Chinua Achebe’s Girls at War and other Stories: A Relevance-Theoretical Interpretation

Adaoma Igwedibia, Christian Anieke, Ezeaku Kelechi Virginia


Relevance Theory (RT), which is a theory that takes the Gricean approach to communication as a starting point of linguistic or literary analysis, is an influential theory in Pragmatics that was developed by D. Sperber and D. Wilson (1986, 1995). As a cognitive theory of meaning (which claims that semantic meaning is the result of linguistic decoding processes, whereas pragmatic meaning is the result of inferential processes constrained by one single principle, Principle of Relevance), its main assumption is that human beings are endowed with a biologically rooted ability to maximize the relevance of incoming stimuli. RT unifies the Gricean cooperative principle and his maxims into a single principle of relevance that motivates the hearer’s inferential strategy. Based on the classic code model of communication and Grice’s inferential model, RT holds that ‘every act of ostensive communication communicates a presumption of its own optimal relevance’. Literary texts which present us with a useful depth of written data that serve as repositions of language in use can be analyzed linguistically. This is because writers use language in a particular way in their works to reveal their concerns. A literary work, just like the spoken language, contains information that enables the reader or hearer to get the intended message. The use of language is therefore not mode specific. It can be in a text or can be spoken, and either mode can portray the practices, values and aspirations of a particular speech community. With the analysis of Achebe’s Girls at War and Other Stories in the frame of RT, this paper shows that literary text communication ‘communicates a presumption of its own optimal relevance’. The deployment of the relevance theory in the interpretation of Achebe’s Girls at War and Other Stories will certainly yield new insights in the understanding of the language and literary elements of the works. Chinua Achebe is regarded as the father of African modern literature.His works are being read in many schools and universities. It is therefore important to open new doors of interpretation for a better understanding of these works.


Relevance Theory, Ostensive-inferential communication, Optimal Relevance, Literary text

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