Scholarly articles

Emerging Perspectives on the Francophone Novel of Africa and the Caribbean

 By Peter Wuteh Vakunta
Postcolonial Francophone literatures exist at the interface of French as a hegemonic language and its many regional variants that transform this corpus of writings into hybrid literature. Linguistic hybridity compounds the reading and teaching of Francophone literatures of Africa and the Caribbean. An incontrovertible manifestation of linguistic variance in contemporary Francophone literatures is the tendency on the part of fiction writers to resort  to modes of writing characterized by linguistic indigenization—an attempt to appropriate the language of the ex-colonizer. The Francophone novel, in particular, has been described by literary critics as a multi-layered text engendered by a plurality of ‘voices’ and the multicultural contexts from where the text takes root. Francophone novelists tend to create hybrid texts that demand of readers to be not just bilingual but also bicultural. Thus, these texts tend to be not only sites for the negotiation of cultural spaces but also loci where writers resort to  linguistic resistance in order to call into question some assumptions associated with colonialism, neo-colonialism, and imperialism. In this paper I contend that the Francophone novel of Africa and the Caribbean can no longer be taught using the same paradigms that are used in teaching Metropolitan French novels, the more so because African and Caribbean Francophone writers  continually resort to a multiplicity of dialectal forms of French as tools of communication.
This paper provides answers to the following intriguing questions, namely: What are some of the textual and extra-textual considerations that instructors of the Francophone novel of Africa and the Caribbean must reckon with in their attempt to comprehend the form and content of indigenous stories written in French? What is the nature of the translation process that takes place in Francophone novels? What pedagogical frameworks are suitable for teaching this kind of literature? Recourse to the French language in writing indigenous literatures harbors problems of its own. Though developed to express and reflect European worldviews, imagination and sensibilities, Francophone writers from Africa, and the Caribbean tend to tinker with the French language in a bid to convey messages that seem at variance with its native traditions. In this vein, these writers find themselves writing in a language they wish to deconstruct in order to make it bear the imprint of their socio-cultural realities. This task is accomplished through the process of linguistic indigenization, a process that enables creative writers to transpose the imagination, worldview and cultural peculiarities of indigenous peoples into Metropolitan French.  Arguing along similar lines, Chantal Zabus observes that the concept of indigenization translates the writer’s attempt at textualizing linguistic differentiation and conveying African concepts, thought patterns and linguistic concepts through the ex-colonizer’s language (23).  African and Caribbean Francophone writers tend to appropriate the French language by having recourse to discursive strategies that transgress the canons of hexagonal French—semantic shift, intralingual translation, loan translation, lexical interpolation, vernacular transcription, and more.
The rationale for resorting to linguistic appropriation goes beyond the simple need to provide works of fiction with a cultural basis and esthetic value. Oftentimes, Francophone writers resort to appropriative techniques out of a genuine need to communicate effectively as we will see in the literary analysis below. Here then is a literature whose writers depend heavily on translation as a literary canon. The term “translation” should not be understood to refer to the inter-lingual communicative process of replacing a text in the source language by a lexically equivalent text in the target language. When Francophone writers resort to translation as a literary device they do not act in the technical capacity of a text processor engaged in the simple conversion of words and sentences in the source text into equivalent words and sentences in the target language.  To put this differently, writers do not simply take words in the indigenous language for which they look for equivalents in the French language. Writers who resort to translation as a creative writing device seem to be involved in a conscious act of intra-lingual translation that enables them to transpose the worldview and imagination of indigenous peoples into the French language. Ahmadou Kourouma, who has distinguished himself as a linguistic innovator, makes it abundantly clear that what he did in writing Les soleils des indépendances (1970) was not a mechanical process of replacing Malinke words with their French equivalents:
It is not translation from Malinke…I thought in Malinke and then tried to present things the way a Malinke would see them; the way they would come to his mind. It is not a translation from Malinke (Badday, 12).

In my attempt to shed light on the problematic of language choice in the Francophone novel of Africa and the Caribbean, I selected a corpus comprising Ahmadou Kourouma’s Les soleils des indépendances (1970), Chamoiseau’s Texaco (1992), Patrice Nganang’s Temps de chien (2001), Mercédès Fouda’s Je parle camerounais (2001), and Gabriel Fonkou’s Moi Taximan (2001). These novels constitute a watershed in the evolution of the Francophone novel. The publication of these texts marks the dawn of a new era characterized by writers’ unbridled inclination toward the subversion of French grammatical canons as the “Empire writes back” to borrow words from Aschroft et al (1989).  Kourouma’s peculiar style of writing labeled the “malinkelization” of French is distinctive by the writer’s recourse to semantic shifts, vernacular transcriptions, phrasal restructuring and more. “Malinkelization”[i] of French in Les soleils begins right from the title of the novel. The expression “les soleils” is a calque on the Malinke discursive mode. The word “soleil” has to be put back into the Malinke cultural context in order to discern its full signification. The Malinke use “soleil” to designate a time-frame (“season” and by extension, an “era”). It is in this sense that Kourouma’s narrator talks of “les soleils des indépendances” (7-8, 15,141) [the suns of independences][ii]; “les soleils de Samory” (142) [the suns of Samory]; “les soleils des Toubabs” (142), [the suns of the Whites]; and “les soleils du parti unique” (141) [the suns of one-party politics].   The pluralization of the word “soleils” derives from Malinke worldview. Its signification may not be obvious to a non-Malinke reader on account of cultural unfamiliarity. Sensing the ambiguity in the title, Kourouma comes to the assistance of the reader with a translation: “l’ère des indépendances” (7) [the Era of Independence]. Through the technique of semantic shift, Kourouma introduces a troublesome element into standard French. What Kourouma does in Les soleils is not the mechanical translation activity of replacing Malinke words with their French language equivalents. Rather, he thinks in Malinke and then imagines how best to render his mode of thought in the French language. The equivalence he seeks is semantic rather than formalistic. The literary canon of “malinkelization”could impede the comprehension and teaching of this novel, especially if the instructor is not conversant with some of culture-specific tropes that Kourouma uses in his narrative.
  In a similar vein, linguistic indigenization fulfills the critical function of cross-cultural communication in Fouda’s Je parle camerounais.  Fouda makes abundant use of Camfranglais[iii] expressions in her attempt to transpose the modes of speech of Cameroonians into written French. An understanding of the contexts in which Camfranglais expressions and other Camerounsimes[iv] are used in Fouda’s novel would not only facilitate readers’ comprehension of the text but would also make it possible for literature instructors to analyze the circumstances surrounding its creation. Fouda often spices her narrative with expressions that may be incomprehensible to people outside the closed circle of Camfranglais speakers as the following example shows: “Si depuis belle lurette vous vous démenez de-ci de-là sans trouver aucune occasion à saisir sur le plan matériel, vous pourrez toujours vous plaindre que le dehors est dur…” (5)[v]. “Le dehors est dur” is a Cameroonianism that conveys the idea that times are tough. Loan words gleaned from Cameroonian culinary register are employed frequently in Je parle camerounais for the purpose of effective communication. When the central character tells another character in the novel: “votre estomac vous lance des insultes” (9)[vi], he is insinuating that that the interlocutor is terribly hungry and should go fetch some food to eat without further delay.   Fouda draws readers’ attention to the fact that working class Cameroonians eat their lunch in makeshift open-air restaurants called ‘tournedos’ [roadside restaurants] erected on the sidewalk as seen in this excerpt: “Vous avez alors la possibilité d’aller manger au tournedos. Ne vous réjouissez pas trop vite! Vous n’irez que dans l’un de ces restaurants de plein air, faits de bancs et de tables assemblés, et où, tout bêtement, le client tourne le dos à la route!”(10)[vii] ‘Tourne-dos’ has no equivalent in standard French because the reality does not exist in the French socio-cultural context. This cultural vacuum needs to be filled by teachers of this novel by resorting to near-equivalents in metropolitan French if possible.
              By ‘Cameroonizing’ standard French, Fouda distances herself from speakers of standard French by underscoring the ‘Africanness’ of the French she writes. Her text is replete with Cameroonian turns of phrase as this other example shows: “J’ai seulement un ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ et les ‘sans confiance’” (37)[viii]. A ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ is a pair of pants that appears too short or too small for the wearer because s/he has grown bigger. Cameroonians often employ this sort of expression as a form of mockery and as a reminder to the person wearing the pants that it is time to buy a new one. ‘Sans confiance’ is an expression used by Camanglophones to describe low quality rubber-made flipflops whose strings can snap without warning. The word formation technique called ‘compounding’ is another word literary device employed judiciously by Fouda with the intent of transposing Cameroonian socio-cultural experiences into the French language. She creates compound words by combining words from various native languages spoken in Cameroon.  Examples include: “Mamie Koki” (10)[ix], “Mamie Ndolè” (10)[x], and “Mamie Atchomo” (10)[xi].  The word “mamie” is the Pidgin equivalent of the standard French “mère”[xii].  “Koki”, “ndolè”, and “atchomo” are local Cameroonian dishes cherished by Cameroonian youngsters. Cameroonian youths often address older women as “mamie” as a gesture of respect due to age. In the commercial arena, this term is used in reference to a woman from whom a client buys food on a regular basis as the following excerpt shows: “Au tournedos, officie l’asso, diminutive flatteur de “associé (e), est cette personne chez qui vous faites régulièrement des achats et qui, lorsque c’est fort sur vous, vous fait manger un crédit…” (10)[xiii] ‘Manger un crédit’ translates the standard French expression “acheter à crédit” [buy on credit]. The word ‘manger’ has been given a different signification in Fouda’s text.  ‘Manger’ (to eat) could be translated as “acheter” (to buy) in this context. Semantic re-construction is a literary device widely used by Fouda for the purpose of communicative effectiveness. However, literature instructors need to pay particular attentions to this word smiting because they do harbor latent meanings. A superficial reading of Fouda’s text would do a great disservice to students of the novel.
In Je parle camerounais, Fouda deliberately endows the French language with a local flavor and esthetic as the following example illustrates: “Attisé ainsi, vous seriez ridicule, et Max a bien raison une fois de plus de montrer ses ‘attrape-manioc’: il se moque gentiment de vous.” (36)[xiv].  Les “attrape-manioc” is a metaphorical expression used in reference to human teeth. This neologism derives from the fact the staple food of Fouda’s people is manioc (cassava). ‘Attraper le manioc avec ses dents’ is to ‘eat a meal of cassava’. Usage of this kind lends credibility to the fact that the French language in Fouda’s novel has been doctored to reflect Cameroonian socio-cultural realities. A non-Cameroonian teaching this text is likely to draw a blank on account of the preponderance of Cameroonian speech patterns and lexical items in the narrative.
Fouda’s Je parle camerounais is only one out of many Francophone so-called ‘new’ novels written in a peculiar style.  In Temps de chien (2001) Patrice Nganang makes abundant use of code-switching as a narrative paradigm. Temps de chien addresses the problematic of language choice in Francophone literatures beyond the Hexagon. Nganang’s text provides answers to the question relating to how Francophone Africans should tell their own stories. He teases out the space between the writer’s mother tongue and what s/he writes in a “loan” language. In his attempt to transpose the speech mannerisms of Cameroonians into written French, Nganang uses the technique of code-switching. Temps de chien is written in an amalgam of codes—French, Pidgin English, Camfranglais and numerous indigenous languages. It is a text in which street-talk, also known as “Kam-Tok”, “Camspeak” or “Majunga Talk” (Ze Amvela, 56) blends freely with conventional French to produce a new code whose effect on the reader is not only exhilarating but also enriching. Our reading of Temps de chien focuses on how the novelist uses linguistic innovation not only as a narrative technique but also as a tool of resistance as this example clearly shows: “Ma woman no fit chasser me for ma long dis-donc! Après tout, ma long na ma long!”(80). The translator did a laudable job of translating this urban slang into English as follows: “My woman can’t throw me out of my house, I tell you! After all, my house is my house!”(208) The signifier “long” means “home” in Camfranglais. The translator uses the same technique to translate the following passage: “La voix d’un lycéen lui disait: comme d’habitude, Mama Mado. Et ma maîtresse connaissait son goût. La voix d’un autre exigeait, put oya soté, for jazz must do sous-marin.” (84)[xv]. The term “oya” is a Pidgin English word for “oil”, in this case oil used in cooking. “Jazz” is a slang word for “beans”, and “jazz sous-marin” could be translated as “beans submerged in oil”. Cameroonians use this expression to describe the trumpet-like sound that one’s stomach would make if one ate badly cooked beans. These examples serve to underscore the fact that code-switching is used as an effective weapon of resistance in Temps de chien.  At the same time, it is a literary device that could complicate the task of teaching the novel. This holds true for Gabriel Fonkou’s Moi Taximan where Camfranglais and vernacular language expressions abound.
Moi Taximan is replete with French words that have undergone semantic transformation as seen in the following excerpt: “Je ne mangeais chez moi que le soir, sauf les jours où je me faisais aider par un ‘attaquant’…afin de me reposer un peu.”(18)[xvi] The narrator employs the word ‘attaquant’ to describe a taxi driver who not only works overtime but is often aggressive and prone to road rage. One other example that illustrates Fonkou’s verbal sophistry is the following: “On sortait de l’opération avec un plus grand sourire si, en plus, les passagers longue distance avaient ‘proposé’…” (8)[xvii] A little further, the narrator sheds ample light on the signification of the word ‘proposé’: “… payer plus cher que le tarif normal” (8)[xviii]. Fonkou’s neologisms shed light on the mindset of his charactersEntre deux clients, Justine et sa mère participaient activement à l’entretien de la chaude ambiance du secteur des ‘bayam sellam’: potins, querelles simulées, plaisanteries et fausses confidences bruyantes y provoquaient de gros éclats de rire. (131)[xix]. The term ‘Bayam sellam’,  is derived from Cameroonian Creole, also called Pidgin English. Literally, it means “buy” and “sell”.  It is used in this novel to describe market women whom the protagonist describes as “des revendeuses, cette catégorie de commerçantes aggressives sans les lesquelles nos marchés perdraient leur âme” (130)[xx]. ‘Bayam sellam’ trade is a vital economic activity in the informal sector born out of dire need (the struggle to improve the livelihood of individuals and families).
 Some lexical items in Moi Taximan are English language  words that have been endowed with new meanings as this example shows: “Au bout de la journée le plus souvent chacun de nous affichait un sourire de contentement  et nous nous quittions  à la nuit tombante sur de vigoureuses poignées de mains prolongées par un ‘toss’…”(13)[xxi]. Fonkou’s protagonist defines the term “toss” as “salut du bout des pouces et des majeurs entrecroisés puis séparés dans un vif frottement sonore” (13)[xxii].  The English language has enriched Cameroonian literature of French expression as seen in the following statement: “La journée d’hier a été djidja” (19)[xxiii]. ‘Djidja’, loanword from Pidgin English, derives from the English word “ginger”. Camanglophones use this culinary term to describe a difficult situation comparable to what hexagonal French speakers would describe as “une mer à boire” [an uphill task]. From the pedagogical perspective, this sort of linguistic jugglery does not make matters easy for instructors who have to devise appropriate paradigms for literary interpretation.
 Oftentimes, Fonkou’s characters draw attention to ethnic dichotomy and its social ramifications in Cameroon as this example illustrates: “Je ne sais rien, espèce de Bami” (24)[xxiv]. The word ‘Bami’ is an abbreviation of ‘Bamileke’, one of the ethnic groups in Cameroon loathed by other Cameroonians for their ruthless money-mongering and resourceful mindset.  Used the way Fonkou does in this text, the word harbors derogatory undertones. As these examples illustrate, neology is a technique constantly exploited by Fonkou to create new words that portray the prism through which he perceives social reality.  He makes an ingenious use of the technique of linguistic innovation to portray both the impact of socio-cultural realities of Cameroon on creative writing as well as the significant influence of language choice on postcolonial fictional writing. Fonkou mixes languages purposefully in a bid to underscore the polyglossic context from which his text sprouts as this example illustrates: “La plus grosse surprise se situa le dimanche où la réunion des femmes de mon village vint laver l’enfant” (186).[xxv] ‘Laver l’enfant’ is a native tongue expression that describes the cultural ritual during which the birth of a baby is celebrated by family members. In Fonkou’s native language, this ritual is called “le yaal, à la fois danse et chants pour célébrer la naissance de l’enfant” (187)[xxvi]. The need to possess both translingual and transcultural competences in order to successfully teach this novel is made all the more evident through the use of culture-specific expressions to portray indigenous mores as seen in the examples discussed above.
      The beauty of indigenization as a tool of literary creativity is that it cuts across the Francophone entire world. Linguistic manipulation is increasingly becoming a popular mode of writing in Caribbean Francophone literature as seen in the following excerpt culled from Patrick Chamoiseau’s seminal novel Texaco (1992):
Je vendis les cocos du pied-coco de Pè-Soltene, un vieux nègre-distillerie qui fumait sa vieillesse sous ce seul arbre planté. Je vendis des crabes que j’allais déterrer sur les terres de Dillon. Je vendis des bouteilles et des casseroles anglaises. Je vendis des fiasques à parfum qu’une pacotilleuse ramenait d’Italie. Ces djobs me procuraient des sous que je serrais comme ceux de Nelta (après avoir payé notre huile, notre sel, notre pétrole, un bout de toile, et cotisé, comme toutes les bonnes gens d’En-ville à la société mutualiste”, L’humanité Solidaire (299)[xxvii]

Translators of Texaco did a laudable job of preserving the cultural flavor of the source text in the English language translation. Their rendition of the compound noun “Pe-Soltène’ as “Pa Soltène” is culturally significant. The word “Pè” is a Creole word derived from the French word “Père”. “Pe” is probably a contraction of the French word “père” [father]. Chamoiseau’s translators did an excellent job of finding a culturally relevant equivalent in the target language. “Pa” appears to be a contraction of the word “Papa”. The literary significance of this word choice resides in the fact that Chamoiseau succeeds in conveying the cultural implication of the Creole word “Pè” in the French language. In Black communities, “Pè” does not necessarily translate the notion of filial relationship between speaker and interlocutor. Rather, it is a term of respect used by youths in addressing people of a ripe age.  Indeed, it is a marker of age difference. Another noteworthy instance of linguistic appropriation in this novel is the writer’s choice of the word “djobs. The word is probably a derivation from the English word “job”. It is a transcription of the way Creole speakers would oralize the word in daily discourse.
What makes Chamoiseau’s narrative style both interesting and challenging for students and instructors of Francophone Caribbean literature is the fact that he blends together standard French, Martinican regional French, Creole, and his own creative wordplay in order to give esthetic value to his novel. He seems to have a predilection for inventing an original style of writing which critics have dubbed the “chamoisification”of the French language. Chamoisification aptly describes Chamoiseau’s wordplay in fictional writing; his attempt to transpose Creole identity into his works. His subversion of the ex-colonizer’s language amounts to a differential discourse that serves as a response to colonial elaboration of authority and forced subjugation. His re-articulation of Caribbean identity (antillanité)[xxviii] is discernible in the manner in which he blends creolized and hexagonal variants of French in his text.  The concept of “chamoisification” of French is of special interest to us given that it  underscores the novelist’s quest for a third code—a personalized writing mode quite distinct from that employed by Metropolitan French writers.  In Chamoiseau’s novel, standard and nonstandard forms come together on the same page and literally wrestle with each other for control of the narrative, just as they are jostling for power and prestige within the Martinican society itself. Commenting on his style of writing in an interview he granted Marie-Jose N’Zenou Tayo, Chamoiseau asserts that it was “… ni un français créolisé, ni un créole francisé, mais un français chamoisisé” (155)[xxix]. Instructors encountering Chamoiseau’s texts for the first time will have to do their homework in order to decipher the signification of the various culture-specific rhetorical devices that the writer employs for the purpose of self-expression. Chamoiseau’s language mixing is challenging to read because readers find themselves looking for meanings of words and expressions and stopping to digest unfamiliar sentences again and again. The use of code-switching compounds an initial frustration but over time ideas surface and it becomes comfortable. Chamoiseau achieves his objective of showing the historical and social complexities of language usage in Caribbean literature.
If up to a certain point, each postcolonial writer has to re-invent language, the situation of Francophone writers residing out of France is peculiar in that for them, French is an occasion for constant mutations and modifications. Engaged as they are, in the game of language, these writers have to ‘manufacture’ their own language of fiction, in a multilingual context often affected by signs of polyglossia. Contemporary Francophone literatures exist at the crossroads of languages and cultures. An incontrovertible evidence of alterity in this new form of literature is the emergence of modes of writing distinctive by nonconformity to linguistic norms.  In his text The Francophone African Text: Translation and the Postcolonial Experience (2006), Gyasi observes that Francophone fiction writers create French that is in consonance with the new African environment and the characters that live in it….” (77). He describes this inclination on the part of writers as an act of defiance. As the foregoing analysis suggests, emerging African and Caribbean novels of French expression qualify to be categorized as  hybrid texts engendered by the plurality of ‘voices’, and the multilingual contexts of creativity. Francophone fiction writers create multi-faceted texts that demand of readers to be both multilingual and multicultural in order to be able to unravel the hidden textual significations. The corpus of texts examined  in this paper functions as  sites of cultural  and linguistic negotiation.

 In conclusion, suffice it to say that the intent of this paper has not been to simply provide you with a plethora of modes of writing that exists in Francophone African and Caribbean literatures. The intent has been to make professors of Francophone literatures, reflect on the nature of the texts they are tasked to teach semester after semester, and propose pedagogical paradigms suitable for teaching such literatures. The question that begs to be asked at this juncture is why it is critical for instructors of Francophone novels of Africa and the Caribbean to be conversant with the evolutionary trends inherent in these texts? I maintain that knowledge of the French language alone will not suffice to do justice to the teaching of the novels discussed in this paper. Teachers of Francophone novels cannot but be like the texts they teach—at once bilingual and bicultural. Given the polytonality and multi-cultural composition of Francophone novels of Africa and the Caribbean, instructors must conceive appropriate literary models for teaching these texts. The texts analyzed in this paper irrefutably call for multifaceted frameworks for instruction. I will discuss three such models here on account of their suitability for teaching Francophone novels.
·         Critical Thinking Culture-Based Model
This instructional model is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) of textual analysis. To effectively communicate the holistic message embedded in the essential elements of information (EEI’s) in a text, Bloom argues, instructors need to create learning tasks that enable learners to interact with texts at six different cognitive levels: Evaluation (making value decisions about issues, resolving controversies, assessing theories, composing ideas, evaluating outcomes); Synthesis (creating a unique original product  that may be  in verbal form or a combination of ideas  to form a new whole, using old concepts to create new ones); Analysis (organizing ideas and recognizing trends, finding the underlying structure of communication, identifying motives); Application (using and applying knowledge, problem-solving, use of facts and principles);  Comprehension ( interpreting,  translating from one medium to the other, demonstrating, summarizing, discussing  the signifier and signified);  Knowledge (recall of information, discovery, and observation).
  • Hermeneutic (Exegetic) Model
The theory of hermeneutics or exegesis propounded by Schleiermacher (1998) underscores the importance of interpreting, not only the latent (hidden) meanings embedded in a literary text but also the situational dimensions that constitute the matrix in which the text was written.
He further underscores the need to use the hermeneutic circle in the process of unravelling the significations contained in the deep structure of a literary text. The hermeneutic circle facilitates the analysis of a literary text by enabling readers to come to grips with the fact that one's understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts. Schleiermacher further notes that neither the whole text nor any individual part can be understood without reference to one another, and hence, it is a circle. The circularity inherent in hermeneutics implies that the meaning of a text is to be found within its cultural, historical, and literary contexts.
  •  Styles-and Strategies-Based Instruction (SSBI)
Cohen and Weaver (2006) conceived the Styles-and Strategies-Based Instructional model as a framework for teaching foreign languages. It is very suitable for teaching literatures written in foreign languages.   The framework is based on the theory of scaffolding, a concept that stems from the idea that at the beginning of the learning process, learners need a great deal of support; gradually, this support is taken away to allow students to develop a sense of independence. This is what Cohen and Weaver call the gradual release of responsibility. Other facets of the model include: modelling, cooperative learning, activation of prior knowledge, student learning choices and self-initiated learning.  The SSBI is a learner-focused approach that explicitly encourages different kinds of intervention in the classroom. Emphasis is placed on how specific learning tasks might call for certain learning style preferences and call for certain teaching strategies.

 In a nutshell, by revisiting seminal novels written by Kourouma, Fouda, Nganang, Fonkou and Chamoiseau, I sought to undercore the fact that African and Caribbean novels of French expression are, in essence, hybrid texts that may defy superficial reading.  Literary indigenization is not an oddity; rather is a timely response to the call for new ways of writing Francophone so-called ‘new’ novels. Teachers of Francophone literatures of Africa and the Caribbean cannot continue to teach these texts using the same models that were used in teaching  metropolitan French novels like Madame Bovary (Flaubert, 1971); Le rouge et le noir (Stendhal, 1972); Germinal (Zola,1959); L’immoraliste (Gide,1902 ); La jalousie (Robbe-Grillet,1957); Planétarium (Sarraute,1959) and so on.  Whether or not the  novelists included in our corpus have achieved the goal of  de-Europeanizing their novels is a question that falls beyond the scope of this paper.  Literary scholars like Ngugi wa Thiong’o have argued  that  to qualify as indigenous,  African literatures have to  be written in native languages. He further points out  that  “Literature written by Africans in European languages…can only be termed Afro-European literature; that is, the literature written by Africans in European languages” (27). Much as we salute the success of the aforementioned novelists in imprinting their texts with the  worldview,  imagination, speech mannerisms, and cultural characteristics of indigenous peoples, we cannot lose sight of the fact  the core of these texts is written in French, a European language. In spite of  the impressive linguistic innovations inherent in them, they are still essentially French language novels. For these writers, French is a necessary evil with which they must come to terms. Straddling two cultural spheres, Kourouma, Fouda, Nganang, Fonkou and Chamoiseau  find themselves at the crossroads of languages. They cannot be faithful to the one without betraying the other.


[i] Transposition of Malinke thought patterns and worldview into French.

[ii] All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.
[iii] Camfranglais is 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”(Kouega, 23)

[iv] Cameroonianisms

[v] If you have been searching here and there in vain for a job to make ends meet, you could always complain that times are tough.[v]

[vi] Your stomach is shouting insults at you.
[vii] You now have the opportunity to go eat in a roadside restaurant. Don’t be too excited! You will go to one of these makeshift restaurants in the open air, where benches and tables are assembled for clients to sit and sheepishly turn their backs to the street!
[viii] I only have a ‘Papa-I-have-grown-up and a pair of ‘sans kong’
[ix] Mama Koki
[x] Mama Ndolè
[xi] Mama Atchomo
[xii] Mother
[xiii]At the roadside restaurant, you’d find the asso, term of flattery that describes the woman from whom you buy food regularly, and who would allow you eat on credit when times are tough.

[xiv] Dressed up in this manner, you’d look ludicrous, and Max, once again, would have cause to expose his ‘cassava-traps’. He’s discreetly making fun of you.

[xv] A student’s voice would say, the usual, Mama Mado, and my mistress knew just what he wanted. Another’s voice would order, put oya soté, for jazz must do sous-marin] (Dog Days, 57).

[xvi] I only ate at home in the evening, except on days when I had asked an ‘attacker’ to replace me so that I could have some rest.

[xvii] At the end of the day, we returned home with a big smile if, in addition to the normal fare, long-distance commuters had proposed.

[xviii] Pay more than the normal fare.

[xix] Between two customers, Justine and her mother  took part in the heated discussions that animated the ‘bayam sellam’ section of the martket: gossip, fake quarrels,  jokes and noisy false pretenses that caused outbursts of laughter.

[xx] Retail traders, this category of aggressive market women without whom our markets would lose their vivacity.

[xxi]More often than not, at the end of the day, each one of us wore a smile of contentment as we parted at nightfall, vigorously shaking hands and saying ‘toss’.

[xxii] Handshake with the tips of the thumb and middle-fingers intertwined, followed by a quick separation and loud sound.

[xxiii] Yesterday was djidja.
[xxiv] I have no clue, you Bami fellow.

[xxv] The biggest surprise came on a Sunday, the day when the association of women from my village came to wash the baby.

[xxvi] The yaal—song and dance that celebrate the birth of a child.

[xxvii] I sold the coconuts from the tree of Pa Soltene, an old distillery-blackman who smoked away his old-age under his only tree. I sold crabs which I’d dig up on Dillon’s lands. I sold bottles and saucepans. I sold perfume flasks that a trinket merchant brought from Italy. These odd jobs brought me money that I (after having paid for the oil, salt, kerosene, a piece of cloth, donated a bit like all of City’s good people to the mutual aid society, Human Solidarity) kept like Nelta did (Texaco, 272).

[xxviii] Literary and political movement developed in the 1960s that stresses the creation of a specific  West Indian identity out of a multiplicity of ethnic and cultural elements.

[xxix] Neither creolized French nor Frenchified Creole; rather Chamoisified French.


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Indigenization of the English Language in Omotoso’s The Combat

By Peter Wuteh Vakunta

Contemporary African fiction seems to harbor seeds of a literary revolution discernible in the stylistic choices made by creative writers.  In an attempt to call colonial legacy and cultural imperialism into question, the ex-colonized tend to write in a domesticated version of the imperial language. No African novel illustrates this literary phenomenon better than Kole Omotoso’s The Combat (1972). Omotoso tends to indigenize language in his text by employing appropriative strategies in ways that undermine the sacrosanct canons of the English Language. Like Achebe (Morning Yet, 1975)[i], he feels the urge to use this European language in a manner that would carry the burden of his indigenous worldview and imagination as the following example shows: “He began to dress; his pants, his singlet— it had large black patches of dirt under the armpits—then his khaki pair of trousers; over it he put a green dansiki which was torn on the shoulders” (3). Omotoso resorts to indigenous language words in a bid to fill in cultural gaps. The vernacular term dansiki is used in this novel to describe a traditional loose-fitting robe worn in many different regions of Africa, especially in West Africa. This robe reaches to the ankles and is either open at the sides or stitched closed along the edges. Wearing a dansiki is a way of making a statement about the value of African heritage.

Omotoso transposes his indigenous worldview into the English language by having recourse to Yoruba mythology as this example clearly illustrates: “His toe hit a pile of bricklayer’s utensils and he winced: that was not a good sign—to hit the toes of the right foot against anything so early in the morning” (2). The concept of ill-luck is conveyed by the act of hitting an object with one’s right foot in the wee hours of the day. It should be noted that the belief in courting misfortune by hitting a hard object with one’s right foot is tenable only in a society where people believe in the existence of evil spirits that cast spells on people who attempt to cross their paths. By and large, Omotoso employs the technique of indigenization of language for the purpose of underscoring the notion of cultural otherness, especially when he reverts to loan words  culled from indigenous languages as this example suggests: “He got out of the car again and went to the stall of the akara seller”(4). Akara is a deep fried dish made of fermented corn flour mixed with banana. A cultural referent such as Akara may constitute a translation impasse for readers not familiar with the socio-cultural context in which The Combat was written, but some effort has to be made by readers to discern source-text indigenous lexemes accurately.  Omotoso’s recourse to indigenous culinary lexicon is observable in the following statement: “The woman brought out the moin-moin parceled inside fresh leaves” (11). Moin-moin is a delicious local dish made from ground black-eyed beans mixed with red palm-oil and cooked in small cans as the novelist elucidates: “Soon he exposed the central lump of ground beans mixed in palm oil and cooked with spices…” (12). The driving force behind indigenization of language in this novel seems to be the writer’s desire to put a premium on de-identification.  In other words, Otomoso uses the literary medium to shed light on cultural differences.  He strives to write differently precisely because he believes that as an African writer he should not write like the Europeans do.

The Combat addresses the question of language in Nigerian literature in particular, and in fictional writing in Africa as a whole. Omotoso focuses on the manner in which the African writer employs language to tie form to content without undermining the esthetics of literary creativity. The particularity of his style resides in the presence of bits and pieces (if not chunks) of Nigerian speech patterns in the text. In his attempt to transpose the speech mannerisms of Nigerians into written English, he employs a variety of linguistic codes, a phenomenon which Haugan refers to as “the alternate use of two languages, including everything from the introduction of a single unassimilated word up to a complete sentence or more into the context of another language” (Quoted in Omole, 58)[ii]. The Combat  harbors an amalgam of codes—English, Nigerian Pidgin, and numerous indigenous languages. Code-switching enables Omotoso to transpose native languages and Pidgin into the English language. The text is replete with words and expressions culled from Nigerian Pidgin English: “Wey dey wait wan woman wey go latrine” (33). This sentence could be written in standardized English as: We are waiting for one woman who went to the toilet. Omotoso spices his text with Pidgin English expressions to make his language respond realistically to the mentality of his characters. As the narrator points out, “Chuku spoke in the language of the people. That was all that mattered” (34).
The use of code-switching as a narrative technique in The Combat goes beyond just being creative with language to sending a message to readers about how Nigerian society has become hybridized in the wake of independence from Great Britain. Omotoso adopts a very original narrative technique to illustrate the inner turmoil that Africans experience from cultural imperialism. He deconstructs the English language in order to make it bear the weight of his Yoruba experience. What one reads in The Combat is a reflection of how ordinary Nigerians communicate on a daily basis. Most Nigerians are not just bilingual but multilingual. Using more than one language in one single sentence seems to be commonplace in Nigerian daily discourse.  By writing this novel the way he did, Omotoso exposes monolingual readers to other forms of writing. He enables them to actually have a clear picture of how different languages are spoken in Nigeria. The Combat s is a fascinating novel because it brings the African way of life from the cities of Nigeria into the literary limelight.  The novelist’s style reminds the monolingual reader that they are reading about a hybrid culture with many languages, codes, and dialects. The novel would be lacking if it did not include all of the complex words and expressions because the reader wouldn't have a well rounded and accurate picture of Nigeria's multilingualism. What we see Omotoso’s stylistics accomplishing is subjecting a monolingual reader to reading beyond the text and exploring the deeper meanings embedded in the author’s word choices.
Readers of The Combat would realize that there is translation of sorts taking place in the text. It is worth mentioning that the term ‘translation’ is not used in this review to refer to the replacement of a text in the source-language by a lexically and semantically equivalent text in the receptor-language. The kind of translation activity that takes place in Omotoso’s novel can best be described as ‘intralingual’ translation. Karen Korning Zethsen[iii] observes that intralingual translation could be perceived as the “interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs of the same language” (Meta 54.4, 2009, 797). For the purpose of this  review, ‘intralingual translation’ will be considered as a process whereby the creative writer conveys the thought patterns, cultural specificities and worldview of indigenous peoples into a European language, in our case English. The cultural parameter of the translation process in The Combat serves the purpose of explaining cultural referents in a text in which lack of general background knowledge prevents the target group from understanding the intended messages. The translation activity that takes place in Omotoso’s novel is translation within the same language. It is a transposition process that enables him to infuse his narrative with the imprint of his cultural background, worldview and, imagination.
One seminal role that translation plays as a narrative technique in The Combat is the communicative function it fulfills. Translation serves as a means of facilitating cross-cultural communication in the novel. Omotoso attains this objective by availing himself of the literary technique of semantic shift in order to create fresh idioms in the English language. For example, in the sentence, “Their faces seemed to burst into smiles as soon as Chuku came to the gate” (34), “burst into smiles” is a translation from the writer’s Yoruba native tongue into English.  In standardized English, this idiom has equivalents such as “wide grins,” “broad smiles,” or, if “burst” must be used, “burst into laughter.” By turning to his native tongue, Omotoso adds one more idiom to the English language by translating his Yoruba imagination into this language. Idioms derived from indigenous languages bring along with them a specific perspective of the world which enriches the European language.  Moreover, translation conveys semiotic significations on account of the cultural specificity of the metaphors, idioms, proverbs, and other rhetorical devices employed by the fiction writer. The functional significance of narrative proverbs in The Combat is noteworthy as this example indicates: “Place anybody on the back of a horse and he would puff out his chest…” (35). As if in doubt of the reader’s ability to glean the   implied meaning of this proverbial expression, Omotoso comes to his rescue with a translation: “it is natural in man to adapt himself to his environment” (35). Metaphors also come in handy in the writer’s endeavor to de-Europeanize his text as seen in this other example: “The man smiled, showing a set of unevenly spaced teeth, corn scattered on a cob” (46). By placing the expression “showing a set of unevenly spaced teeth” in apposition with “corn scattered on a cob” the novelist succeeds in providing an explanation of the latter using the former.

Omotoso constantly borrows from the 250-odd vernacular languages spoken in Nigeria as seen in the following example: “She fetched a pair of slippers decked with gold thread which she put on the feet of the body; over the thick uncombed hair she put abetiaja” (86-87). The indigenous language word abetiaja describes the stylish manner in which Yoruba men wear their hats. This other one is equally significant: “She beat the flies off the body, using her ibori” (86).The native tongue word ibori is Yoruba for headscarf. Switching codes enables Omotoso to imprint his text with the belief systems of his characters. A classic example is the belief in deities and their prophets and prophetesses: “He had seen one or two aladuras going to their early morning prayers” (44). Aladura could be loosely translated as “prophet” or “prophetess”.  Code-switching is an effective inter-cultural communication tool in The Combat. It enables the novelist to express the cultural particularities of the Yoruba in English. At the same time, it helps the writer translate orality into the written word as the inclusion of the following sont indicates:
                        Ogbon jojo nii sonii diwin
                        Boogun bap o lapoju
                        A so ni di were
                        B’obinrin bag bon ni agbonju   
                        Penpe laso oko ree mo
                         A difa fun oloro Ife
                        Nijo ti nfomi ojuu sogbere omo (82)
In sum, Omotoso makes abundant use of the technique of literary indigenization to portray the socio-cultural realities of Yoruba people, and the significant influence of appropriation of language on postcolonial fictional writing. He mixes languages purposefully in a bid to underscore the heteroglossic context from which his novel arises. If up to a certain point, each writer has to re-invent a language of fiction, the situation of African Anglophone writers living in the post-colony is peculiar in that for them, English is not an acquisition; rather it is an occasion for constant mutations and modifications. Engaged as he is in the game of language, Omotoso has created his own language of fiction, in a multilingual context often affected by signs of diglossia. His desire to “Africanize English is evident in his constant use of Yoruba cultural referents and lexes. This succinct analysis of the The Combat lends credibility to the contention that Omotoso is in a dubious love relationship with his mother tongue and his language of adoption—English.


[i] Achebe, Chinua. Morning yet on Creation Day: Essays. London: Heinemann, 1975.
[ii] Omole, James O. “Code-switching in Soyinka’s The Interpreters.” eds. Epstein, L.
 Edmund and Robert Kole. The Language of African Literature.Trenton:
Africa World    Press, 1998.
 [iii] Zethsen, Karen Korning. “Intralingual Translation: An Attempt at Description.” Meta 54.4

Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The question of language choice inAfrican literature has caused significant ripples in the pool of literary criticism. The genesis of this discourse dates back to Obiajunwa Wali, whoin 1963, wrote an article titled “The Dead End of African Literature” (Transition 10, 13-15) in which he argued that “the whole uncritical acceptance of English and French as the inevitable medium for educated African writing, is misdirected, and has no chance of advancing African literature and culture” (Quoted in Olaniyan & Quayson, 282). He further pointed out that until African writers accept the fact that any true African literature must be written in African languages, they would be merely pursuing a dead end. Wali even sounded a fatalistic note when he opined that “African languages would face inevitable extinction, if they do not embody some kind of intelligent literature, and the only way to hasten this, is by continuing in our present illusion that we can produce African literature in English and French”(op cit, 284). These postulations have given rise to a groundswell of contentious, even tendentious discourses among writers and critics of African literature. The most vocal voice among them all has been that of prolific Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. 

In his seminal work, Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature (1986), Ngugi argues over and over again that to qualify as African, African literature has to be written in indigenous languages. As he puts it, “Literature written by Africans in European languages… can only be termed Afro-European literature; that is, the literature written by Africans in European languages”  (Decolonising, 27).  He describes his return to African languages in his fictional writing as “a quest for relevance” (87), noting that the use of indigenous languages in fictional writing is a liberating venture that enables Africans to see themselves clearly in relationship to themselves and to other selves in the universe.  Thus, Ngugi’s rhetoric broaches the most urgent problematic of postcolonial African writing: the issue of how language (medium) becomes the message in a work of literature. It is a logocentric approach that puts a premium on words and language as the fundamental expression of external reality.  This paper seeks to shed light on the language question in African literature. It delves into the contradictions inherent in Ngugi’s posture in favor of the unassailable position of indigenous languages in contemporary African fiction.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o2 It is true that language embodies all the great moral, gender, philosophical, and in fact, physical issues humanity has grappled with from time immemorial. Language has been exploited by fictional writers to all intents and purposes, ranging from language as deconstruction in Orwell’s 1984 (1977), language as a room without a view in Kafka’s The Trial (1937), to language as a gap through which reality escapes in Robbe-Grillet’s  Le Voyeur (1955) or from cyclic language as unmaking in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1982),  language as seduction and disillusionment in Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) to language as an expression of otherness in Nganang’s Dog Days (2001). There is always a “sense of carnivalesque enjoyment in the pyrotechnical properties of language-as-narrative,” to borrow words from André Brink (Quoted in Olaniyan & Quayson, 333-9).
However, to reduce the problematic of postcolonial literature to the question of language seems to me an untenable argument. Although I understand where Ngugi is coming from, and see the importance of promoting the use of indigenous languages through writing, I can't help but think that his argument is completely circular and that he seems to contradict himself all too often.  Africa has so many languages. In my home country, Cameroon, one can count over 200 languages. If one writes in one of these languages, how would the people from the other linguistic communities be able to read the books? Only the few speakers of the language in which the literary works are written would have access to the message. 
I think the most important aspect of this contradiction is Ngugi’s decision to translate his books originally written in his mother tongue, Gikuyu, into the English language for the purpose of widening his readership. His latest novel, Wizard of the Crow (2007) was written in Gikuyu and later translated into English by Ngugi himself. He is so terribly against writing in English, yet we are reading his books in English! Ngugi's stance on language is pretty inflexible, or too inflexible, in this era of globalization. 
I don't mean to be at all offensive, but I feel his stance is a little hypocritical in that after condemning writing in European languages, he still uses English to educate people about this. Decolonizing the Mind, his tool of combat is written in English! I'm bothered every time I read something written by him in English or hear him speak in English. Naturally, I'm not saying he shouldn't write or speak in English, but doesn't he see why it is somewhat necessary to do so?  A proverbial expression in my mother tongue cautions against destroying the tree whose fruits you savor. 
The mere fact that his indigenous-language fictional works have been translated into English so that it may be read by a global readership and Africans who don’t speak Gikuyu makes Ngugi's frivolous argument a nonstarter.  His latest book, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir (2010) which I reviewed not long ago is written in English!  Ngugi is aware that he needs to reach a broader audience/readership; therefore, he writes in English. Isn’t this an indication that his pontifications against the use of imperial languages in African literature are spurious? If he only wrote in Gikuyu, wouldn’t he unquestionably have a limited readership?
In one of his essays “The Language of African Literature”  (Decolonizing the Mind, 4-33), he endeavors to account for the rationale behind writing African literature in European languages, which includes a broader reading audience, publishing/distributing opportunities, and the majority of awards that are only given to works written in European languages. What does this say about his dogged determination to write only in his mother tongue? Ngugi finds it hard to stop writing in English or translating his own works into English because he is a product of the same linguistic/cultural dualism that nourishes his creative genius.  I believe that he is merely resisting the psychological effects of the perplexities that arise from this ambivalence.
What would happen if Mungaka, an indigenous language spoken in the grassfields of Cameroon, became very popular and a French writer began writing their books in this native tongue?  Would these books still be classified as Mungaka literature regardless of the French content of the works? How about a Kenyan who grows up speaking Gikuyu and later learns Japanese and starts to write fiction in this Asian language? Would his works be Kenyan or Japanese? Because intriguing questions like these are bound to arise, creative writers need to give serious thought to the language question in literature.
I certainly comprehend the importance of writing in African languages for the purpose of safeguarding cultural heritage. I have written in Cameroonian Creole (Pidgin), Camfranglais, and Hausa in my attempt to transpose not only the speech patterns and mannerisms of Cameroonians into the written medium but also to underscore Cameroonian worldview and imagination. But to argue that one has to write in one’s mother tongue in order to earn a place in the ivory tower of African litterai seems to me lame contention. If African writers only wrote in their native languages, wouldn’t this alienate readers who only read in European languages? Wouldn’t alienation harbor grave consequences, especially from the pecuniary point of view?

Ngugi's uncompromising position is only one side of an ongoing argument in favor of the decolonization of African literature (Chinweizu et al, 1983).  Like Ngugi, Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike posit that the use of European languages in African literature is a perpetuation of the neo-colonialist tendencies that seem so pervasive in African economies, politics and cultures.  Aruging along similar lines, Ngugi observes that there is no difference between a politician who argues that Africa cannot dispense with imperialism and an African writer who believes that European languages are indispensable.  As he puts it: “I believe that writing in Gikuyu language, a Kenyan language, an African language is part and parcel of the anti-imperialist struggles of Kenyan and African Peoples”(Quoted in Olaniyan and Quayson, 302).
On his part, Chinua Achebe observes that for him there is no choice; he has to write in English: “But for me there is no other choice. I have been given the language and I intend to use it” (Morning Yet on Creation Day, 62). If you want to get reward for your hard labor (writing), you need a wider audience.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o1 Achebe’s writing does not usually conform to the European language idiom and syntax not because he is not proficient in English but because he is smart enough to manipulate the English language to bear the weight of his Igbo imagination and sensbility. As he puts it: “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use” (op cit, p.61). Though written in English, his novels are very rich in African tradition. He has the tool and uses it in a way that serves his purpose. How many people would have read Things Fall Apart (1958) or Arrow of God (1964) if they were written in Igbo? Achebe's domestication of the English language in these novels is done with a seamlessness that demonstrates his dexterity as a creative writer; not his inability to utilize "standard" English. Achebe's commitment to the promotion of a Nigerian identity in his Europhone novels lends credence to the fundamental truth that African literature need not be written in African languages in order to convey an African message. What matters, in essence, is that the African writer be responsible for promoting an image of Africa, positive or negative, using whatever tools are at his/her disposal. For Ngugi this is done through the use of Gikuyu.
For Achebe, Soyinka and francophone writers like Kourouma, Nganang, Fonkou, and Boni, it is the indigenization of language that makes the task feasible. These writers are able to (re)mold European languages and make them feel and sound African.  I believe that transgressing the grammatical canons that govern the usage of European languages and incorporating different aspects of African language aesthetics is a tremendously effective way to get ideas across to readers.  Kourouma achieves this feat in The Suns of Independence (1981).
African Literature written in European languages is African literature. Many attributes converge to produce a label for a particular brand of literature.  Medium (code) of communication is only one aspect. Other factors namely, stylistics, content, situational dimensions, spatio-temporal matrices, to name but a few, are integral parts of the holistic message.  It is disingenuous to limit the examination of a people’s literature to the ‘wrapping’ at the expense of other constituting factors. I do not think that the language in which a work of literature is written is really as important as Ngugi and Wali perceive it. What is more important is the message/content and the stylistic devices employed to convey intended messages.  It does not matter which language writers choose to glean their signifiers from, all that matters is what is being signified.  I feel that one should judge whether or not a novel is "African" by what is being signified, not by the language from which the signifiers are culled.
That being said, I continue to wonder whether Ngugi truly even believes what he is saying and if so, why is he still writing in English? What are his motivations for circumventing this issue? Outrage, inspiration, or captivating an audience?  I believe denouncing Africans who write in European languages (himself included); Ngugi is simply seeking negative attention. Is he trying to draw attention to his works? Hasn’t he garnered enough notoriety as a dissent writer? I believe that Ngugi wants to be heard in the dissident tone of voice for which he is already notorious.  Like Wali, does he really fear that African languages would be extinct if Africans don’t write in their mother tongues?
Just because we do not write in our native tongues does not mean that the languages are going to be lost! The question regarding what will happen to African native languages that are not written in is an interesting one, though.  I think it takes more than just literature to make a language last. The whole debate on the interplay between orality and literacy has been fully examined by Walter Ong in his text Orality and Literacy: the Technologizing of the Word (1982) in which he points out that language perpetuates culture, and culture sustains language.  As long as languages are orally kept alive they will survive, no question about that. The deleterious effects of the arguments against Europhone African literature is that they make African literature in European languages inherently second-rate.  I'm sure Ngugi would balk at me for saying this, but in a way, he is doing the same thing the colonizers did to African languages—they brought their languages to Africa and attached a stigma to the use of native African languages.  By raising African languages to an unquestionably higher pedestal, Ngugi is devaluing the work of African writers who write in English, French or Portuguese.  I don't know if he is necessarily discrediting them, but I do feel as though he is giving them a slap on the wrist, so to speak.
This discourse raises the question of relevance in African literature. Ngugi observes:  “…the language question cannot be solved outside the larger arena of economics and politics or outside the question of what society we want” (Decolonizing, 106). How relevant are African literary texts to the rank and file— the proletariat and the masses to whom the message is often directed? Ngugi co-authored his first play Ngaahika Ndeenda (1982) in Gikuyu and later translated it into English as I Will Marry When I Want (1982). The original version was staged as a communal play in an open theatre. The local folks could identify not only with the language but also with the themes that undergirded the crafting of the play, notably misappropriation of land in Kenya under British colonial rule. The play also tackles the problem of neo-colonization. In brief, the play was relevant to Kenyans because it reflected their lived experiences.
All of Ngugi's works of fiction are deeply concerned with existential problems, celebrations and conflicts in the lives of Africans. With this in mind it seems to me that Ngugi is caught in a terrible web, in that he believes that revolutionary literature has to be written in a language the people would understand.  He seems to be saying that if literature is not written in the language of the people, the revolutionary among them will not be born. 
In this case, the language of the people is very important. Yet, he reverts to writing in English without giving his readers cogent reasons why he does so. Do Africans want to continue to tell their own stories in foreign tongues?  Do they want to continue to feed their children with stories about the marvels of western civilization at the expense of their own cultural values? Ngugi’s arguments may make sense when we come to terms with the fact that the search for new directions in our language policies should be viewed as an integral part of the overall struggle of Africans against imperialism in its neo-colonial stage.  He contends that discourse on the politics of language in African literature cannot be dissociated from Africa’s struggle for liberation. As he puts it: “It is a call for the rediscovery of the real language… of struggle…” (op cit, 108). Ngugi certainly has a point when he underscores the imperialistic functions that language has been made to fulfill in Africa.
This notwithstanding, it seems to me that there are many more nefarious manifestations of imperialism that should constitute the focus of the liberation struggle in Africa. It is counterproductive to try to impose reductionist standards on how to judge African literature today on the grounds that we are waging a war against imperial forces. 
African writers should be at liberty to write in the language(s) of their choice because our cultural values, worldview and imagination can only be shared with the external world through African literature written in European languages. I have no doubt that, on second thought, Ngugi wa Thiong'o would be prepared to modify the statements he has made so far about language choice in African literature, the more so because he continues to write in English after making these powerful statements. I fully support him on the issue of promoting the teaching of African languages in schools through well conceived curricular modalities. Even though (I'm sure) Ngugi has the best intentions in defending his position so passionately, his prescription has the potential to inhibit creativity to a certain extent because it is so restrictive.
The fact that African literature produced in European languages so far has been incredibly effective at communicating the message of resistance against neo-colonial oppression and cultural imperialism demonstrates the ingenuity of writers at using every available resource to assert their identity.

In a nutshell, the ongoing debate on language choice in African literature should not be perceived as an attempt to belabor the obvious. Given the history of colonization and its aftermath in Africa, this question is bound to recur in any forum where the raison d’être of fictional writing is the topic of discussion. It is important for Africa to have literatures written in indigenous languages to preserve traditional values and speak directly to fellow Africans. At the same time, we cannot subscribe to the fallacious logic of the unassailable position of indigenous languages in contemporary African literature. 
I believe that there must be a balance between the inclusion of African-language literatures and Europhone literatures written by Africans in our corpus of literary works.  In sum, this all goes back to the question: What makes a book African? The writer is African? The language is African? The message is African? Or all three? Though I agree that publishing houses should encourage the publication of African-language literatures, I also don't think it is fair to discount a writer simply because s/he chooses to write in English, French, or Portuguese, etc. For many Africans, indigenous languages might provide the most natural mode of writing; others, though, may choose European languages for a variety of equally valid reasons. I would actually like to know what bothers Ngugi, Wali and ilk more—the fact that English is a colonial language, or the fact that by writing in English, an African writer is not using a native African language.

Works cited

Achebe, Chinua.  Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann, 1958.
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Brink, André. “Languages of the Novel: A Lover’s Reflections.” Olaniyan, Tejumola and Ato
   Quayson. Eds. African Literature: An Anthology of  Criticism and  Theory. Oxford: 
   Publishing, 2007.
Chinweizu  et al. Toward the Decolonization of African Literature. Washington D.C.:
 Howard University Press, 1983.
Grillet, Robbe. Le voyeur. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1955.
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York. A.A. Knopf, 1937.
Kourouma. Ahmadou. The Suns of Independence. London: Heinemann, 1981.
Marquez, Garcia Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Limited Editions Club,
Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. Paris: Olympia Press, 1955.
Nganang,  Patrice.  Dog Days. Charlottesville: University of
 Virginia Press, 2001.
Ngugi, wa Thiong’o. Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African
. London: Heinemann, 1986.
_______________. Wizard of the Crow. New York. Pantheon Books. 2006.
Ngugi, wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii. I Will Marry When I Want. London: Heinemann,1982.
Olaniyan, Tejumola and Ato Quayson. Eds. African Literature: An Anthology of
 Criticism and  Theory
. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: the Technologizing of the Word. London and New
 York: Routledge, 1982.
Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Books Limited, 1977.
Wali, obiajunwa. “The Dead End of African Literature." Transition 10(1963):13-15.
© The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2010. All Rights Reserved .

Linguistic Experimentation In Mercedes Fouda’s Je Parle Camerounais: Pour Un Renouveau Francofaune

By  Peter Vakunta

Those who insist that writers in the post-colony write in exactly the same way as mother-tongue metropolitan writers do, to use the jargon of postcolonial literary theory, would have to rethink after reading Mercédès Fouda’s novel titled Je parle camerounais: pour un renouveau francofaune. Aschroft et al. (1989) argue that this Calibanic longing for linguistic liberation has become a symbol of resistance in postcolonial literary theory. By appropriating the master’s language, Caliban is able to break out of Prospero’s linguistic prism. Like Caliban, fiction writers everywhere in the sphere of Francophonie, are trying to jettison the yoke of linguistic/cultural imperialism by domesticating French in an attempt to convey indigenous thought patterns, speech mannerisms, worldview, imagination and socio-cultural experiences. The debate on the recourse to the techniques of domestication and foreignization as means of literary communication has attracted the attention of translation theorists for long time. Lawrence Venuti discusses these techniques at length in his book The Translator Invisibility (1995).

Domestication as a literary paradigm has been used by award-winning francophone fiction writers such as Henry Lopès (1982), Patrick Chamoiseau(1994), Michel Tremblay(1972), Ahmadou Kourouma (1970) , Nazi Boni (1962), Patrice Nganang(2001) and Mercédès Fouda (2001), to name but a few. In other words, these writers consciously manipulate the European language in an attempt to reflect local speech patterns while writing in the French language. Thus, linguistic experimentation with the language of the ex-colonizer harbors not just aesthetic but also political undertones.When creative writers resort to domestication as a literary technique, they superimpose indigenous linguistic features and values upon the European language. By resorting to the domestication of French in Je parle camerounais Fouda gives prominence not just to her native tongue but also to the kind of uneducated French that is spoken by the Cameroonian rank and file as this example shows: “Le ‘mamba’ alias billet de dix mille francs, de couleur verte, qui cause dans les bars autant de dégats que la morsure de son homonyme reptilien sur les humains.”(6). By using the word “mamba’ (venomous arboreal snakes) to describe money, Fouda underscores the importance of fauna and flora in the speech patterns of Cameroonians. In Cameroon, the word “mamba” refers to the 20000 CFA bill that often arouses feelings of envy when someone takes it out of his/her wallet to buy drinks in a bar. It’s an indicator of the socio-economic status of the spender. Recourse to flora is also evident in this other example: “J’ai un bon gombo pour nous… Le gombo, c’est ce petit job périodique et sporadique dont les revenus disparaissent aussi rapidement que son homonyme, plante mucilagineuse dont on fait les sauces, et qui, surtout cuisinée avec du couscous, descend à toute vitesse dans la gorge.”(36). Gombo is “okra” but in this context, it is used as an equivalent to the English language word “windfall”.
Like Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, (1921) Fouda writes in stark defiance of French grammatical conventions. He is saying to the ex-colonizers: you taught me French but I am going to appropriate it to the extent where you will have a hard time recognizing your language when you read it in my works. This is what makes her French an ‘embargoed ‘language from the perspective of Metropolitan speakers of French.

If the Académie française had its way, it would not hesitate to put Fouda’a book in a state of pariah on account of her linguistic nonconformity. The quest for linguistic autonomy is evident from onset—the title of Fouda’s book speaks to her dissidence. By titling her text Je parle camerounais, she distances herself from Metropolitan French. She does not write: Je parle le français camerounais; rather she writes: Je parle camerounais. Here is another example of Fouda’s attempt to appropriate French in her text: “Attifé ainsi, vous seriez ridicule, et Max a bien raison une fois de plus de montrer ses ‘attrape-manioc’: il se moque gentiment de vous” (37). Les “attrape-manioc” is a reference to human teeth. Because the staple food of Fouda’s people is cassava (manioc) she uses this compound word in reference to teeth. ‘Attraper le manioc’ avec ses dents is to ‘eat a meal of cassava’. This usage clearly shows that the French in Fouda’s text has been been subjected to indigenization to reflect Cameroonian socio-cultural realities.
A Westerner reading Je parle camerounais is likely to draw a blank on account of the ‘foreigness’ of Fouda’s lexicon. She uses neologisms typical of Cameroonian speech as this example illustrates: “J’ai seulement un ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ et les ‘sans confiance’.”(37). A ‘papa-j’ai grandi’ is pants that appear too short for the wearer because s/he has grown taller or bigger. Cameroonians use this expression as a form of mockery and as a reminder to the person wearing the pants that it is time to buy a new one. ‘Sans confiance’ are a pair of slippers that would go bad as soon as the buyer wears them. They inspire lack of self-confidence. ‘Sans confiance’ literally means ‘no confidence’. These are shoes on which no one can really rely because they are badly made.

Readers of Je parle camerounais....may wonder what sort of translation process takes place in Fouda’s text. It is worth mentioning that the term ‘translation’ is not used in this paper to refer to the replacement of a text in the source language by a lexically and semantically equivalent text in the target language. The translation activity that goes on in this text is intra-lingual. Intra-lingual translation occurs within the source language. It is a creative translation process in which writers attempt to infuse their works with the imprint of their cultural backgrounds, worldview and imagination with the intent of taking control the language of the ex-colonizer.
Fouda transposes the world view and of Cameroonians into the French language through the techniques of semantic shift, lexical interpolation, neology, and code-switching. Code-switching is a technique that she employs with dexterity to fictionalize Cameroonian lived experiences. Her text provides an opportunity to read the type of Africanized French that is spoken in the neighborhoods and informal spheres in Cameroon. Je parle camerounais is replete with Camfranglais, Pidgin English and indigenous language words and expressions that endow the text with a stamp of cultural identity. 

Semantic shift enables Fouda to attribute new significations to existing French words as the following example indicates: “En somme, la fête est mondiale, terme exploité quand il y a foule, et que les gens apprécient, comme lors des coupes du monde de foot.”(54-55) In Fouda’s text, the word “mondial” loses its original signification of “worldwide” and takes on the additional meaning of “extraordinary”. Fouda constantly shifts meaning for the purpose of translating the speech patterns of her characters into French as this other example seem to illustrate: “Ces temps derniers les jeunes talents se sont vus affubler des substantives “yo” et “yoyettes”, surtout s’ils se sont branchés comme des fils électriques, avec pantalons en tire-bouchon…” (62) 
The words “jeune” and” talent” though French have been indigenized and endowed with entirely new significations in this context. In Cameroonian French, these two words used together “jeune talents” refer to “young girls and boys who are inexperienced in the ways of the world. It is worth mentioning that words like “yo” and “yoyettes” are Cameroonian neologisms. Both words describe young coquettish girls in Fouda’s novel. Linguistic indigenization of the caliber that one finds in her text has the potential render the novel incomprehensible for a non-Cameroonian readership given that these lexes are context and culture-specific. They are derived from Camfranglais, a hybrid language spoken in Cameroon.

More often than not, Fouda resorts to semantic shifts for the purpose of creating humor as the following sentence suggests: “Et puis vous n’aimez pas les papayes, filles à la peau-cratère décolorée tyrant sur l’orange, vous préférez le cirage, les noires à la peau luisante.”(63) The word “papaye” (papaya or pawpaw) is used here to describe an African girl who has made abortive attempts to lighten her complexion by means of body creams. Such unsuccessful attempts often create a complexion that is neither black nor white. For want of a better word, Cameroonians generally refer to this kind of skin color as “peau papaye” (Papaya or pawpaw skin). In a similar vein, unattractive girls have earned the unpleasant sobriquet “nivaquine”. This metaphor derived from the medical lexicon is humorous. Equally hilarious is Fouda’s attempt to create a correlation between a woman with huge butts and a national debate or conference on same topic of grave importance as the following sentences shows: “De trop larges débats, qui qualifient les gros derrières, et par extension les grosses personnes, puisque si l’on doit discuter en fonction des mensurations, on ne saurait rapidement faire le tour des grosses corpulences.”(63).
The expression “larges débats” describes the large butts of a woman. The linguistic manipulation in Fouda’s text translates the African writer’s conscious attempt to distort a classical language otherwise too rigid to enable indigenous thoughts to flow freely. Fouda adapts her language to the African narrative style. So widespread is the practice that literary scholar 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)
One could deduce from Ojo-Ade’s observations that the transposition of African worldview and imagination into European languages remains the hallmark of postcolonial African literature. As Gyasi posits, contemporary fictional writing in Africa is “a creative translation process that leads to the production of a…text in French and the development of an authentic African discourse” (151). Interestingly, this aspect of African literature remains unexplored by those who have a stake in African creative writing, thus leaving the reader to surmise the rationale behind this constant recourse to translation in fictional writing. There is no doubt that an understanding of the socio-cultural matrix of a literary work would serve to enlarge readers’ experience and make the text more accessible than it would be were they to learn nothing of the circumstances surrounding its creation. Arguing along the same lines, Ezekiel Mphahle observes:
"The major problem facing the African writer is the problem of explaining and translating Africa to the modern world, to Europe, to the world of culture …. The African writer who writes in English or French is interested in seeing that French and English cultures recognize what he and his culture are. It is for this reason that he tries to be the translator of his culture." (Quoted in Egejuru, 116)

Fouda translates Cameroonian discursive particularities into French by employing indigenous language idiomatic expressions as seen in this statement: “Et puis, vous haussez les épaules, il crache je mange? Il pisse je bois?”(62) Literally, these idioms could be translated as: Do I eat his spittle? Do I drink his urine?” These statements translate the contempt the speaker has for the person referred to. A metropolitan speaker of French is likely to say, “Je me moque de lui”. Similarly, when the narrator says: “Ce dernier, qui ne parle non plus avec l’eau dans la bouche, veut vous rallier à son opinion: fuir le plus rapidement possible” (67), he is translating native parlance into the French language. The expression “parler avec l’eau dans la bouche” could be written in standard French as “tenir des propos incongrus or mensongers” which could be translated as “to tell lies or half truths”.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).

Fouda peppers her texts with words and expressions that are probably comprehensible only to Cameroonians because they are words created by Cameroonians in a multilinguistic communication context as seen in the following statement: “Si depuis belle lurette vous vous démenez de-ci de-là sans trouver aucune occasion à saisir sur le plan matériel, vous pourrez toujours vous plaindre que le dehors est dur…” (5). “Le dehors est dur” is a Cameroonianism which translates the idea that times are hard. This interesting one would certainly intrigue French speakers not familiar with Cameroonian French: “Bon, on fait comme ça! dira-t-on en guise d’au revoir.”(8) The expression “On fait comme ça!” which literally means “let’s do it that way” is meant to translate the standard French expressions “Au revoir”, “A tout à l’heure” or A bientôt”. 
Euphemisms are part and parcel of Fouda’s lexicon. When a Francophone Cameroonian says, “votre estomac vous lance des insultes” (9), s/he is saying that you are hungry. Cameroonians use the expression “manger son midi” (9) to translate” eat one’s lunch”, le midi being the name given to any meal eaten between noon and 2:00pm. It is important to know that such meals are generally not eaten at home. Rather, they are eaten in makeshift open-air restaurants erected by the roadside as this statement makes explicit: “Vous avez alors la possibilité d’aller manger au tournedos. Ne vous réjouissez pas trop vite! Vous n’irez que dans l’un de ces restaurants de plein air, faits de bancs et de tables assemblés,et ou , tout bêtement, le client tourne le dos à la route!”(10) The word “tourne-dos” has no equivalent in Metropolitan French.
Fouda’s text is filled with compound words created from the different vernacular languages spoken in Cameroon. Examples include: “Mamie Koki” (10), “mamie ndolè” (10), “mamie atchomo” (10) etc. The word “mamie” is the Pidgin equivalent of the standard French “mère”. Young Cameroonians generally address older women as “mamie” as a gesture of respect. In the commercial arena, this term is used as a reference to a woman from whom one buys food on a regular basis as the following excerpt shows: “Au tournedos, officie l’asso, diminutive flatteur de “associé (e),est cette personne chez qui vous faites régulièrement des achats et qui, lorsque c’est fort sur vous, vous fait manger un crédit…”(10) It should be noted that “manger un crédit” translates the standard expression “acheter à credit”(to buy on credit). It is evident that the word “manger” has been given a different signification in this context. “Manger” could be translated as “acheter”. The expression “c’est fort sur vous’ translates the standard French expression “les temps sont durs”. “Koki”, “Ndolè”, and “atchomo” are local Cameroonian dishes.
In a nutshell, Fouda’s Je parle camerounais: pour un renouveau francofaune is an indigenized text that seems to defy comprehension on account of the peculiarity of the French language in which it is written. Fouda has tinkered with Moliere’s language to the point where it unrecognizable by native speakers of French. Teaching this novel places an enormous burden on the instructor and students—the strain of interpretation and elucidation. So why teach it? I decided to include this novel on the reading list of my French 228 (fifth semester) language, literature and culture course because I believed that it would give me the opportunity to discuss the concept of linguistic Otherness. 

The text has enabled me to impress on my students that there are varieties of French just as there are Englishes in the world today. There is Camfranglais in Cameroon, Nouchi in Côte d’Ivoire, Franglais in Canada, and creolized French in Francophone Caribbean and so on and so forth. This brings us the perhaps the most important question in this discussion: how should a text like Fouda’s be taught?
In grabbling with this question, I have deemed it expedient to adopt a hermeneutic socio-cultural pedagogical modality for teaching Je parle camerounais: pour un renouveau francofaune. The rationale for this choice is that Fouda’s text is culturally impregnated as I have illustrated in the examples above. The instructor has to interpret the situational dimensions that account for the total meaning of Fouda’s text. Without a proper understanding the non-textual components of this text, any attempt at teaching it would be a non-starter. As Juliane House points out: “The semantico-stylistic interpretation of a literary text should be considered as the most important aspect of exegesis in the translation process...we have to deal with details which are often hardly perceivable, yet are nonetheless significant since they inform us about the artistic type not by means of themes, composition and transformation of reality, but by delicate stylistic nuances.”(1977, p.68) The instructor of Je parle cameroonais has to unravel the latent meanings embedded in the author’s choice of words, expressions and syntactical constructions in order to be able to explain the text to students unfamiliar with the socio-cultural matrix from which the novel sprouted.

It is rather unfortunate that this seminal work in postcolonial Francophone Cameroonian literature has not yet been translated into English. Although some of Fouda’s linguistic particularities my pose considerable challenges for the translator who has to balance lexical and semantic equivalence, I believe that her creative genius and stylistic dexterity certainly deserve to go beyond the confines of Francophone readership....© The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved 
Works cited

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. Eds. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Boni, Nazi. Crépuscule des temps anciens. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1962.

Chamoiseau. Patrick. Chemin-d’école. Paris: Gallimard, 1994.

Egejuru, Panel A. Towards African Literary Independence: A Dialogue with Contemporary African Writers. London: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Fouda Mercédès. Je parle camerounais: pour un renouveau francofaune.Paris: Karthala, 2001.

Gyasi, Kwaku, A. “Writing as Translation: African Literature and the Challenges of Translation.” Research in African Literatures 30.2 (1999): 75-87.
“The African Writer as a Translator: Writing African Languages through French.” Journal of African Studies 16.2(2003):143-159.

House, Juliane. “Of the Limits of Translatability.” Babel 19.4 (1973):166-67.
A Model for Translation Quality Assessment. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1977.

Kourouma, Ahmadou. Les soleils des indépendances. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970.

Lopès, Henri. Le pleurer-rire. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1982.

Nganang, Patrice. Temps de chien. Paris: Serpent à Plumes, 2001.

Ojo-Ade, Femi. “The Role of the Translator of African Literature in Intercultural Consciousness and Relationships.”  Meta 31.3 (1986):291-299

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Cambridge: The University Press, 1921.

Tremblay Michel. Les belles-soeurs. Montréal: Leméac, 1972.

Venuti, Lawrence. Translator’s Invincibility:A History of Translation. NewYork: Routledge, 1995.

Zabus, Chantal. “A Calibanic Tempest in Anglophone and Francophone New World Writing.” Canadian Literature 104 (1985):35-51.
The African Palimpsest: Indigenization of Language in the West African Europhone Novel. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1991.
  • Hi Dr. Vakunta,
    Greetings. This is the third time I am receiving this mail and really apologize. I am engulfed by what-you-know: research and writing and with little time to think of or eat breakfast and lunch, let alone to devour a good book review from you. You’re indefatigable by my evaluation. You churn them out so often that I can’t keep track of them.
    I admired the scholarship you demonstrated in reviewing the book. What Mercedes Fouda has written is more or less a rerun of the film we have watch, live it and our children and children’s children will live it, and so the following generations. The physical presence of the colonizers left us thinking till today. The thought process of Mercedes influenced a neo-refection on our linguistic imperialism saved ad infinitum in the hard disk of the colonized (the brain). That was the only valuable world passport they bequeathed to the inmates of their "pays d’autre mer."
    Did colonization make or mar with their linguistic relics: French and English? We might think wrongly or rightly of the benefits of our past as "farming" grounds where various commodities were produced and shipped to the metropolis. The writer of Je parle Camerounais is swimming the ocean of linguistic jingoism and stretching a desperate hand to hold onto something. Linguistic imperialism was indelible compared to neocolonialism which was the foresighted product of Nkwame Nkrumah, the spread of influence after the decay of the bipolarity of the two super powers. To cut short the story of linguistic machination and imperialism we have to accept that the roots are so deep in the cells of our brain and body. Our off spring cannot escape it. Our lives, our thought process, our interactions and communications are all cemented in the hardened substance of their making. I am not writing to you in our own language. Je parle Camerounais is not written in our Beti dialect. Our physical interactive communications are transported by the relics of the French and the British. Where do we go from here and how do we communicate without their efficient eave-dropping to be well informed of us?
    I enjoyed reading your review of the book from linguistic perspective. Shall we able to have independence from linguistic and neocolonialism and how would that happen?