised language), the English grapholect, and the semiotic body. Each of these has certain meaning-making affordances not accessible in the others. The writing of Allen and Brand, as well as Allen's performance, use each of these modes to create different meanings.