Aspeslagh, Ellen
English Department
The University of Limburg

Ellen Aspeslagh
Koningin Astridlaan 16
B-3010 Kessel-Lo

Strand: discourse English

Title: Language as ideology: a functional-linguistic analysis of the female voices in Virginia Woolf's "The Waves"

Virginia Woolf's "The Waves" describes the lives of six characters (three men and three women) from childhood to old age. For this novel Woolf adopted a drastically new way of writing. Instead of having her characters described through an omniscient narrator, she chose to simply present the characters' thoughts through long series of soliloquies. Although each of these soliloquies is introduced by the reporting verb "say", it is clear that what follows takes place within the mind of the character and is never an attempt at communication.

The absence of an omniscient narrator makes the different use of language the only identifying factor of each personality. Woolf strongly believed that the way people think about their environment influences the way they choose to put their experience into words. I will prove through a detailed linguistic analysis of the female voices how their language reflects their ideology (self-image, worldview and view on other people). I will not only deal with differences between the characters but also with the evolution within each character. To make this possible I will investigate three significant stages in each character's life: childhood, early adulthood and old age.

In my analysis I will focus on the distribution of ergative and transitive material processes. The linguistic framework has been taken mainly from Halliday (1985/1994) and Davidse (1992). Each of the two paradigms has a middle and effective construal. The transitive: middle (intransitive) describes an autonomous action performed by an Actor, the transitive:effective evokes a unilateral causal model with an all-controlling Actor targetting action onto a totally passive Goal. The ergative construal reflects a totally different model of causality and event structure. The ergative middle describes a central participant, the Medium, involved in an action; the construal is vague with regard to the question whether this action is self- or externally instigated. This ambiguity about the source of action can be lifted by adding a second participant, the Instigator, in the ergative effective construal. An investigation into the distribution of both structural paradigms and especially of the four roles reveals significant ideological differences between the female characters. Every claim made in this paper will be backed up by extensive examples and statistical information.