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Talking Back at the Centre: Demotic Language in Contemporary Scottish Fiction

By Jeremy Scott

Abstract

This article attempts a survey of a common trend in contemporary Scottish fiction(1994–2003): a unifying concern with issues of ‘voice’ in narrative. The survey\ud proceeds from an assumption that many Scottish writers make use of so-called demotic voices within their work (i.e. sociolects and dialects from everyday situations, or ‘street language’). Very often, this concern with the demotic arises\ud out of ideological standpoints peculiar (arguably) to Scotland: attempts to create a distance from Standard English, a nationalist position, or the ambition to reassert\ud the primacy (or, at least, the equivalency) of oral over written forms of language. The conclusion must be that choices made with regard to narrative technique are\ud ideological choices, and that the demotic method is not without its pitfalls. This assertion is demonstrated through an exploration of three writers: James Kelman, Alan Warner and Anne Donovan. All of these demotic techniques are aided and abetted by the writer’s intense identification with place, with Glasgow (for Kelman and Donovan) or with Scotland as a whole, and the intrinsically ‘polyphonic’\ud conditions which exist there, i.e. a range of dialects and voices standing as ‘other’ to Standard (colonial?) English. The writers’ goal is to exploit the particular cultural\ud and linguistic conditions peculiar to the country in order to produce a narrative art form which could adequately aspire to represent them; in other words, to create a\ud distinctive literary voice the better to represent a particular regional or national constituency. The pitfalls need to be addressed too: a tendency towards the mundane\ud and repetitive in demotic narratives, a certain belligerence which can alienate readers and the essential question of who this writing is written for. Can it be read with\ud true engagement outside of its target constituency? If not, is such writing open to the charge of parochialism

Topics: PE, PR
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Year: 2005
OAI identifier: oai:kar.kent.ac.uk:3262

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