Meaning, Style, Interpretation Crucial in Use of Language, Says Professor Awonuga
A senior faculty in the Department of Languages and General Studies, Covenant University, Professor Christopher Awonuga, has emphasized the importance of meaning, style and interpretation of texts in the use of language, specifically English, as a means of communication within a society and as a means of expression by an individual.
The Professor of Stylistics, who on Friday, March 31, 2017, delivered a lecture titled, ‘What Does this Text Mean? Stylistics and the Process of Interpretation’ at the 8th Inaugural Lecture of Covenant University, examined the application of stylistic principles in the analysis and interpretation of texts with special focus on the study of the language of politics and the language of sermons, and the stylistic study of poetry and prose fictional texts.
Meaning, according to Professor Awonuga, is the key to communication, without which people cannot relate with one another the way they should. Stressing the seeming uselessness of language without meaning, he said that for a speaker or writer to make sense, he must communicate a particular meaning to his listener or reader.
The implication of the lack of meaning, he posited, would be chaos because people would find it difficult to understand one another and, as a result, social cohesion would be impossible. “But it is not only society that would be affected; individuals within the society, too, would be affected. Someone who cannot express himself clearly cannot be successful in life, for others would not understand him and he would continually be frustrated,” Professor Awonuga explained.
He, however, pointed out that attempts by philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists and, more recently, linguists, to find an answer to what the word “meaning” means had proved futile because meaning is quite a complex subject.
The difficulty in defining the word “meaning”, Professor Awonuga stated, is further compounded by the fact that the English Language makes provisions for saying something and meaning something else, which is usually done through the deliberate use of irony, sarcasm, euphemism and utterances usually treated under speech acts.
He highlighted changes in the meanings of words and expressions and listeners mishearing what the speaker has said or is saying as other difficulties in ascertaining meaning in language.
“In view of the difficulty in defining the word meaning, linguists now focus on the meanings of individual words. Thus, instead of asking, what does the word “meaning” mean? Language scholars now ask, what does this particular word, for example, ‘insurmountable’ mean?” said the lecturer.
While Professor Awonuga defined Text as any stretch of language that is meaningful in linguistics, Style, according to him, is notoriously difficult to define, with the reason being that the notion is used in many disciplines such as aesthetics, linguistics, stylistics, poetics, music, architecture, arts, fashion, and advertising among others.
Style, he stated further, is basic to two types of stylistics: linguistic stylistics and literary stylistics. “For one way in which we can define each of them is that linguistic stylistics is the study of non-literary style or style outside literature, and that literary stylistics has to do with the study of literary style.”
Other issues discussed by Professor Awonuga in his presentation were the nature of literary communication, creation of the fictional world, use of English personal pronouns in both non-literary and literary stylistics, some key concepts in literary stylistics and a sample stylistic analysis and interpretation of a poem so as to demonstrate how some of these linguistic and literary devices operate in the actual study of literary texts.
Making an illustration on the stylistic study of poetry and prose fictional texts, especially poetry and prose fiction, the lecturer demonstrated the way in which the stylistic analysis and interpretation of a poem should be carried out. The reason for this, he explained, was that the study of poetry is not popular with university students of English in Nigeria. He admonished that students need to be motivated in this area of their academic endeavour.
Present at the Inaugural Lecture, held inside the Covenant University Chapel were the Chancellor and Chairman Board of Regents, Covenant University, Dr. David O. Oyedepo; Education Secretary, Living Faith Church Worldwide, Professor Bridget Sokan; Vice-Chancellor, Covenant University, Professor AAA. Atayero; Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shalom Chinedu; Acting Registrar, Mrs. Mary Aboyade; other members of Management and Principal Officers.
Also on hand were the Deans of Colleges, members of the University’s Senate, faculty, staff and students, and invited dignitaries.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor AAA. Atayero, had described Covenant University as a Vision-driven citadel of mental prowess founded as a reaction to glaring decline in tertiary education in Nigeria, adding that the Vision being run by the University is to become one of the top 10 universities in the next five years.
While highlighting the lecturers and topics of all the past CU Inaugural Lectures, their uniqueness and attempts to situate literary and politico socio-economic issues in proper perspectives, the Vice-Chancellor said that the 8th in the series by Professor Awonuga, “is a worthy beginning of the third 7-year cycle of the University”.
Professor Atayero stressed that he was convinced God was ushering Covenant University into a new era of exploits courtesy of the Inaugural Lecture delivered by Professor Awonuga, whom he described as an astute academic and a scholar par excellence.