The Functions of Deictic Words in the Representation of Migrants’ Experiences in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (2013)




deictic; functional; migrants; experiences; NoViolet Bulawayo


Literature is one of the arenas of discourse where the meaning potential of language can be explored. Interestingly, literary language is more figurative than denotative. One of the functions of language in literary discourse is to represent reality. The reality literature represents varies, depending on the historical time and social events a writer focuses on. Some aspects of global reality captured in current literature include transnational migration, border crossing and how migrants negotiate their identities in new cultures and spaces. For the African writer, the foregoing is a source of inspiration for what has become known as the African migrant novel. Against this background, this paper explores the representation of migrant experiences with particular attention paid to the use of language. An aspect of language explored in this paper is the use of deictic words in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and the deployment of deictic forms, such as pronouns, verbs, and adverbs in order to specify personal and collective identity, physical and psychological displacement and spatiotemporal referencing in the novel. M. A. K. Halliday’s and Roger Fowler’s functional linguistic models are adopted as a theoretical framework within a descriptive and qualitative methodology. This paper notes that the recurrent use of the first-person pronoun in singular form (I) foregrounds the text as a Bildungsroman. It also underscores the process of self-evolution of Darling, the protagonist, from an a priori subject to a self-conscious a posteriori subject. The paper shows that deictic words as deployed in the novel enabled Bulawayo, the author, to create distinct narrative voices, from a personal voice to a collective voice. A guiding assumption of this paper is that it is not enough to say that a narrative has a first, second, or third person narrative speaking voice without pointing to the text to show how it is realised with data drawn from the text. It is on that basis that this research contributes significantly to the multidisciplinary interconnection between the field of linguistics and literature (stylistics) to demonstrate how a writer can engage nouns and pronouns as linguistic resources for the construction of migrant experiences, whether encompassing personal or group identity, nostalgia and memory, dislocation, or hybridity.


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How to Cite

Anasiudu, Okwudiri. 2020. “The Functions of Deictic Words in the Representation of Migrants’ Experiences in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (2013)”. Imbizo 11 (1):19 pages.



Received 2019-09-04
Accepted 2020-01-19
Published 2020-05-12