Title page for ETD etd-10172005-160223

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Ernest, David Solomon Harold
URN etd-10172005-160223
Document Title Meaning in Small, Snyders and Pearce : an application of Lotman’s semiotics to ‘coloured’ literature
Degree MA (English)
Department English
Advisor Name Title
Mrs. I Noomé Co-Supervisor
Prof R A Gray Supervisor
  • poetic language
  • dialect
  • political joke
  • Die Laaste Supper in Marabastad
  • Robert Pearce
  • primary modelling system
  • defamiliarise
  • extra-text
  • iconicity
  • Joanie Galant-hulle
  • signified
  • secondary modelling system
  • signifier
  • Lotman
  • semiotics
  • deviant devices
  • Peter Snyders
  • aesthetics of identity and opposition
  • Adam Small
  • original Afrikaans
Date 2004-10-09
Availability unrestricted
In this study, a semiotic point of view of selected literature written by ‘coloured’ writers is examined, using some of the semiotic theories of Jurij M. Lotman, one of the leading Soviet semioticians of the school of Tartu.

Selected theories of Lotman are applied to ‘coloured’ literature. These include an examination of poetic language (based on Lotman’s theory of a primary and secondary modelling system), the iconicity of the text, the aesthetics of identity and opposition, the distinction between text and extra-text, and the relationship that exists between the extra-text, culture and code.

The literary texts chosen for analysis are works by three contemporary ‘coloured’ writers, namely Adam Small, Peter Snyders and Robert Pearce, who have all contributed poetry, prose and drama to Afrikaans literature in general, and original Afrikaans literature in particular. The selected dramas are Joanie Galant-hulle (Small 1978), Political Joke (Snyders 1983) and Die Laaste Supper in Marabastad (Pearce 1988b)*. These writers’ works span approximately three consecutive decades and their work can be examined for commonality and differences. The three chosen dramas were written five years apart respectively; yet they reveal thematic similarities. The dramas also feature a common ‘deviant’ language code used by ‘coloured’ people and discussed in this study as original Afrikaans. This code, which is juxtaposed with standard Afrikaans, is one of the basic areas of interest that motivated the choice of subject for this study.

The primary objective of this study is to examine the differentiation that Lotman makes between the various sign systems that operate in natural language (the primary modelling system) and poetic language (a secondary modelling system), and to determine whether these sign systems can be detected and are functional in ‘coloured’ literature. In addition, an investigation is made of the iconicity that operates in poetic language (which, according to Lotman, is the basis for differentiation), and to ascertain whether iconicity occurs in these examples of ‘coloured’ literature and to what extent it influences meaning. In the process, intratextual relations within the poetic text were scrutinised to establish whether the manipulation of language, devices and codes raises any particular expectation in the poetic text, and also to detect whether oppositionally constituted code-systems which set up their own patterns of expectation within the syntactic and lexical levels of the poetic text clash with and contradict prior expectations.

In addition, an analysis has been made to determine whether a new understanding of the texts can be reached, based on Lotman’s aesthetics of identity and opposition, and to what extent the reader is forced to collaborate in the modelling process of the texts when the reader’s expectations are undermined by an aesthetics of opposition.

The study has successfully corroborated and substantiated all the selected aspects of Lotman’s theory. The differentiation that Lotman makes between the primary and secondary language model is demonstrated especially by the iconicity that operates in poetic language. Examples are abundant in the selected literature and are conspicuous, especially through the manipulation of the language, devices and codes employed by the authors to defamiliarise objects so that they transcend their familiar characteristics and perceptions, and sometimes signify a totally new concept. In this way, readers’ expectations are subverted and they are invited to collaborate in the modelling process of the texts. These techniques are also an integral part of both the text and the extra-text, and their presence justifies Lotman’s claims that the meaning of a literary text cannot be understood outside its cultural or historical context.

In retrospect, it can be argued that this research has opened up some additional avenues for an analysis of meaning in ‘coloured’ literature.

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