Francophone Writers at the Crossroads of Languages
Critics of African literature (Mphahlele 1962; Scheub, 1971, 1985; Miller 1990; Julien 1992) argue that contemporary African fiction is strongly influenced by oral traditions of the past. In other words, most African writers tend to transpose the imprint of their cultural backgrounds onto their works; yet these literatures paradoxically are produced almost entirely in languages that were imposed by European colonial powers on the African continent, particularly French, English and Portuguese. The use of European languages in African literature poses problems of its own. Developed to express and reflect European worldviews and cultures, these languages are made to convey messages that seem to be at variance with their native traditions. African writers thus find themselves writing in languages they wish to subvert. This explains why they frequently resort to the mechanism of indigenization as a mode of literary expression. Here then is a literature whose writers depend heavily on translation as a literary device. So widespread is the practice that literary critic Femi Ojo-Ade has made the following remarks: “On the whole, one may safely say that the dual culture of the African writer (the native culture he is writing about and the European culture he has imbibed) makes him first and foremost a translator before being a creative artist.” (“The Role of the Translator …” 295)
The intent of this chapter is to acquaint readers and translators of Francophone texts with the emergence of linguistic innovation whose usage in literature is likely to pose comprehensibility problems.
Linguistic innovation in the African novel
In addition to borrowing from oral traditions, African writers tend to use mixed languages such as Camfranglais[i], Pidgin English, Petit Nègre, Moussa or Nouchis and other hybridized linguistic types in a bid to translate the socio-cultural matrices that inform and structure their narratives. Ivorian writer, Ahmadou Kourouma’s recourse to the “Malinkelization”[ii] of French in three of his novels, Les soleils des indépendances (1968), Monnè: outrages et défis (1993) and En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (1998) is a case in point. Kourouma’s style has been described by literary critic Gyasi as “a creative translation process that leads to the production of a Malinke text in French and the development of an authentic African discourse.” (151) In an interview he granted Moncef Badday concerning the stylistic choices he had to make in his fiction Kourouma pointed out:
J’adapte la langue au rythme narratif africain…. ce livre s’adressse à l’Africain. Je l’ai pensé en malinké et écrit en français prenant une liberté que j’estime naturelle avec la langue classique …Qu’ai-je donc fait? Simplement donné libre cours à mon tempérament en distordant une langue classique trop rigide pour que ma pensée s’y meuve. J’ai donc traduit le malinké en français en cassant le français pour trouver et restituer le rythme africain. (38)
[I adapt my language to the African narrative style …this book is addressed to the African. I thought in Malinke and wrote in French, taking some liberty I consider natural with the classical language … So what did I do? I simply let go my temperament by distorting a classical language otherwise too rigid to enable my thought to flow freely. I thus translated Malinke into French, breaking the French to find and restore the African rhythm.][iii]
The reader of Les soleils des indépendances is able to detect what may be termed a new mode of African storytelling. Kourouma uses a hybrid code which forces the non-Malinke reader to refer to the novelist’s native language and culture for signification. This is because the writer’s use of indigenized French leads to the production of a hybrid text characterized by Africanisms. Chantal Zabus describes this mode of creative writing as “the writer’s attempt at textualizing linguistic differentiation and conveying African concepts, thought patterns and linguistic concepts through the ex-colonizer’s language.”(23) The reality of contemporary Francophone African literature is that within it, oral traditions and traditional speech patterns continue to coexist with the encroaching print culture. It is perhaps for this specific reason that Obiechina argues: “We are aware that writers are drawing elaborately from … African folklore, traditional symbols and images, and traditional turns of speech, to invest their writing with a truly … African sensibility and flavor.”(143) Although it is tenable to argue that African writers invest their literary works with resources borrowed from oral tradition, I think it is rather disingenuous to posit that there is a “truly” African sensibility and flavor in postcolonial African literature given the heteroglossic contexts in which the texts are written. I argue along the same lines as Chantal Zabus who sees the Europhone African novel as “an ineluctable progeny of the oral art or orature of
Africa.”(4) The novel in Africa, she maintains, is best described as a hybrid product which is looking inward into African orature and outward to imported literary traditions. Modern Francophone African writers straddle this divide by drawing from both indigenous oral traditions and the European cultures which they have adopted.
It is primarily in their treatment of audience that African writers imbue their texts with the immediacy and exuberance of an actual oral performance. By incorporating oral traditions in their works African writers have succeeded in giving an air of originality to their works. The result is something not only new but exhilarating in its novelty. It should be noted that when the African writer translates his/her culture and worldview into the written word s/he does not act in the technical capacity of a text processor who is engaged mainly in the conversion of words and sentences into equivalent words and sentences in another language. The writer is involved in a conscious act of translation, and that is the only reason why some of the works they produce are of outstanding quality as Achebe has pointed out:
You read quite often nowadays of the problems of the African writer having first to think in his mother tongue and then to translate what he has thought into English. If it were such a simple, mechanical process I would agree that it was pointless …. Such a process could not possibly produce some of the exciting poetry and prose which is already appearing. (61)
Achebe is no doubt reacting to the controversy that often surrounds the term “translation” in African literary discourse. In writing Things Fall Apart (1958), for instance, he did not transliterate his native Ibo language into English, especially if one takes into account J.C. Catford’s views on transliteration: “In transliteration, source language graphological units are replaced by target language graphological units.”(66) Transliteration results in a one-to-one correspondence in graphological units. This is not the kind of translation that Achebe did in Things Fall Apart. Rather he resorted to the technique of adaptation—the process whereby a writer tries to make the target audience identify fully with what s/he has to say using the target language.
But as every translator knows, this is easier said than done. Developing dynamic equivalence in translation could be an insuperable task. Indeed; the translator-cum-writer is often confronted with several odds that may render his/her work quite difficult, especially when transitioning from the oral to the written medium. One of such problems is the translation of non-verbal cues into the written word. It is to the nature of such obstacles that Catford draws our attention when he argues that “translation between media is impossible.”(93) In other words, one cannot translate from the spoken to the written form of a language and vice-versa. Arguing along the same lines, Harold Scheub points out:
The problem for the translator of oral materials into a written form are enormous, some of them insurmountable except by extensive multi-media production, and even then the impact of the original performance is diminished. The problem of developing literary correspondences for oral non-verbal artistic techniques is staggering, for the translation of a single narrative performance involves profound transformations which defy equivalence. (“Translation of African Oral Narrative Performance...’’ 28)
Translating the spoken word into writing may be further complicated by the relationship between the artist (performer) and the audience. Unlike the author of the written text, the oral performer expects that the audience will physically and vocally be present to assist him/her in the performance. To put it differently, members of the audience are not passive spectators as Ruth Finnegan asserts in her study on Limba arts: "In a creative performance, members of the audience did not listen silently nor wait for the chief performer’s invitation to join in. Instead, the audience would break into the performance with their additions, questions and criticisms.” (10-11) In this perspective, members of the audience are part and parcel of the performance in two ways: they help to build the images and they are wholly caught up in the narrative. They are emotionally involved in the ideals being created in the performance. The problem that confronts the translator of oral narrative is how to effectively translate the verbal and non-verbal elements of such a performance into the written word? As Scheub points out, “It is impossible to consider the verbal aspects of the performance in isolation from the non-verbal; yet there is no useful way of transferring the non-verbal elements to paper.”(31)
By having recourse to translation as a writing technique in his narrative, Kourouma explores in depth the process of blending the French language with Malinké oral traditions, an activity that requires a sustained effort to make translation part of the writing process. As Borgomano contends: “Dans Les soleils, ce n’est pas le français qui donne forme au discours du texte, c’est plutôt le modèle malinké qui informe le langage du narrateur et celui des personnages. ” (159) [In Les soleils, it is not French that gives shape to the textual discourse; rather it is the Malinke model that informs the language of the narrator and of the characters. The extraordinary importance of narrative voice, incarnate in the storytelling is the single most telling feature of orality in Kourouma’s fictional work. Les soleils des indépendances reveals many aspects of the engaging verbal artistry of the griot[iv]. It is by virtue of its oral quality that the reader encounters the shape and sound of oral performance. Like other postcolonial writers, Kourouma employs a variety of indigenization strategies, including vernacular transcription in order to deconstruct the standardized form of the ex-colonizer’s language. This enables them to construct a culturally meaningful discourse as seen in the following passage:
Fama et ses deux femmes occupaient la petite pièce avec un seul lit de bamboo, un seul tara … Avez-vous déjà couché sur un tara? Il grince, geint comme si vous rouliez sur les feuilles mortes d’un sous-bois en plein harmattan. (158)
[Fama and his two wives lived in the little room, with its one tara or bamboo bed …]Have you ever slept on a tara? It creaks and crackles as if you were rolling about in a heap of dry leaves in the middle of the harmattan season (The Suns of Independence 106)]
This passage provides a cultural context for Kourouma’s narrative. The Malinke word
tara which the English language translator renders as bamboo bed is culturally significant. Bamboo beds are a symbol of social status in Africa. People who sleep on bamboo beds are considered traditional in their life style.
Linguistic appropriation is evident in Les soleils des indépendances from the very onset. Right from the opening passage, Kourouma introduces the reader to the Malinke speech pattern: “ Il y avait une semaine qu’avait fini dans la capitale Koné Ibrahima, de race malinké, ou disons-le en Malinké; il n’avait pas soutenu un petit rhume… ” (7). [One week has passed since Ibrahima Koné, of the Malinke race, has met his end in the capital city, or to put it in Malinke, he’d been defeated by a mere cold…(The Suns of Independence 3) There are several oral elements in this sentence: the formulaic opening, “il y avait une semaine”, the emphatic verb “avait fini”, the use of the pronoun, “nous”to bridge the gap between the narrator and the audience, and finally the proverbial expression, borrowed from the Malinke language, “ Il n’avait pas soutenu un petit rhume ”. Kourouma’s linguistic innovation may appear gratuitous to the undiscerning reader yet it is a deliberate attempt by the writer to imprint his Malinke worldview and imagination on the Europhone text.
Cameroonian novelist, Patrice Nganang, follows in Kourouma’s footsteps by inscribing camfranglais and other camerounismes[v] into French in his novel Temps de chien (2001). These borrowed expressions bring local color and flavor into his text. For example, Nganang’s narrator Mboudjak makes a comment on the language of his embittered master as follows: “Et mon maître lui, se retranchant dans son pidgin de crise, tout en déchirant sur son visage un bleu: ‘Dan sapak i day for kan-kan-o.’ (52) [As for my master—he’d fall back into pidgin, his dialect of disaster, cursing the whores as he tore his face into a sick smile : “Dan sapak i day for kan-kan-o. ” (Dog Days 35) The linguistic hybridity in this excerpt is an indication that the narrator’s master is straddling English and French. The expression “ Dan sapak i day for kan-kan-o ” embodies both English and vernacular signifiers. “Dan sapak ” is an indigenous word for “whore” ; the intensifier “kan-kan”expresses the notion of variety. It could be translated as “many kinds” or “of all sorts”. The word “day”is English but has been given a different signification in this context. Here it means “exist”. Thus the sentence could be rendered in English as: There are all kinds of whores in this world.
Other Cameroonian writers have begun to emulate Nganang by transcribing Camfranglais and other Cameroonianisms in their fiction. In his latest detective novels Mongo Beti, transcribes Camfranglais and other typically Cameroonian turns of phrase into French. In Trop de soleil tue l’amour (1999), Beti writes: “Quand le grand chef disparaît de chez nous là pour passer deux mois à Baden-Baden là, tu vas même lui dire que quoi? Je te demande, Norbert, qui va même lui dire que quoi?” (120). [When the big boss disappears from the country to spend two months in
, what do you have to tell him? I am asking you, Norbert, who can say what to him?] Baden-Baden
Announcing the death and burial of his mother to his boss, the same character has recourse to a typical Cameroonian speech pattern: “Mais non, grand[vi], ce n’est pas la même; nous sommes en Afrique non? Quand je dis ma mère, ce n’est pas toujours celle qui m’a accouché[vii], vous savez bien; grand, vous êtes Africain, non?”(120). [Oh no, boss. It is not the same one; aren’t we in
Africa? When I say my mother, it is not always the one that gave birth to me; you know it very well, boss. Aren’t you African?] Language-mixing is perhaps one of the most effective strategies for achieving linguistic appropriation at the disposal of Beti. It enables him to make the French language bear the burden of his African imagination. By inscribing Cameroonianisms into his text Beti succeeds in underlining the linguistic hybridity that has come to characterize creative writing in Cameroon in particular and Africa as a whole. Throughout the narrative, the reader enjoys not only the writer's virtuosity in storytelling but also his verve at word-smiting.
The mixing of languages has become a significant mode of writing in postcolonial African literature as seen in the following examples culled from Henri Lopès’ Le Pleurer-Rire (1982): “Le damuka s’était réuni dans une venelle de Moundié: avenue Général-Marchand” (14), [The wake was held in a little alley in Moundie: the Avenue General-Marchand. (The Laughing Cry 1). From the very first sentence in the novel Lopès portrays himself as a literary translator. There is a Lingala word “damuka” in the quotation above whose meaning may be lost to the monolingual reader. This first sentence thus sets the tone for the translation task that awaits the reader of the text. Sometimes, the narrator performs this task for the reader, for example, when one of the priests conferring the traditional authority on Tonton Bwakamabé Na Sakkadé declares: “Boka litassa dountouné!”(47) The narrator comes to the aid of non-lingala speakers by translating the sentence for them: “Ce qu’on peut traduire en français par: “Reçois le pouvoir des ancêtres.”(47) [Which could be translated into French as: “receive the powers of the ancestors.] The text is filled with Africanized French expressions including this hilarious one: “La bouche, la bouche c’est seulement pour la bouche et la parlation que nous, là, on est fort. C’est ça même, mon frère, ô. Nègre, il connaît bien pour lui bouche-parole.”(42)[These blacks, really, they are not serious. Just lip, lip—it’s only in lip and palaver that we are strong. Too true, brother-o! Blackmen know not’in but mout’, mout’ (The Laughing Cry 21)]. The expressions “bouche-parole” and “parlation” are pidginized French expressions that could be rendered in standard French as “de pure forme” or “en parole” and translated into English as” lip-service”.
It is interesting to note that Lopès attempts to appropriate the French language in this passage by using an abridged syntax which characterizes the spoken word in Lingala. Most of the Africanisms in his text are borrowed directly from this indigenous language, thus endowing the text with local significations. Of extreme importance to this writer is the indigenization of the French language, a process he uses adeptly to express his African sensibility and imagination. Irele notes that the term “African imagination” should be construed as “referring to a conjunction of impulses that have been given a unified expression in a body of literary texts.”(The African Imagination 4) From these impulses, grounded in both common experience and in common cultural references African literary texts have come to assume a particular significance.
Lopès’ language is intended to illustrate not only the specific fictional universe which it contributes to create but also the cultural context of his writing. This is the reason why he makes his characters speak in their own vernacular languages through the medium of French. Throughout the narrative the writer translates native tongues into French as seen in this passage:
Tu parles! Commentait Elengui. Aux heures des émissions en kissikini, un professeur de physique de cette tribu déclara: “Mana foléma, mana toukare lowisso natina”, qui peut être traduit en français par: “ Nous luttons résolument contre le racisme.”(224)
[So you say! observed Elengui. At the time reserved for the kissikini programs, a physics professor of that tribe declared: “Mana foléma, mana toukare lowisso natina”, which could be translated as: “we shall all fight resolutely against racism.”(The Laughing Cry 152)]
In an interview he granted Denyse de Saivre, Lopès adumbrates the rationale behind his stylistic choices:
J’ai voulu trouver le ton qu’emploie le peuple lorsqu’il parle de sa vie quotidienne aujourd’hui en Afrique, et c’est ce ton là que j’ai essayé d’imiter…Le Pleurer-Rire, qu’est-ce ça veut dire? C’est presque du petit nègre. C’est le français créolisé avec la saveur que nos peuples savent y mettre. Et c’est la manière de dire du peuple que j’ai essayé d’imiter. Le peuple, lorsqu’il se trouve dans des conditions diffíciles dans nos pays, préfère utiliser l’humour…. L’humour…c’est une philosophie que je tire de la culture de nos peuples. Toute tradition orale, les contes jusqu’à “Radio-trottoir” en passant par le chant, en est emaillée. (121-22)
[I wanted to adopt a tone that our people use when they talk about their daily lives in
Africa today. And it is that tone that I have tried to imitate. The Laughing Cry means what? It is a sort of pidgin French. It is creolized French with the flavor that our people are adept at bringing to a language. And it is the speech mannerisms of the people that I have tried to simulate. In our country, when people find themselves in awkward situations, they prefer to use humor…. Humor…is a philosophy that I have borrowed from the culture of our people. All oral art forms, from folktales to “Radio grapevine” and songs are peppered with humor.]
As can be seen from these examples, attempts to decolonize African literature are manifest in the conscientious deconstruction of the sacrosanct rules of imperial languages. By resorting to indigenization as a literary paradigm Francophone writers succeed in abrogating the imperial language. They do so by dismantling what they perceive as the power structures of the French language and culture, structures themselves metonymic of the hegemonic control exercised by the French over the ex-colonized. Whether written in diglossic heteroglossic contexts, African postcolonial literatures are often written with the intent of calling into question the privileged centrality of the language and culture of the ex-colonizer. In The Empire Writes Back (1989), Ashcroft et al. define literary postcolonialism in the following terms:
We use the term “post-colonial” … to cover all the cultures affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This is because there is a continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression. We also suggest that it is most appropriate as the term for the new cross-cultural criticism which has emerged in recent years and for the disclosure through which this is constituted …. So the literatures of African countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Caribbean countries, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Singapore, South Pacific Islands an Sri Lanka are all post-colonial literatures ….What each of these literatures has in common beyond their special and distinctive regional characteristics is that they emerge in their present form out of the experience of colonization and the tension with the imperial power, and by emphasizing their differences from the assumptions of the imperial centre. It is this which makes them distinctively post-colonial. (2)
Conflict with the imperial language is evident in Nazi Boni’s Crépuscule des temps anciens (1962). In this novel, Boni inserts Africanisms culled from his native Bwamu language as seen in the following example: “La vieille! N’avait-elle pas fait son soleil et cassé des dizaines d’amphores?” (67), [Had the old lady not done her sun and broken tens of pots?] The non-Bwamu reader will be at pains to unravel the underlying meaning of the word “soleil” as employed in this context. The difficulty arises from the fact that the narrator translates the thoughts of Hakani’s mother directly from the native Bwa language into French, playing with the expression “to do one’s sun,” which means “ to spend one’s youth”. The reader is likely to run against a similar obstacle when Boni’s narrator says: “Vous savez qu’on n’affronte pas ces épreuves en nombre impair sous peine de voir le plus jeune de la promotion avalé par le Dô. ” (113) [You know that we do not undergo this ordeal in odd numbers for fear of seeing the youngest participant swallowed by the Dô. In Bwamu culture, when the youngest participant in a rite of passage dies, it is said that s/he has been “swallowed” by the Dô.
It is important to note that the novelist skillfully Africanizes the French word “avaler” by giving it a culture-specific signification. In this context the word “avaler” connotes “to die”. Attention should be paid to the use of the Africanism Dô which refers to the Bwamu rite of passage. The technique of selective lexical fidelity whereby the writer leaves some words un-translated in the text has been used abundantly in Boni’s novel to underscore the cultural context in which he is writing. Such a device does more than simply highlight the differences between indigenous and European cultures; it also underlines the crucial function that literary discourse fulfills in the translation of cultures. Boni’s use of Africanisms serves as an indication that the matrix of his text is Bwamu culture. Crépuscule des temps anciens is replete with native-tongue expressions relating to divinities, animals, rites and rituals, for example, Dombeni(God the Great); M’Bwoa Samma(elephant); Tiohoun( balafon); Hunu(death); Kobê( rooster); Hanwa(women); Bawa (men); Yunu (funeral), etc.
These examples go to show that Boni attempts to translate his Bwamu culture into French. As Mohamadou Kane has noted, Nazi he is, among Francophone writers, “celui qui témoigne le mieux de la difficulté mais aussi de la volonté d’utiliser une langue qui tente d’exprimer de façon satisfaisante l’imaginaire de son ethnie qu’il entendait valoriser.”(80) [The writer whose work exemplifies the difficulty as well as the desire to use a language that attempts to convey properly the imagination of an ethnic group that he wanted to put in the spot light.] Boni set out to write in French but realizing that this language was inadequate to convey his Bwamu worldview and imagination, he deemed it necessary to translate his native language into French. Concerning Boni’s recourse to translation as a literary device, Makhily Gassama writes:
Il n’y a pas une seule page de Crépuscule des temps anciens où l’on ne rencontre une expression ou un mot africain ou une tournure de langue maternelle judicieusement ou maladroitement transposée en français. Du point de vue de l’apport de notre littérature romanesque à l’enrichissement de la langue française, Crépuscule des temps anciens est certainement notre roman le plus riche. (223)
[There is not a single page in Crépuscule des temps anciens where one does not find an African expression, word or turn of phrase in the native tongue judiciously or clumsily transposed into French. From the point of view of the contribution of our fiction to the enrichment of French literature, Crépuscule des temps anciens is certainly our richest novel.]
Boni exploits the rich mythology of his people in order to provide a human dimension to his tale. Conscious of the presence of the Western reader he provides explanations for his Africanisms. For example, in describing the Bwa inheritance concept he writes:
Les Nimisis ou “Neveux,” les enfants des soeurs, c’est-à-dire tous ceux dont les familles maternelles sont originaires de Bwan, ont plein droit de se les approprier. Ils ne peuvent prétendre à l’héritage de leurs oncles, mais en revanche, sont autorisés à rafler leurs biens dans certaines circonstances. (74)
The Nimisis or “Nephews,” the sisters’ children, that is to say, all those whose maternal families are from Bwan, have full right to it. They cannot claim inheritance of their uncles, but on the contrary, they are allowed to grab their property in certain circumstances.]
To give readers an insight into the Bwa concept of filial relationship, the writer explains unfamiliar concepts thus underscoring the fact that the term “nephew” should be understood in a wider sense.
Boni and other writers discussed in this study, it seems to me, are at the crossroads of languages. They are torn between indigenous and European languages. This ambivalence manifests itself in the constant recourse to Africanisms—borrowings which offer them the opportunity to bridge the gap created by the use of European languages considered too poorly equipped to convey African imagination and sensibilities. The technique of indigenization enables these African writers to not only provide a cultural basis for their prose narratives but also to subvert the language of the ex-colonial master. This is the reason why the language of these writers is perceived as analogous to the language of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1959).Caliban’s reaction to Miranda’s diatribe encapsulates the bitter reaction of many ex-colonized writers to centuries of linguistic and cultural assimilation:
You taught me language;
And my profit on’t is I know how to curse.
The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.” (1, ii 332-67)
Caliban’s abuse of the master’s language has become a symbol of resistance in postcolonial African literature.
Patrice Nganang seems to play the role of Caliban in his novel mentioned above. In this text, he uses French words and expressions laden with local significations. More often than not, Nganang inscribes Cameroonian Creole (Pidgin), Camfranglais and vernacular expressions into his French language text in a bid to depict the social-cultural peculiarities and speech mannerisms of his characters. He seems to have a predilection for language mixing as seen in the following example: “Ma woman no fit chasser me for ma long. Après tout ma long na ma long.” (80) [My woman can’t throw me out of my house. After all, my house is my house.] The English word “long” has changed its grammatical category from adjective to noun under the pen of Nganang. This type of relexification is common in Cameroonian Pidgin. In an interview he granted Eloa Vound, Nganang had this to say about his style of writing:
Pour ce qui est de mon écriture, et de mon enracinement dans le terroir de chez nous, cela vient de ma conviction que nous avons, moi, vous et tous les Camerounais, l’obligation de dire notre histoire avec les mots qui sont les nôtres…” (8)
[With regard to my writing and my attachment to the native soil, it stems from my conviction that we, I, you and all Cameroonians have the duty to recount our history in words that are ours…]
In an attempt to contextualize his fiction, this writer communicates not only the attitudes of his characters but also their modes of speech.
Interestingly, this new mode of writing may pose enormous problems not only to readers but also to translators of indigenized African literature. Difficulties may arise from readers’ unfamiliarity with the cultures of the writers. Indeed, readers are expected to be not only bilingual but also bicultural. Uninformed translators may commit bloopers. Readers of Camara Laye’s L’Enfant noir (1953), for example, are familiar with the “canari”, the clay pot which became “canary”, the female singer, in the English language translation of the novel by James Kirkup and Ernest Jones. Readers of Mongo Beti’s Mission terminée (1957) are also familiar with the “noix de kola”, the kola nut that became “chewing gum” in the English language translation of the novel by Peter Green. The case of “bâtons de manioc” in Ferdindand Oyono’s Une vie de boy (1956) that was rendered as “cassava sticks” in John Reed’s English language translation is well known to readers of the novel. These examples serve as pointers to the fact that literary indigenization may not be the boon that it is supposed to be in the hands of translators. Western readers and African readers from cultures unrelated to those of the authors may have difficulty discerning the meaning of culture-specific terms and indigenized rhetorical devices used in the texts.
I have attempted to contextualize postcolonial literary discourse. The truth about African writers’ use of language is that they display a certain degree of ingenuity at linguistic miscegenation. By adapting native tongue syntax and lexical items to European language syntax and lexes, and by situating their texts in culture-specific contexts, these writers exploit the potentials of both indigenous and European languages. Idioms derived from native tongues bring with them a specific perspective of the world that enriches the European language. Moreover, the translation process that takes place in this sort of hybrid literature conveys semiotic signification on account of the cultural specificity of the metaphors, proverbs and other rhetorical devices employed by these writers. In this chapter, I have argued that African writers are perpetually adrift between two languages and two cultures, vacillating from one to the other and subject to indecisiveness. I contend that African writers constantly negotiate space between native tongues and European languages. Positioned on the threshold of two “adversary” languages and cultures, African literature seems to open up an in-between (third space) of cultural ambivalence. The writer becomes the bearer of a split consciousness and a double vision. Apart from the “impunity” of his/her language, the writer suffers from a cultural alienation of sorts. This explains why creative writing in postcolonial Africa is, by and large, a literature of resistance characterized by recourse to linguistic innovation as a necessary means to circumvent the use of standardized European languages considered too limiting for African writers. Literary indigenization often manifests itself in the form of vernacular transcription, pidginization, syntactic fusion, and calquing, code-switching and loanwords — techniques that enable the creative writer to effectively interpolate the worldview and imagination of her/his people into European languages.
[i] Kouega defines Camfranglais as “a composite language consciously developed by secondary school pupils who have in common a number of linguistic codes, namely French, English and a few widespread indigenous languages.” (3)
[ii] The transposition of Malinke speech patterns into creative writing.
[iii] All translations mine unless otherwise indicated.
[iv] A griot French is a West African praise singer, and wandering musician, considered a repository of oral tradition As such, they are sometimes also called bards . In African languages, griots are referred to by a number of names: jeli in northern Mande areas, jali in southern Mande areas, guewel in Wolof gawlo in Pulaar (Fula), and igiiw (or igawen) in Hassaniyya Arabic. Griots form an endogamous caste, meaning that most of them only marry fellow griots and that those who are not griots do not normally perform the same functions that they perform.
[vii] Gave birth to a child.