Nuancing the Language Debate in African Literature
The language debate between Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chinua Achebe has long defined the discourse about language use in African literature. Achebe’s argument that the writer can “Africanize” the English he or she is using (by infusing words, phrases, idioms, songs, proverbs, stories, dialogue, etc. into the writing) is very compelling because it offers writers a practical means of reaching a wider audience and it ensures African literature a prominent space in the global literary landscape. Ngugi’s position, introduced in Decolonizing the Mind and reinforced more recently in Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance, laments the devastating losses that resulted and are still resulting from the dismantling of indigenous languages under colonialism, as evidenced by the persistent dominance of colonial language across the continent, even sixty plus years after the beginning of the independence movements that ushered in the official liberation from European control. While many complain that Ngugi’s uncompromising insistence on mother tongue is too restrictive, his ideas about language, identity, and culture are extremely compelling, as is his optimism that Africans can recover their lost selves by reengaging with their mother tongues and employing translation as an essential tool to access literary works produced across the continent. This panel welcomes papers that examine the work of African writers who attempt to break down this “master language”/ mother tongue divide by nuancing the language debate in one manner or another. Theoretical discussions are also welcome. Please send abstracts of 250 – 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 31st. Panel to be presented at the SAMLA 2019 conference (November 15-17) in Atlanta, GA.