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Anita and Me - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language in Meera Syal's Anita and Me. Language is one of the most important themes in Anita and Me. The young Meena navigates between her household and family, where she is expected to speak correctly and yet is excluded from the intimacy of the private conversations her parents conduct in Punjabi, and the public world, where she marks herself as a Tollington resident by speaking in a strong Black Country dialect. Sometimes these worlds intrude on one another, for example when Mr Turvey speaks Punjabi to her Nanima in public and when she brings half-understood phrases learnt from Anita into the home, shocking her parents.

Analysing language in a text

Texts are primarily understood through their language. Authors therefore use individual words, phrases and imagery with precision.

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As a reader, you can better understand the symbolic meanings and associations in the text by paying especially close attention to its language. Authors deploy language with such skill that they are able to create entire worlds out of words. It is important to recognise that prose texts, such as novels, also use language you might be more likely to associate with poetry, including metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects. Setting, characterisation and dialogue rely upon the author’s ability in using language.

Paying close attention to language will enable you to increase your understanding of a text. Pause to consider how specific words and imagery have been used, analysing the multiple meanings possible beyond the literal, surface meaning. Consider the suggestions expressed implicitly by each individual choice of words, or combinations of words. It can be worth noting particularly interesting uses of language or imagery while you are reading or re-reading a text. By devoting some time and care to language, you will increase your ability to analyse literature.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect the reader’s interpretation of Anita and Me.

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  1. "I do not have many memories of my very early childhood, apart from the obvious ones, of course. You know, my windswept, bewildered parents in their dusty Indian village garb standing in the open doorway of a 747, blinking back tears of gratitude and heartbreak as the fog cleared to reveal the sign they had been waiting for, dreaming of, the sign planted in tarmac and emblazoned in triumphant hues of red, blue and white, the sign that said simply, WELCOME TO BRITAIN." Which word choices are clues that the reader should perhaps take this recollection with a pinch of salt?
    These words are a clue that the story being reported is an expected one, a stereotype. The reader should be prepared for the narrator to present a less stereotypical, more individual account of her memories and her parents' experience of moving to Britain
  2. "I scuttled after papa along the single road, bordered with nicotine-tipped spikey grass, the main artery which bisected the village. A row of terraced houses clustered around the crossroads, uneven teeth which spread into a gap-toothed smile as the houses gradually became bigger and grander as the road wandered south, undulating into a gentle hill and finally merging into many miles of flat green fields, stretching as far as the eye could see." Which of the following literary devices is used here?
    There are multiple examples of alliteration here, but the greatest effect is created by the use of metaphor and personification, in which the village itself is imagined to have a gap-toothed smile (the houses being the teeth). The imagery gives the impression that the village might be a little idiosyncratic, but is, above all, friendly
  3. "I hesitated as we passed the first 'entry' as we called them; they always spooked me, these endless echoing corridors, smelling of mildew whose sides always seemed to weep and covered you with shiny scales and bullet black slugs the size of a fingernail if you bumped against them, running from daylight through night and then back into the safety of the yard." Which senses are evoked in this description of the entry?
    The entry echoes (hearing); it covers those who touch it with scales and slugs; it smells of mildew and deprives people of sight when they pass through its darkness
  4. "The whole room seemed to be sighing, I could make out mama's soft weeping, it was muffled." Which literary device is evident in this sentence?
    How sorrowful must the people in a room be, if the entire room is described as sighing?
  5. "Then I found myself looking up into my mama's face, except it was darker and more wrinkled and the eyes were rheumy and mischievous, but it was mama's face alright, and suddenly I was in the middle of a soft warm pillow which smelt of cardamom and sweet sharp sweat, and there was hot breath whispering in my ear, endearments in Punjabi which needed no translation, and the tears I was praying would come to prove I was a dutiful granddaughter, came spilling out with no effort at all." What does the reference to "effort" imply?
    Meena knows that she often has to pretend to be someone other than who she is; her family expect her to be a "dutiful granddaughter". She is surprised genuinely to feel the emotions expected of her
  6. "I could make out another crowd of people pushing their way through the fairground punters, struggling against the flow and press of bodies. This crocodile of renegades moved slowly, I saw the flash of a jewelled sandal picking its way through the mud, a glittering nose ring caught by the flare of a neon bulb, a streak of vermilion silk exposed by a winter coat whipped up by the night air, and knew the rest of our guests had arrived." What is being contrasted here?
    The Aunties are presented almost as if they are in disguise: their nose-rings are "caught" in the unnatural light, their jewelled sandals "flash" as they find a way through the mud, and their brilliant silks are only exposed when the wind lifts the flaps of a winter coat
  7. "I enjoyed her anger, the snapping eyes, the shrieking voice, the glimpse of monster beneath the mother; it was one of the times I felt we understood each other perfectly." Which of these words are examples of onomatopoeia?
    "Snapping" is a tricky example, since mama's eyes do not make any snapping sound, of course. What effect does Syal create by using onomatopoeia in this way?
  8. "Anita's tone was quietly threatening, all of us recognised it and all of us unconsciously stood to attention." What effect is created by the use of the phrase, "stood to attention"?
    Anita commands obedience even when she speaks quietly. The fact that her voice is threatening, however, shows that her friends obey her out of fear, rather than genuine loyalty
  9. "And it was only then I noticed how much weight mama had lost, her usually moon-shaped face was all angles and shadows, she and papa had saddlebags of dark under their eyes, papa's rosy complexion had given way to a sallow tinge, as if he had been indoors for too long." Which of the following words implies that Meena's mama and papa feel the weight of worry as a burden?
    Mama and papa are carrying their worry over their daughter as a burden; this image is suggested by the use of the word, "saddlebags", to describe the dark rings under their eyes
  10. Which of the following expresses the distance Meena feels from herself as she gives her evidence to the police officers investigating Tracey's accident?
    Meena swiftly returns to herself and finally, at the end of the novel, fully inhabits her own body and identity: "It was time to let go and I floated back down into my body, which for the first time ever, fitted me to perfection and was all mine"

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