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What’s in a name?

Language attitudes and linguistic features in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names

David Newbold    Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italia    



This paper takes a close look at the language used by Zimbabwe writer NoViolet Bulawayo in her first novel, We need new names. The novel charts the emotional, cultural, and linguistic growth of its teenage protagonist Darling in the move from Paradise, a shanty town somewhere in Zimbabwe to Destroyedmichygen (= ‘Detroit Michigan’) in the US. An underlying but central theme of the novel seems to be the tension between the global language English, and Darling’s never- named vernacular; a tension which emerges both in the non standard forms of the extended monologue (which oscillates between controlling pronouns I, and we), the numerous reflections on language use made by the characters, the freshness and vibrancy of the imagery, and, not least, as the title suggests, in the novelist’s never-ending quest for new ways of representing reality through language.