The Burkinabè novel: heterogeneous writing, texts located between written and oral forms

  • Pascal K Somé Université Paul Valéry
Keywords: francophone literature, discourse analysis, semantics, verbal temporality


A French person perusing some Burkinabè novels would undoubtedly be surprised or even baffled by tense transitions. These are often not typical, and the purists of the French language would unquestionably condemn them. Yet, these transitions express the potentials inherent in the French tense system. Some linguistic theories, like Benveniste’s, if not used mechanically and sketchily, may help account for these “turbulence zones,” as some people have labelled them. My paper aims to show how, in most Burkinabè novels, this tense transition game allows for switching from one tense to another: from the Past Perfect (PP) to the Simple Past (SP) and Pluperfect (PLP), from the Present PRES to the Imperfect (IMP), and from the Future (FUT) to the Conditional (COND). This takes place in all narrative spaces, in a perfect linguistic legality. Some have explained these often unpredictable transitions as being the result of a switch between, a telescoping, of two different types of narration, two enunciation points of view of the narrator (linked diegesis and autonomous diegesis). However, this switching-telescoping may also be interpreted as the narrator oscillating between a written narration and an oral narration. We see this phenomenon as a form of intrusion or irruption, not necessarily a conscious one, of orality into writing. Hence, Burkinabè novels are heterogeneous in nature, evolving between writing and orality, and this is one of the manifest trends of novel writing in Burkina Faso. 

Author Biography

Pascal K Somé, Université Paul Valéry

Pascal K. Somé teaches linguistics at Université Paul Valéry, Praxiling.


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