A Stylistic Study of Syntax and Trope in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

A Stylistic Study of Syntax and Trope in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus


Syntax is a major unit of language; and that of a text inclusive. Trope, on the other hand, is one of the distinguishing features of literary language, especially that of prose. To study syntax and trope of a prose work, therefore, is to examine its language. This work investigates the style of the language of Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus with particular reference to syntax and trope routing its findings through the Systemic Functional Theory mainly. Adichie’s perception and experiences of her world in the text are examined through the syntactic resources of transitivity exemplifying with sample passages from the text. Through this medium, the different themes of the text are interpreted and meanings are thus conveyed.

Table of Contents

Preliminary Page(s)

  • Title Page
  • Certification
  • Approval Page
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract

Chapter One:

1.0. Introduction

  • 1.1. Background to the Study
  • 1.2. Research Problems/Questions
  • 1.3. Research Objectives
  • 1.4. Justification for the Study
  • 1.5. Scope of the Study
  • 1.6. Research Methodology
  • 1.7. Theoretical/Conceptual framework
  • 1.8. Operational Definition of Terms

Chapter Two:

2.0. Literature Review

  • 2.1. The Concept of Style and Stylistics
  • 2.1.1. Style
  • 2.1.2. From Style to Stylistics
  • 2.1.3. The Nature of Stylistics
  • Style as Individuality
  • Style as Choice
  • Style as Context
  • Monism versus Dualism to Pluralism
  • Style as Deviation
  • 2.1.4. The Goal of Stylistics
  • 2.1.5. Types of Stylistics
  • Reader-Response Stylistics
  • Affective Stylistics
  • Pedagogical Stylistics
  • Literary Stylistics
  • Linguistic Stylistics
  • 2.1.6. The Usefulness of Stylistics
  • Establishment of Authorship
  • Pedagogy
  • Import to Law
  • Entertainment
  • 2.2. Syntax
  • 2.2.1. Origin and Definition
  • 2.2.2. Stylistics and Syntactic Analysis
  • Levels of Syntactic Analysis
  • 2.3. Trope
  • 2.3.1. Origin
  • 2.3.2. Meaning
  • 2.4. Systemic Functional Theory (SFT)
  • 2.5. The Concept of Foregrounding
  • 2.6. Stylistic Analysis of Some Texts and Adichie’s Works
  • 2.6.1. Language, Style and Ideology in Ben Okri’s Fiction
  • 2.6.2. A Stylistic Study of Metaphors in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
  • 2.6.3. Niyi Osundare as a Master Metaphorist: A Case Study of Village Voices
  • 2.6.4. The Issues of Accessibility: A Lexico-Semantic Reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Halfofa Yellow Sun
  • 2.6.5. Explicatures in Conversational Discourse in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

Chapter Three:

3.0. Presentation and Analysis of Data (Syntax)

  • 3.1. Presentation of Data
  • 3.2. Description of Data
  • 3.3. Data Analysis and Discussion
  • 3.3.1. Transitivity and Processes in Purple Hibiscus
  • 3.3.2. Code Mixing/Switching, Transliteration and Englishnization in Purple Hibiscus

Chapter Four:

4.0. Presentation and Analysis of Data (Trope)

  • 4.1. Presentation of Data
  • 4.2. Description of Data
  • 4.3. Data Analysis and Discussion

Chapter Five:

  • 5.0. Conclusion
  • 5.1. Findings
  • 5.2. Significance of the Study
  • 5.3. Contribution to Scholarship
  • References
  • Appendix

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

The study of syntax is one of the areas of language study that has enjoyed relatively wide attention by scholars. This is probably because of its importance at the level of language analysis. This, notwithstanding, more work still needs to be done in this rather inexhaustible area of language study. On the other hand, trope occupies a central place in literary writing and as such deserves a close examination.

Although a lot of scholarly works such as Kalu (2003), Hewett (2005), Ogoke (2007), Oha (2009), Kehinde (2010), Okuyade (2010), Anyokwu (2011) and Tunca (2012) have been done on Adichie’s works, especially PurpleHibiscus, most of them concentrate on the area of literature. There are a few linguistic studies (Tunca, 2008; Osunbade, 2009; Jegede, 2010) on her works though but usually at the lexical and semantic levels. Again, in most of these studies trope (if treated at all) is usually examined in terms of a recurrent theme (motif). Therefore, her manipulation of syntax and trope (the latter as it relates to rhetorical figure) in PurpleHibiscus which is strikingly outstanding and peculiarly hers is yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Moreover, PurpleHibiscus has always been studied with a view to establishing the differences and/or similarities between the author’s style and that of others such as Chinua Achebe, Calixthe Beyala, Ben Okri and Buchi Emechata as exemplified below by Odia Ofeiemum and Femi Osofisan respectively.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s narrative power matches the best across ‘generations’ of African writers- from Achebe to Calixthe Beyala and Ben Okri (see the back cover page of PurpleHibiscus, 2003).

…this would seem to make Chimamanda a gentler and perhaps more tender kin sister of Buchi Emechata. But in fact it is the master, Chinua Achebe himself, that she echoes more acutely… (ibid.).

In addition, works such as ‘Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s Debt to Achebe’ (Mawada, 2011); ‘Restoring Igbo Dignity – Ike and Adichie on the University of Nigeria’ (Ugochukwu, 2011) and ‘Culture and Discrimination against Women in Buchi Emecheta;s The Joys of Motherhood and Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus’ (Ireoluwa, 2011) also buttress this point. My desire to appreciate Adichie’s style inPurpleHibsicusby studying it non-comparatively resulted in this work.

Purple Hibiscus has been referred to as a new dawn in African literature because of its uniqueness in style and timeliness. In one of his commentaries on the text, Femi Osofisan says: ‘Nigerian literature is full of many oaks, and many of them already sagging … it is refreshing to find a new voice bursting out at last, to proclaim a new dawn, (emphasis mine) like-well , a purple hibiscus …’ (see the back cover page of PurpleHibiscus, 2003). Osofisan’s assessment is further strengthened by the San Diego Union-Tribune’s remark: ‘Adichie renders this coming-of-age story beautifully’ (see the preliminary pages of PurpleHibiscus). Even Chinua Achebe, the master novelist himself says about Adichie’s style:

We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless … Adichie came almost fully made (see the front cover page of Half of a Yellow Sun, 2006 by the same author).

A text that was first published in 2003 such as PurpleHibiscus could still be considered relatively recent. However, in the case of PurpleHibiscus, its ‘newness’ has been swallowed up in the tenacity with which it has been and still being read not only in Nigeria and Africa but all over the world; so much so that it is compared with such a classic novel as Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Between 2003 and 2011, many dissertations and thesis in addition to other publications were pivoted on the study of the text some of which are (in addition to those already mentioned above) Oha (2007), Tigner (2007), Osunbade (2010), Onukaogu et al (2010), Ouma (2011); to mention just a few. This is an expression of the importance attached to the text in linguistic study.

Since this work is a linguistic study, a detailed chapter by chapter summary of the text will not be necessary. However, a very brief account of the text will highlight its main issues. PurpleHibiscus captures the experiences of two typical Nigerian families ─ the wealthy and the middle class exemplified by Brother Eugene’s and Aunty Ifeoma’s families respectively ─ caught up in the aftermath of colonization which is given expression through religious beliefs (Roman Catholicism and African Traditional Religion) and the tumultuous political and economic situation in the country under military regime. This paints a bigger picture of the post-colonial Africa.

Adichie’s style which resonates with dexterous use of syntax and trope derives from her experiences and that of others in the Igbo cultural setting. The Igbo cultural belief and values are personified in Papa Nnukwu who is seen as a custodian of African cultural values in the text; the same status Amaka tries to assume but in a modernized sense. Adichie’s use of code mixing/ switching, transliteration and Igbo words (accorded the status of English words) gives the text a certain level of ‘Africaness’. Through her employment of trope, in addition to the way she constructs and reconstructs syntax, she transforms the English Language into a distinctly African brand in the text. This achieves meaning in the end which is the pre-occupation of language scholars.

The corpora of data for analysis comprises samples;Texts A-H, drawn from the different parts of PurpleHibiscus.The framework of the study is drawn largely from the Systemic Functional Theory model of transitivity. However, this is complemented by other theoretical concepts as considered appropriate to the analysis of data in this work.

1.2. Research Problems / Questions

The study is a stylistic study of the use of syntax and trope in Adichie’s PurpleHibiscus mainly from the viewpoint of the Systemic Functional Theory as propounded by Michael Halliday. The study will seek:

  1. To investigate peculiar linguistic pattern(s) such as regular syntactic structures in the text;
  2. To analyze the functions of the above pattern(s);
  3. To identify the use of trope in the text;
  4. To examine trope as used in the text;
  5. To spell out the implications of the use of the two terms for the text and the study of language at large.

1.3. Research Objectives

  1. The objectives of this study are as follows:
  2. To discover peculiar linguistic pattern(s) such as regular syntactic structures in the text;
  3. To carry out a detailed study of the functions of the pattern(s) discovered;
  4. To highlight the use of trope in the text;
  5. To delineate the use of trope in the text;
  6. To establish the implications of the use of the two terms in the text and language study at large.

1.4. Justification for the Study

The choice of this research topic is informed by both the little attention paid to the text in linguistic scholarship and the need to accord Adichie’s style of language in Purple Hibiscus the opportunity to be studied in a new dimension by stylistically analyzing her use of syntax and trope. Moreover, the merging of the concepts of syntax and trope in a single approach within a functional theory such as Systemic Functional Theory will surely introduce a revolutionary outlook to the study of the text. Thus, while studying the text independent of other works by other novelists, a linguistic pattern which is peculiar to Adichie and as such could be called hers will be established. This study fills the gap of providing a functional-driven study of Purple Hibiscus based on context to the end that ultimately meaning will be achieved.

1.5. Scope of the Study

The main source of data for this work is the text under study, that is, Purple Hibiscus. However, only a reasonable percentage of the text will be sampled for analysis in order to enable the researcher do a thorough work which too much corpora of data might inhibit. Notwithstanding, extracts which comprise copious examples drawn from all over the text will be examined to ensure fair representation of its language for the purpose of arriving at sustainable inferences. Also, the study is delimited to the aspect of syntax and trope such as considered suitable to its theoretical framework.

The study is divided into five chapters. The first and introductory chapter establishes the background as well as the essence of the study. This is followed by a review of literature in order to uncover the gap the study intends to fill and thus ascertain its desirability. In chapters three and four, data is both presented and analyzed. The last chapter contains the inferences from the study and the researcher’s final submission.

1.6. Research Methodology

Apart from the text under study, Purple Hibiscus, which is the primary source of data, written materials such as texts, journals, articles, internet and other sources as deemed necessary also supply data for this study. Library research is, therefore, an important part of data collection in this study.

Also, in the presentation and analysis of data, qualitative method is uppermost since proper description of data is of great essence in this research. This is not to say, though, that data cannot be quantified if the need arises but that stylistic study is not particularly keen on statistics for the simple reason that ‘an adequate characterization of an author’s style is much more than an inventory of linguistic highlights’ (Halliday, 1981: 339). However, statistical method could also be employed in the presentation and even analysis of data. For instance, quantitative method could be necessary where the establishment of prominence is needed in order to determine foregrounding. Thus, the researcher will employ a synthesis of both methods in order to achieve the best results.

1.7. Theoretical / Conceptual Framework

The framework of this study is drawn largely from Halliday’s Systemic Functional Theory (SFT)and the concept of foregrounding. This Hallidayan theoretical model has been chosen along with the concept of foregrounding for the linguistic analysis of data because of their relevance to the study. Moreover, the definition of style as proffered by Lucas (1955), De Vito (1967), Louis (1971), and Davy and Crystal (1983) (see the section ‘Style’ in chapter two below) ‘[which] demonstrates the fact that the concept of choice is a significant factor’ (Babajide, 2000: 124) in any stylistic study justifies the choice of SFT because it deals mainly with choices in language. Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) cited in Olajide (1997: 94) reiterate this by explaining ‘that nearly all work on linguistic stylistics reflects the conviction that style results from the characteristic selection of options for producing a text or a set of texts’.

The concepts of transitivity (the ideational function) and foregrounding are considered most appropriate for the analysis of Adichie’s use of syntax and trope in PurpleHibiscus for the sole purpose of achieving meaning through the analysis of the processes in the text since ‘a functional theory of language is a theory about meanings, not about words or constructions’ (ibid. 332). For instance, in the text, code mixing, transliteration and even Pidgin English usages are usually clauses indentified with processes depicting involvement and identification with a particular culture and system. It is not surprising, therefore, that the likes of Brother Eugene disassociates himself from such usages especially in formal settings because he does not agree with or appreciate the values of his people. Also, Adichie chooses some linguistic elements such as metaphorical expressions over others that are available in the language as a means of highlighting her themes among other reasons.

It is pertinent to note that SFT is not the only theory that could be applied to this study. Any functional theory of language such as Transformational Generative Theory, Speech Acts and Pragmatics as well some concepts under Discourse Analysis can also be used in the analysis of data. The choice of SFT, therefore, is informed by a desire to examine Purple Hibiscus from a totally different and perhaps new perspective as against the former studies on the text. Again, no other theory will enable an examination of the language of the text exactly as SFT’s concepts of the meta functions of language, especially the experiential (ideational) function, would do. Apart from the concept of foregrounding, that of pluralism can also be applied. The Systemic Functional Theory and the concept of foregrounding will be reviewed in the next chapter.

1.8. Operational Definition of Terms

A study of this type is considered open for consultation to scholars from different fields of learning. Hence, some terms, especially those that are considered exclusive to language study, need to be defined. Also special coinages and usages for the purpose of this study are explained. While some of them are explained below, keywords such as syntax and trope are explained in the course of the study.


This is a linguistic term for a direct translation of expressions from one language into another. There are a lot of transliterated expressions from Igbo to English in PurpleHibiscus. Some of them include:

  1. Good afun, sah p.55.
  2. Tank sah p.56.
  3. Omerola-The One Who Does for the Community p. 56.
  4. Gudumorni p. 58.
  5. One is still sucking my breast! p. 37.
  6. Did the people of your house rise up well? p. 58.

The style of Purple Hibiscus is drawn largely from this type of expressions.

Code Mixing/ Switching

This involves the use of two or more linguistic varieties in a discourse. Examples abound in the text some of which are cited below.

  1. I joke with you nwam, where would I be today if my chi had not given me a
    daughter? p. 83.
  2.  Ifukwa, people are leaving … p. 76.
  3. Nnonu! Nnonu! Have you come back? We will come in soon to say welcome! p.55.

This is a term used to denote the author’s style of assigning local words and expressions the status of English ones in the text. This is prevalent in the text and is for particular linguistic effects which could be lost if the expressions are translated into English. Some examples include: ‘dancing atilogu’ (p. 9), ‘onugbo leaves’ (p. 12), ‘a ripe agbogho’ (p. 64), ‘the mmuo’ (p. 83), etc.

Linguistic Deviation

This is a concept for ‘the mapping of the ontological feature(s) of one entity on another’ (Kamalu, 2010: 71). The various effects of these rhetorical figures which could be contradictory, complementary or semantically bizarre capture Adichie’s view of her subject matter ─ societal and individual ideologies. Some of them are explained below.


This refers to the rhetorical figure that confers human and animate qualities on non-human or inanimate entities.


This is referred to as explicit comparison.


This is commonly referred to as implicit comparison. In fact, all forms of linguistic deviation could be expressed as metaphorical modes since they embody one form of comparison or another. Others are hyperbole, euphemism, and oxymoron.

Chapter Five

5.0. Conclusion

This researchhas investigated thelinguistic representation of the world view and experiences in Adichie’s PurpleHibiscus through the study of the transitivity system of the syntax. The researcher has responded to the author’s ability to create various levels of meaning by dexterously using syntax and trope to project different themes in the text; what has been earlier explained in this work as ‘meaning potential of language’ according to Halliday. However, as has been mentioned earlier, only a few of the themes have been highlighted in this work. There are many others that have/not been mentioned in this work but that can also be revealed through the study of the transitivity system of the syntax.

Summarily, this work has researched into the language of Adichie’s PurpleHibiscus with particular reference to syntax and trope mainly from the viewpoint of Systemic Functional Theory. Beginning with the establishment of the basis and the purpose of the study in the first chapter; it examines relevant literature to the study in the following chapter. Chapters three and four are dedicated to the analysis of the language of the text but withdelimitationto the areas below the discourse level. The last chapter is a summary of the researcher’s findings, significance and the input of the study to scholarship.

5.1. Findings

A number of findings have been made in this study. These have already been discussed at the various levels of our discussions in this work. However, they are now assembled and stated below. This research has ultimately revealed the following:

  1. The analysis of syntax and trope in Purple Hibiscus is not an end in itself but a means of the explication and realization of meanings embedded in the language of the text such as the explanation of the theme of freedom among others.
  2. Transitive clauses feature more in the parts of the text where the characters experience freedom more while the reverse is the case where the situation is the other way round. Thus, the transitivity system captures the perception of ideologies and life in the text.
  3. In view of numbers 1 and 2 above, syntax is, therefore, part of the story in Purple Hibiscus.
  4. Purple Hibiscus is a microcosm of the real world.
  5. The deployment of a combination of specialized forms of syntactic patterns (code mixing, transliteration and Englishization) in the text in addition to the metaphorical modes achieves a certain level uniqueness in style that can be said to belong to Adichie exclusively.

The above findings have solved the research problems; thereby, ensuring the accomplishment of the objectives of the study.

5.2. Significance of the Study

This work has carried out a purely linguistic study of both the literary and literal language of PurpleHibiscus. Adichie’s ability to convey different levels of meaningin the text in what could be referred to as plain language has been examined through the study of its syntax unlike previous studies of the language of the text which have been mainly literature-based.

The study of trope, on the other hand, brings out the different dimensions of style as regard to syntax.It has been, therefore, amply demonstrated in this work that the language of a text is its syntax. Thus, Adichie’s manipulation of syntax and trope in PurpleHibiscus to the end of the explication of meanings has received the attention it deserves.

5.3. Contribution to Scholarship

This study is a reaction to a writer’s creative use of language such that it performs the function of embedding various kinds of meaning in its syntax. The fact that language is all encompassing in that it serves as a means of studying other areas such as themes and characterizationhas been shown in this work. Consequently, literature can be said to be subsumed under language, by and large. In other words, a text such asPurpleHibiscus is a linguistic representation of experiences through its syntactic resources as has been demonstrated in this work.

A measure of thoroughness has been displayed in the investigation of syntax and trope in this work; but this does not suggest in any way that the study is exhaustive since I am constrained by the scope of the study to theproposed areas.For example, only some of the themes of the text have been highlighted in this work. There many others that were not even mentioned in this work that the study of the language of the text will uncover not to mention other areas, apart from themethat are open to investigation through the resources of the language. For instance, the language of the text can be used to throw more light on setting.

Moreover, the language of the text at the level of discourse also offers prospective researchers an interesting area of inquiry. For instance, the language of dialogue and narration can sustain a very enduring investigation into the language of the text.

I, therefore, recommend that future researchers who intend to examine the language of PurpleHibiscus should attempt the above suggested areas in order to adequately represent in print verifiable and sustainable and not conjectured views of the author about her world. While the research is not exhaustible, it is my belief that I have been able to rouse interests of future researchers to conduct further investigations on the same or similar topic.

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