Stylistic analisis for measuring time by Hilon Habila

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The various attitudes and dispositions of linguistic and literary scholars towards the study of literature can be partially attributed to the fact that some scholars of linguistics see linguistics as a science and, therefore, cannot be combined with literature which is a creative art. Over the years, this battle between language and literature has been on and has hindered some literary critics from analyzing a literary work using the linguistic science. Also, the existence of a literary language is another bone of contention among linguists and literary artists. This research is poised to examine the possibility of analyzing literature using the resources of language in order to show the existence of a literary language, and how literary or creative writers use language. The work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one contains the introduction with so many sub-headings. Chapter two dwells on the literature review. Chapter three is the linguistic feature of  Helon Habila in Measuring time. Chapter four is on a textual analysis of the novel. Finally, chapter five is the conclusion.




1.0    Background of study

Language is the supreme tool or means of communication among humans (Osundare 2003:36). Communication of whatever medium – verbal, written, gesturing, facial expression or sign is language. Language is got from the Latin word “lingua” through French langue – meaning “tongue” (Rob Pope 1998:49). It is synonymous with tongue as the tongue is the main organ for speech production and primarily spoken and heard (Quirk and Greenbaum 1990:21).

Language is a “species-specific to man and species-uniform” (Syal and Jindal 2008: 4). It is the quintessence of human existence, making us unique and distinguishing us from other animals. According to Lewis Thomas in O‟Grady and Archibald (2009:1), “the gift of language is the single human trait that

marks us all genetically, setting us apart from the rest of life”.

Language serves diverse roles in our society. It serves as a medium of information, education, instruction, entertainment, and so on. It is used in different aspects of our society and this is responsible for its varieties which include: legalese, religionese, officialese, journalese, commercialese, and so on. Language in its myriad functions, is also used in literary works and language use in text is the concern of this research.


Creative writers often use language in their own ways to achieve beauty and meaning. They break the rules or norms of the language for a particular stylistic effect, but in the canopy of the language. Literary writers express their messages, feelings, attitudes, experiences and world-views by means of language. According to Northrop Frye (1970:74), “literature is a specialized form of language, as language is of communication”. Language is the tool or pillar of literature and each literary writer employs a particular mode of presentation to express himself.

Every literary artist, in his creative enterprise brings innovations to the language. For instance, he uses structure or arrangement and specific choice of words in a specific way for ornamentation and captivation of readers‟ attentions. Language is open-ended in that it permits the generation of new meanings and new forms (Leech and Short 2007:97). This creative use of language and the specific patterns employed in creative works by creative writers bring about style and stylistics in language studies.

1.1     Stylistic Analysis

A stylistic analysis of a text is a critical dissection of the text in order to understand the linguistic arsenal of the writer. Style, according to The Chambers

Universal Learners‟ Dictionary, is “a manner or way of doing something, like writing, speaking, painting, building”. Leech and Short (2007:9) define it as

“the way in which language is used in a given context, by a given person, for a given purpose. Text is the natural starting point or place for the study of style and stylistics, and to have a mastery of them, a firm understanding of language in all its dimensions is required. According to Robert Graves in David Crystal

(1997:71), a poet should “master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them”.

Both style and stylistics are derived from the Latin word “stilus” meaning “a writing instrument” (The Chambers Dictionary 1642). Style, therefore, refers to the linguistic “signature”, “stamp” or “thumbprint” of a writer and signifies the man – the writer (Luke Eyoh 2005:29). Every writer makes his own choices on the language which he wants to use as well as the manner he will use them. This choice and manner that constitute the style of the writer is the preoccupation of this research. Studying the linguistic choice and manner of a writer or speaker is in the domain of stylistics.

Stylistics is the scientific study of the variations in language. It is “a celebration of language in all its oddity, beauty, fun, astonishing complexity and limitless variety” (Crystal 1997). Stylistics explores how readers interact with the language of literary texts in order to explain how we understand, and are affected by texts when we read them. It is a three -dimensional process of communication between a reader, a text and a writer (Ofuani and Longe 1996:359).

It is understood that every writer has a style peculiar to him. This is also true of Isidore Helon Habila. It is against this background that this research analyses Habila‟s measuring Time, with a focus on their artistic manipulation of the resources of the English Language.

1.2    Statement of problem

The problem which this research project intends to investigate is: “A stylistic Analysis of Habila‟s measuring Time”. Literary writers use language in a particular way for aesthetic effect and meaning. This is also applicable to Habila. The research will illuminate and explore what is peculiar or specific to their language, how and why Habila have employed the resources or tools of language in these aforementioned texts in special ways. Some works have been done to explore the literary beauty of these works but much remains to be done in the area of linguistic investigation. That is the gap which this project intends to fill.

1.3    Purpose of Study

This research is intended to contribute to the literature on the existence of literary language. Scholars like Brumfit and Carter (1986) (qtd. in Yeibo 2000:34) argue that there is nothing like literary language as we cannot isolate or pinpoint what may be called a “literary register” as we have in law, agriculture, medicine, engineering, commerce, and so on. But Sinclair (1981), Stubbs (1983), Crystal (1997) believe in the existence of a literary language as an estranged language different from the ordinary language. Werth (1976) and

Carter and Nash (1983) suggest that, instead of literary language, we should rather talk about “language and literariness” (qtd. in Yeibo 2000:34-35). Roman Jakobson (1921) also believes in the existence of a literary language when he says: “The object of study in literary science is not literature but “literariness”, that is, what makes a given work a literary work” (qtd. in Abrams 1981:166 and Ogum 2002:21). Frye also asserts that literature is an autonomous language in reading a novel (1970:351).

Secondly, the research is intended to see whether or not linguistics as a science can be carried out in literature, a pure art. Over the years there has been a dispute between literary critics and linguists on the application of linguistic methods to the study of literature, of which some linguists are of the opinion that the activity is justified. But literary critics think otherwise. The argument is that while linguistics is a science, literature is inaccessible to science and that linguistic processing is only preliminary to literary response, so the linguist is incapable of taking us far enough in an account of literary form and experience. David Lodge (1966:357) (qtd. in Alabraba (2008:10-11) sheds light on the difference between the linguistic science and the literary art thus:

One still feels obliged to assert that the discipline of linguistics will never replace literary criticism, or radically change the bases of its claims to be useful and meaningful form of human enquiry; it is the essential characteristics of modern linguistics that it claims to be a science. It is the essential characteristic of literature that it concerns value. And values are not amenable to scientific method.

Emmanuel Ngara (1982:II) in Eyoh (2005:32) also refutes the possibility or capability of analyzing literature with linguistics. According to him, “a purely scientific approach to the study of literature can only kill the writer‟s creative effort”. But Roger Fowler (1996:197) claims that it is possible to analyse literature with linguistics depending on the linguistic model or choice employed by the critic and the purpose intended:

One model may have the purpose of accounting for the structure of particular texts; another may focus on socio-linguistic variation; another may be concerned to increase our knowledge about linguistic universal and so on (qtd. in Alabraba 2008:11).

In a nutshell, the research aims at investigating the possibility of analyzing literature with linguistics and the existence or otherwise of a literary language.

1.4    Scope of the Study

This research attempts to make a stylistic analysis of Helon Habila‟s Measuring time. The research focuses on syntax, morphology and graphology. This delimitation is because stylistics is not language study in all its entirety but saliency, peculiarity, habituality and individuality. Leech (1969) in Onwukwe (2009:52) gives credence to this assertion when he declares:

To talk of studying the “style” of an author does not usually imply a study of everything in the language he has used, but only an attempt to isolate, define, and discuss these linguistic features which are felt to be peculiarly his, which help to distinguish him from other authors.

1.5    Significance of the Study

A research is expected to play a significant role in the society or academia. It must be of benefit to humanity. According to Uzoagulu, “if there is no benefit, then there should be no study. Why carry out the study if there are no benefits” (1998:38). This research will contribute to scholarship or knowledge. The goal of the research is to sharpen our awareness of how language works in literary texts. It will be useful not only to the students but also to teachers, lecturers and other researchers in the areas of language, literature and stylistics.

Secondly, the study of language variation and language use is relevant for the teaching and learning of languages, and for developing the learner‟s communicative ability.

Finally, the paucity of stylistic materials in the study of Nigerian prose fiction also necessitates this research.

1.6     Biographies of Author 


Helon Habila was born in 1967 to a Christian Tangale family in Kaltungo, Gombe State in northern Nigeria. His father, Habila Ngalabak, was a preacher with white missionaries, and later became a civil servant with the Ministry of Works. While his mother was a seamstress, Helon Habila was a good story-teller when he was a little boy in the primary school. In fact, he was skillful in weaving stories, a voracious reader who had a flare for writing. He did his primary and secondary education in Gombe State. He is the third of seven siblings. Habila lost his parents in a car accident when he was twentytwo.

Habila‟s father wanted him to become an engineer and enrolled him at the Bauchi University of Technology and then the Bauchi College of Arts and Sciences. But he had no interest in Engineering and came home directionless and despondent. Habila might have been counseled by Jason Cowley and he studied English and Literature at the University of Jos and graduated in 1995. At the University of Jos, he met Toni Kan, a young man from Delta State, who had a similar interest in literature and writing. The two young men entered into a friendly rivalry that pushed them further in their literary pursuits.

Habila became an assistant lecturer, lecturing in English and Literature at the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi from 1997 to 1999 and published the biography Mai Kaltungo, the Chief of his home-town. He later went to Lagos in 1999 and became the literary editor of the Vanguard Newspaper. He also became involved with the Lagos chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors. Habila has written many creative works and had received various prizes and awards.

For instance, his poem “Another Age” won first place in the Musical Society of

Nigeria (MUSON), Festival Poetry Competition in 2000, his short story “The Butterfly and the Artist” won the Liberty Bank Prize, his collection of short stories “Prison Stories” submitted as “Love Poems” for the Caine Prize for African Writing 2001. Habila published the collection of short stories as the novel Measuring time. The novel, which came out in 2002, won the 2003 Common-Wealth Literature Prize for the best first novel by an African writer.

Habila has been at the University of East Anglia in Norwich England since the publication of Measuring time. He was awarded a writing fellowship for two years at the University of East Anglia where he is currently doing his doctorate. Habila has also been a fellow at the University of Iowa

International Writing Programme, a Chinua Achebe fellow at Bard College in

2005-2006. He currently teaches in the MFA programme at George Mason

University. His other works are: “Birds in the Graveyard” and “After the Obsession” published in the collection of poetry 25 New Nigerian Poets, edited by Toyin Adewale and published by Ishmael Reed. His second novel

Measuring Time” was published  in 2007. He has a wife and a daughter.


It is expedient to summarize the content of the text since language use is based on it. In other words, our analysis of the language of Measuring Time would relate essentially to the content which forms the social and cultural ambience of the text.

Measuring Timeis a novel that tell us the story of the twin brothers Mamo and La Mamo whose mother dies as they are born into the world. They grow up with their father, Lamang in a small village in Northern Nigeria called Keti. The hatred they have for their father because of his behaviour towards them and stories heard from gossips, make them take a decision to run away in order to join the army and become solders. Mamo who is suffering from sickle cell anaemia, falls sick on the way and is forced to stay behind while his brother LaMamo goes ahead to become a soldier. Mamo decides to go to school in order to fight the sickness and he becomes a teacher in history, in the village school. While he teaches, his brother is fighting in the war and sends him sketch letters regularly, about the happenings of the war.

Mamo in the village explores the local history by a white man, Drinkwater and is recruited by the traditional ruler, the Mia, to become his secretary and to write a true history of his people, due to the fame given to him by the reply of one of his articles from a British Journal. He fall in love with Zara who assists him with his article while LaMamo risks his life for a girl who would have been raped. Lamang on the other hand fights for political office and is betrayed by one of his party members.

Measuring Time also includes other minor characters like Aunty Mariana, a witch, the widows, a drunken cousin and others.


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