Provide an error analysis of language use in Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The amusing The Palm-Wine Drinkard has several kinds of prescriptive English language errors in it that deviate from Standard English English and American English (of course, from the view point of the language being a dialect version of English, there may be no errors in it at all). Several categories of errors reveal themselves on the opening pages. Some are: word misuse; combining words; odd repetition; incorrect phrases; punctuation errors; idiom misuse; preposition misuse; faulty time relationships; and restrictive / nonrestrictive clause confusion.

The error of word misuse adds humor to the narrative. For instance, Standard English speakers don't think of drinking alcoholic beverages as "work": "I had done no more work than to drink palm-wine." Other misused words in the opening pages are know, got, expert, noticed, and because. The use of because is interesting because because introduces a "reason" for a thing to occur or to have occurred. It differs from since, which also introduces a "reason" for occurrences, in that since precedes the occurrence to give persuasive support for an occurrence while because follows as an explanation of an occurrence. In "because he was not keeping me long," supporting information is being given to underpin his following action. Since he uses because, a bit of humorous confusion is produced.

Another error is the excessive repetition of some words like drinkard, which brings up the error of combining disparate words. Drinkard is an interesting and amusing combination of drinker and drunkard. Phrases as well as words are erroneously turned on their heads. In "I had no other work more than to drink palm-wine," the adjective more is misplaced and misused. The very ironic and amusing phrase ought simply to be, "I had no other work than to drink palm-wine." If more were to be used, it would preceed the noun it is modifying, not follow it. Another type of phrase, that of idioms (figurative expressions that mean something other than what the words are defined as, e.g., "He's the bees knees"), is subject to liberal adaptation, as in "from morning till night and from night till morning." The idiom is "from morning to night," but the speaker has added its reverse resulting in a humorous effect.

Some other errors occur. One is in punctuation, such as inserting a comma between a predicate and it's verb as in the following before was, "I did first when I saw him dead there, was that I climbed another," or failing to use a period between loosely related ideas, as is needed between died suddenly and when it was: "father died suddenly, and when it was the 6th month." Another relationship structure that is prone to error is the expression of correct relationship between ideas through the choice of prepositions as in "look at every palm," which would have the correct meaning expressed accurately through  the use of either "look near every palm" or "look around every palm."

This leads to the mention that time relationships are also victims of error as with the redundant time markers in "But when .... then my father died." One final mention covers the confusion between restrictive clauses, which have a which or that not set off by a comma, and nonrestrictive clauses, which have a which (no that) that is set off by a comma, as is illustrated in this confused restrictive where-clause, "we found him under the palm-tree, where he fell down and died," which should have no comma.

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