Oroonoko Questions and Answers
by Aphra Behn

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Can you help me to analyse Oroonoko's language?

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Aphra Behn, an English woman who may have lived in Suriname and was definitely a spy for a time in Antwerp, wrote the novel Oroonoko from the voice of a speaker who has traveled to other lands. Therefore, there are incorporated some elements in the narrators voice that are unusual, such as an over wordy vocabulary, an example of which is on page one, chapter one. Behn writes about "fortunes fancy" and truth not adorned with any "accidents but what arrive in earnest." So Behn's vocabulary has a robust superfluence in its descriptive phrases.

Behn also has a tendency to anthropomorphosize. As is seen on page one, "accidents arrive." A few pages over in the same chapter (p.3), Nature is called a "harmless, inoffensive and virtuous mistress." Behn also has a tendency to long sentences with one example (p. 5) running eleven lines, having three semicolons and ten commas. Another characteristic is that Behn employs the effects of heart and soul and eyes and tears, in other words, she makes very concrete references to the seats of emotion and deep feeling, something done only sparingly in contemporary writing.

As for syntax, Behn uses a classic English construction using that-clauses and prepositional phrases to modify nouns, restricting which-clauses to clarify references and sequence indicators like while, then, before, etc. Behn also begins many sentences with conjunctions like "but."

The voice of the main character, Oroonoko himself, is structured with the same intricacy as the narrator's, but there is even more elegance and fluidity. For example, his sentences depend even more heavily on prepositional phrases that allow his long discourses to proceed unbroken by insertions set off by commas, as the narrator's writing is. Oroonoko's language is flourished with feelings of the heart and  visions of the eyes, etc, just as the narrator's is, however Oroonoko also weaves in the language of the warrior and the battlefield: "...you can still conquer..." (p. 26).

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