Literature and language: identity in African literature through new Englishes
AbstractThere are strident voices against the continued use of English as an inter-group language in Nigeria and other African nations where the language serves as a second or foreign language, on the ground that the language is an alien language. The criticisms are more caustic in literary creations. To the cynics it is a misnomer to refer as ‘African’, a literary work whose medium of expression is English (a foreign language). The antagonists postulate that using English as the medium of African literary expression amounts to linguistic imperialism. They argue that for any literary work to be truly “African”, it has to be written in an African indigenous language. This paper has a contrary view. The paper is of the view that African literature has identity. It is distinct specie of literature ranking with European, Asian, American and other world literatures. This view is borne out of two reasons. One is that African literature has its origin in traditional African orature whose identity is not in doubt. Second, the ability of African creative writers to adapt and blend English to African environment – their ingenious, pragmatic, innovative, skilful and imaginative use of English – gives unique identity to African literature. The paper argues further that since the African language that commands universal intelligibility and acceptability in the continent and beyond is yet unborn, and since African writers can clearly express their thoughts in customized English without losing international intelligibility and acceptability, the language, for now and in the infinite future, remains the only variable medium of expression for African literature.
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