Guthrie 1 Language and Identity in Postcolonial African Literature: A Case Study of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart A Thesis Submitted to The Faculty of the School of Communication In Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts in English By Abigail K. Guthrie 1 April 2011 Guthrie 2 Liberty University School of Communication Master of Arts in English ____________________________________________________________ __________________ Dr. Jaeshil Kim, Thesis Chair Date ____________________________________________________________ __________________ Dr. Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, First Reader Date ___________________________________________________________ __________________ Dr. Paul Muller, Second Reader Date Guthrie 3 Acknowledgements This thesis would not have been possible without the dedication, love, and support of Dr. Jaeshil Kim. Thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Dr. Paul Muller and Dr. Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, thank you for the countless hours you have dedicated to improving my life. You have taught me to love literature and you have encouraged me to pursue daunting tasks. Thank you for not giving up on a simple girl like me. You will never know just how much your teaching has shaped my life.
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Thank you to the faculty members at Liberty University who were not on my committee but who have had a profound influence on my life. Dr. Prior, Dr. Harris, and Dr. Woodard, you have challenged me and pushed me to develop my beliefs, my intellectual curiosity, and my taste for good literature. I hope one day I will make you proud. To my family and friends, thank you all for your love and support. Thank you for allowing me to continue my education. The late nights, the long hours, the breakdowns, and the tears of joy are behind me now because you were there for me.
I am blessed to have you in my life. I love you. Finally, thank you Chinua Achebe. Without you, this thesis would still be a whimsical idea floating in the back of my mind. You have brought my ideas to life, and your words have inspired me. God bless you. Guthrie 4 “Until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter. ” Chinua Achebe, Home and Exile Guthrie 5 Table of Contents Signatures…………………………………………………………………………………………. 2 Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………………………….. 3 Epigraphs…………………………………………………………………………………………. Introduction: Understanding Chinua Achebe and the Cultural, Literary, and Linguistic Transcendence of Things Fall Apart………………………………………………………………………………. 6 Chapter 1: Understanding Africa: Confronting the Postcolonial Melee with an Interdisciplinary Approach…………………………………………………………………………………………13 Chapter 2: Ethnographic Literature: Professing a Language Attitude through a Literary Text………………………………………………………………………………………………29 Chapter 3: In Defense of Igbo: Achebe’s Language Attitude as Displayed within the Linguistic Structure of Things Fall Apart…………………………………………………………………… 6 Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………… 91 Appendices……………………………………………………………………………………… 94 Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………………. 104 Guthrie 6 Introduction Understanding Chinua Achebe and the Cultural, Literary, and Linguistic Transcendence of Things Fall Apart Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once wrote that the time and place in which he was raised was “a strongly multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, somewhat chaotic colonial situation” (Education 39). No better words could describe the Nigeria from the end of the 19th century to today’s 21st.
Achebe was born on the 15th of November in the small town of Ogidi in Eastern Nigeria, one town amidst the thousand provinces that make up the land of the Igbospeaking tribes. The Igbo people pride themselves on autonomy; thus, the thousand towns that construct “Igboland” feel no need to meddle in the business of the other Igbos. Self-government, both pre and post colonization, remains both an ideal aim and a source of cultural pride. Perhaps it is this ancestral strength that prompts critics of Igboland to claim that the Igbo speakers are “a curious nation.
They have been called names like “stateless” or “acephalous” by anthropologists; “argumentative” by those sent to administer them” (Education 40). Igboland’s tumultuous relationship with the British, one such administrative host, has been complicated to say the least. This thesis explores the relationship between the Igbo and the British worlds as displayed through the linguistic structures of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The nuances of the world’s languages capture the adaptability of man and prove that language is essentially an intricate form of expression that is in a constant state of metamorphosis.
Language has an infinite number of possibilities (Chomsky 16). Like Kafka’s character, Gregor Samsa, who turns into a bug, language finds itself constantly restructuring itself, adapting to changes, facing rebirth in a new land, or suffering the extinction of a lost tongue. Salikoko Mufwene, a world-renowned linguist, has defined language as a complex and Guthrie 7 adaptive system of communication (Ecology 156), ensuring speakers that language is and always will be primarily adaptive and reactive.
Language changes as the world and its cultures change, and that change, whether it is the life, death, or transfiguration of language, happens not through fate, as some would argue, but through the individual choices made by the speakers of that language. The speakers of the world’s languages determine the potency of their tongues, and the study of crucial speakers within a society will reveal what they think of their language, as well as how they act towards the speakers of other surrounding languages. One can trace the evolution of a language through the way that the individual peakers communicate with each other and with surrounding speech communities. Linguist Steven Pinker argues that communication is “rooted in our development as individuals, but also in the history of our language community” (24). There is much to learn from speakers who individually choose to take an adaptive complexity like language and twist it into a subconscious method of expression for an entire speech community. This thesis is a powerful study of one such speaker, a speaker from a Nigerian tribe enmeshed in the heart Africa, and a speaker whose decisions about his language have helped shape the outcome of two world languages.
However, the analysis of this speaker’s decisions must come from a close reading of a written text rather than a perusal of oral statements, because Achebe has chosen the written word as his medium for linguistic and social reform. The written word has been severely degraded in recent years as intellectuals have battled for the validity of the text and the death of the author1. Achebe is one writer who leaves no room for such an argument: he writes with intentionality and deliberateness, and he is not afraid to state his purposes.
In reference to a second novel entitled A Man of the People Achebe clearly See Roland Barthes, Peter Rabinowitz, and Reed Way Dasenbrock for a glimpse at the 21st century confusion surrounding the roles of the author and reader in today’s literary canons/texts. 1 Guthrie 8 states: “I wanted the novel to be a denunciation of the kind of independence we were experiencing in postcolonial Nigeria and many other countries in the 1960s, and I intended it to scare my countrymen into good behavior with a frightening cautionary tale” (Education 43).
Achebe admits that his literature is a deliberate attempt to engage his culture and his international audience, and he brings this same stubborn determination to the writing of Things Fall Apart. Achebe establishes himself as a postcolonial author who chooses to wound his countrymen with his pen before he allows them to sink into apathy or stupidity. The deliberate manner in which Achebe writes has earned him a transcendental position in two literary canons: both the Western (read: English) and the African literary canons.
Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart, speaks truth about Africa and Africa’s response to British imperialism with clarity of language that brings Achebe both acclaim and criticism. Many literary critics agree that Things Fall Apart “describes the effect of British missionaries and administrators on a typical village tribal society; the dislocation that change, religious and educational, brings to historic certainties” (Povey 254), and that it does so with great strength and a “tragic objectivity” (Ravenscroft 9).
Readers appreciate the novel for its realistic depiction of Igboland, its rich depth of imagery, symbolism, and metaphor, and its profound lessons about community and the convergence of cultures. The reason for the caustic criticism of Achebe’s work arises from the fact that Achebe’s dedication to objectivity and realism lead him to the critical decision to write Things Fall Apart in the usurping British tongue.
But rather than try to paint his novel in anti-African hues (think Olaudah Equiano), Achebe keeps a wholly African perspective on the English novel, retaining a leitmotif of African tribalism and utilizing his own multilingual abilities through an extensive vocabulary of the Igbo language. Guthrie 9 This decision to write in the English language has sparked innumerable debates, both in African and non-African circles, over Achebe’s allegiance to his homeland and his beliefs about colonialism.
An analysis of Achebe’s language can reveal to the reader Achebe’s personal language attitude as seen through Things Fall Apart, and how the study of his language attitudes can temper the residual tension over his choice to write in the hegemonic British tongue. This thesis uses Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as a case study for language attitudes. Achebe’s language attitudes reveal to the reader how one author’s linguistic stereotypes affect both the writing and the acceptance of his literature.
Nikolas Coupland and Adam Jaworski claim that “our beliefs may be the factor motivating our behaviors, whatever the objective truth is” (267). The combined literary and linguistic approach challenges readers to think about culture, dialects, language identity, and the importance of language attitudes on the writing process. A joint research enhances the understanding of pre-existing interpretations about Achebe and Things Fall Apart and introduces the reader to a new, unexplored level of Achebe’s work: the level of linguistic stereotyping and the parallelism between language and literature.
This thesis argues that a great novel has the capability of displaying the author’s intentional and subconscious language attitudes within the discourse of the text, and that with an understanding of the role of language attitudes in literature the reader can better appreciate both the literary and the linguistic disciplines. Chapter one, “Understanding Africa: Confronting the Postcolonial Melee with an Interdisciplinary Approach,” establishes the challenges facing postcolonial African writers.
This first chapter will explain a linguistic definition of language stereotypes, the social motivations for those stereotypes, and how certain linguistic stereotypes have been shaped within Nigeria, specifically. A linguistic stereotype is the conscious and/or subconscious biases that shape Guthrie 10 cultural beliefs and behavior. One stereotype argues that post-colonial African writers should write only in their African tongues, while the opposing language stereotype encourages the incorporation of English within Africa. This chapter will explain how these opinions arise from cognitive biases.
It explains the definition of language stereotypes and their effects upon pre and postcolonial African literature, and how Achebe’s language attitude specifically affects his life and novel. Chapter two, “Achebe and Authorial Intention: Professing a Language Attitude through a Literary Text”, begins a close analysis of Achebe’s novel. Achebe’s fictional tale follows the life and death of Okonkwo, an Igbo speaker, and the societal changes that he experiences. This chapter will explain how Achebe’s style of writing and the themes of the story capture an image of pre-colonial Igbo community.
It will analyze the events of the plot as a sociocultural reflection of the familial side of African life. Achebe provides stories of Igbo history, culture, and belief systems that succeed in captivating his audience because of his own personal and integral development within the Nigerian lifestyle. The characters of Umuofia, Okonkwo, and Nwoye are used as deliberate plot devices to portray Achebe’s overt language biases. Umuofia represents the real life African situation, Nwoye serves as the African who moves away from tradition, and Okonkwo stays loyal to his country until the end, but cannot find the strength to change ith the tide. Chapter two is a literary analysis of Things Fall Apart, a necessary step towards fully understanding Achebe’s language attitude. It lays out the first parallel structures that can be seen in both the literary and the linguistic portions of this research, and shows how Achebe’s plot, use of metaphor, and a rich African narrative exemplify the themes of dislocation and change. This Guthrie 11 chapter defends Achebe’s conscious and subconscious attitudes towards the English and Igbo cultures.
The last chapter, entitled “In Defense of Igbo: Achebe’s Language Attitude as Displayed within the Linguistic Structure of Things Fall Apart”, argues that Achebe’s novel reveals a paradoxical linguistic situation. Achebe’s language attitude seems to encourage him to accept the English language without hesitation, and he adopts it as a practical way to enhance his African story rather than annihilate it (as Okonkwo ends up doing). The third chapter will use an original analysis of Achebe’s lexicon and his use of different languages within Things Fall Apart.
The lexical (textual) analysis demonstrates how Achebe uses multiple languages within his story, and provides examples of words that are used in specific and predictable situations. The third chapter examines the levels of Achebe’s linguistic stereotype that subconsciously affect the story and further illustrate his language biases. This chapter uses a Creole continuum that can be seen within the story to better examine Achebe’s personal stereotypes to see how they influence the discourse and semantic level of Things Fall Apart. A Creole is a language that develops when two or more speech communities collide.
In Achebe’s Creole continuum, there are four languages warring for dominance, but only the two strongest languages achieve a prominent position within the novel. The third and final chapter shows the reader the critical importance of building an academic bridge between linguistics and literature. The combination of these two fields of study reveals the value of interdisciplinary study and the endless possibilities for research. The linguistic analysis in this chapter describes Achebe’s own use of language, explains how language shaped his life and his first novel, and provides an original overview of the language
Guthrie 12 use within Things Fall Apart. The linguistic analysis shows the reader the unique position that Achebe is in, and how his novel has and will continue to influence readers around the world. Guthrie 13 Chapter One Understanding Africa: Confronting the Postcolonial Melee with an Interdisciplinary Approach What makes good literature? How does good literature affect readers? What role, if any, does language play in the creation and appreciation of literature? These questions have been debated for decades, the bane of literary critics, professors, and linguistic researchers.
Literature has shown itself to be a fundamental pillar of human civilization, but defining the parameters of literature and its role in society remains a troublesome topic. Recent discourse on the relationship between language and literature has faded into uncertainty and subjectivity. A portion of concerned citizens blame a shrinking print medium for the lack of interest in literary fields, others doubt that language, either of the text or from the author, deserves to be studied as part of literary criticism. This thesis probes these troubling questions concerning language’s influence over literature.
An objective analysis of a fundamental piece of world literature reveals that language influences the creation of good literature, and thus that language has the power to change the readers of the world. Author and literary critic Daniel R. Schwarz argues that readers should value communal pasts and use shared literary history in the development of current reading theory. He compares readers of world literature to Odysseus, and a reader’s journey through life, and thus literature, as a demanding but rewarding odyssey that will influence every aspect of their lives.
Schwarz argues that individuals should accept ancestral heritage and their unique forms of cultural literature. Pulling from individual histories allows readers to use literature as an advocate for humanity, cultural canons, and world literatures. While Schwarz defends the appreciation of cultural literature, he unfortunately glosses over the issues that many cultures face in the development of national literatures. African readers Guthrie 14 and writers, for example, do not have a simple definition for African literature.
While most cultural writers write for a hypothetical audience, a disembodied, faceless reader whom the writer will likely never meet, most African authors write to their countrymen, to the citizens of their village or city, to the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who have lived through the same cultural past and who look forward to the same collective future. The African writer is concerned with the applicability of literature to the tangible reader. Eldred Jones captures an example of this with his book The Writing of Wole Soyinka.
Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka was born July 13, 1934 to a Yoruban (of similar acclaim but separate ethnic group from the Igbo citizens) culture. He attended Ibadan government college and university like Achebe, and won the Nobel Peace prize in 1986. He was very politically active, and even spent time in jail for his outspoken nature. Soyinka’s beliefs often made their way into his impassioned works. Jones goes so far as to say that “Soyinka’s life is inseparable from his work, much of which arises from a passionate, almost desperate, concern for his society” (11).
Soyinka, like Achebe, was concerned with the preservation of his society. He translated the Yoruba text Ogboju oke ninu Irunmale (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons), which was one of the first novels to be written in an African language. Jones captures the fundamental essence of Soyinka’s literary goals by saying: All Yoruba culture is enshrined in the language, a highly tonal and musical language which gives the impression of being chanted rather than spoken.
These rhythmic and tonal qualities do not come over into English, which is a language of a very different type. What does flow over into Soyinka’s English is the wealth of imagery and proverbial formulas which he uses with remarkable effect. (8) Guthrie 15 Achebe and Soyinka are two authors who work towards a common goal. They each exhibit a wealth of knowledge and a driving passion, and they each construct works of literature that depict the life and structure (even a changing structure) of their particular societies.
African Literature and Canonicity Yet despite the unification of these two “pillars” of African literature, the majority of texts coming out of Africa have been conflicted, due in large part to pre and postcolonial Africa, and the effects of cultural diversity on African authors. Twenty-first century Africa is currently a continent of alienated villages, diverse people groups, and warring governments. Bureaucratic groups attempt to control most African nations, slowly and deliberately shaking off the cloudy remnants of British imperialism.
Simple environmental factors keep literature from uniting across the continent. Millions of Africans remain illiterate, unable to create or enjoy the advancing written literature in the world. Regionalism and separated ethnic communities are a maintained reality. Hundreds of spoken languages further divide the African states, with an inability to communicate with members outside of the native speech community negatively affecting the sense of nationhood and belonging. It is into this convoluted mix of cultures and languages that the dilemma of African literature written in English first appears.
Those who do produce written literature must decide if they wish to write in their native tongues or in the hegemonic language of English, whose literary allure writer Joanna Sullivan captures quite succinctly when she says: “[a]uthors choose to write in English not only to secure publication, but to further their social prestige through international recognition” (75). The choice is forced upon the African writer: to write in a language not one’s own, and thus to risk the heart and soul of his literature, or to write in the language of his people, and possibly never reach beyond the
Guthrie 16 borders of his diminishing region due to ethnic incommunicability. A good writer may never be read if he is limited to a local dialect. An example of one writer who has been lost in the melee of postcolonial literature is the writer Tanganyika. Tanganyika has been heralded as one of the great chroniclers of African life, but his works are hardly read due to his insistence on writing in the Swahili language. This choice to retain his native language has cost Tanganyika both a transcontinental audience and a majority of African audiences.
In 1960 Tanganyika gave to Achebe one of his books that, although treasured by Achebe remains unread to this day due to Achebe’s inability to read the Swahili language. Achebe publicly shares his sadness over this lost communication between African brothers and writers, concluding that until he learns Swahili, he will never be able to fully know his African compatriot (English and the African Writer 28). There is a disconnect that has plagued modern African literature. Before colonialism there were interethnic wars and a variety of mutually unintelligible language groups. The entrance of
European linguistic hegemony (language wars) brought a more conscious and pronounced feeling of linguistic separatism. Heidi Grunebaum-Ralph suggests creating community-building projects to unite postcolonial Africa, arguing that the more access Africans have to stories about their collective pasts, the more citizens can embrace a united literature. She says that, with shared stories “the individual becomes metonymy for the collective” (199). Grunebaum-Ralph despises the postcolonial politics that have made African memorials and historical grounds into tourist venues and forgotten legends.
She values community-run ventures rather than state ones, advocating such literary ventures as the Western Cape Action Tour Project, which educates African citizens in ethnic history and allows participants to “recount the stories of their lives and their communities” (203). For Grunebaum-Ralph, the communal aspect Guthrie 17 of literature is valued more than the individual author or reader, and far more than the bureaucracies of academicians and their canon-making politics2. This belief is prompted by an appreciation for the literary nature of the African past, specifically the rich oral traditions that have dominated Africa as a whole.
Grunebaum-Ralph values the rich oral and tribal narratives from the pre-colonial time and encourages that postcolonial African use the gift of writing and written literature to capture and carry on the same oral traditions of the past, only now in written form as well. This approach to African literature focuses not on specific criticisms in African literature, but on the holistic need for African people to embrace the past and present literary traditions and to work together to produce and teach good works of written literature that defend the African community.
However, postcolonial African literature and the development of a cohesive African canon is not a simple issue. Like any continent’s approach to forming a canon, there are certain problematic questions that must be asked. How, in a practical manner, does Africa, in its dissimilated postcolonial state, assemble a national identity and agree on a cohesive literary canon? Is it even possible? How does a nation who suffers the alienation of languages and polities unite under one canon of cultural identity? Sullivan offers a solution to the African people.
She pleads with African writers, specifically those in her native Nigerian nation, to devote themselves to writing literature “about Nigeria, or a problem that concerns the entire nation” (77). This, Sullivan argues, is the capstone for successful African literature. There is truth in both oral and written literature. This truth transcends the borders of African regionalism and divisions of postcolonial bureaucracy. By writing to Africa as a continent rather than to a smaller, more egocentric ethnic region, the author of a text can encourage identity and meaning for a more universal audience.
In an argument concerning the creation of Holocaust literature, 2 For a full discussion on the politics of establishing a canon, see Gates, Guillory, and Tompkins. Guthrie 18 Schwarz says that it is “when abstractions and numbers give way to human drama that the distance between us and the victims closes” (70). Thus, Schwarz and Sullivan agree that the power of good cultural literature transcends borderlines and ethnical divisions. The field of ethnic literature, then, is significant for today’s research.
By studying literature surrounding Africa and the African people, the researcher sheds light on certain literary obscurities. The authors of these ethnic texts hold the power to influence Africa and the African literary development, and the author who sacrifices himself to his work and for his nation deserves to be examined, for it is this type of author who writes with intentionality, deliberately shaping his work for the purpose of nationhood and unity. The Analytical Approach The study of African literature and African writers cannot be complete without the study of the ideology behind a text.
Literary critics analyze literature and the authors of good literature in hopes of finding truths about the world and the writers in the world. With such an intense literary background, many critics believe that the discipline has adequately exhausted the depths of biographical and historical analysis. For this reason, this particular research is not another attempt at autobiographical criticism or new historicism. It is in fact a deliberate step away from literary criticism and towards the scientific analysis of fictional text.
This thesis works with the foundational belief that the words used in a text are placed with deliberateness and authorial intent. This thesis takes a step towards an interdisciplinary analysis, using the field of linguistics as the primary method of research. The rationale for this linguistic analysis of African literature is twofold. First, the scientific nature of linguistics allows a fresh perspective into the field of literary criticism. Man uses language to dissect behavior and to communicate ideas.
A linguistic analysis of literature Guthrie 19 allows the researcher to examine these things as they relate to an author and the author’s text. Secondly, the branch of sociolinguistics studies the development of language attitudes, and when the research of language attitudes is applied to literature, it offers a new approach to literary criticism and, in particular, the African literary dilemma. The linguistic analysis in this research remains fixed on Chinua Achebe and his use of language within Things Fall Apart.
It assumes the authority and intentionality of the author, and works to uncover the linguistic methods and stereotypes that Achebe uses within the literature. Thus, rather than a theoretical approach to the language, this thesis uses the methodology behind sociolinguists in order to capture the concrete, practical use of language. The Literary-Linguistic Perspective Sociolinguistics, according to John Edwards, is that area of research which is essentially focused on human behavior and linguistic identity (Language, Society, and Identity 3).
A feeling of self-identification and/or assumed identities of others is what sociolinguists call a language attitude. A language attitude is a person’s cognitive, emotional, and even physical representation of the way he or she feels about language and surrounding linguistic communities. Sociolinguist Tore Kristiansen defines language attitudes as “complex psychological entities which involve knowledge and feeling as well as behavior, and are sensitive to situational factors” (291).
An attitude about language can be directed inward, as an egocentric view of native language acquisition or certain beliefs about fellow native language speakers, or outward, towards alien speech environments and the ‘other’ speakers of the world. Thus, stereotypes can derive from anything: age, ethnicity, gender, dialects, etc. Linguists typically define attitudes (used interchangeably here with linguistic stereotypes) as positive, negative, or neutral. The positive language attitude welcomes other speakers and Guthrie 20 shows no biased stereotypes, while the negative one has marked behaviors that oppose the outside language speakers.
Neutral stereotypes are ambivalent and often do not affect a person’s behavior, but all language stereotypes can be found in human interaction and, while not always conscious of it, all individuals hold beliefs, biases, and convictions about the linguistic world around them. An individual can create a personal bias or acquire a stereotype from an outside influence. Linguist John Edwards claims that a person’s “reactions to language varieties can reveal their perceptions of the speakers; in this way, language attitudes are linked to views of identity” (146).
Humans naturally associate the language a person speaks with a specific culture, thus it is natural for a person to associate language with identity. Thus, to study a person’s stereotypes and linguistic reactions to other speakers is to reveal a person’s beliefs, identity, and presuppositions of his or her environment. The academic study of these three linguistic stereotypes has often been achieved through the use of surveys and sociohistorical analysis.
Linguistic surveys are tailored questionnaires that, upon completion, are able to tell the researcher what patterned stereotypes an individual is exhibiting. These surveys are best used on target populations. Researcher Tore Kristiansen claims that “the best way of detecting ‘real’ attitudes is to register behavioral reactions to language in real-life situations” (292)3. Surveys attempt to elicit behavioral reactions from an audience, and these reactions are then used as determiners for language attitudes and stereotypes.
There are, however, several concerns with using surveys to determine language attitudes. Many critics doubt that a survey, no matter how significant of a pattern may emerge, can never truly grasp the true bias of an individual (see Kristiansen 291). If an individual experiences 3 Kristiansen found that five consecutive target audiences in a Danish cinema discriminated against movie actors based on their accents. Surveys revealed a distinct preference for actors who used more standardized accents as opposed to dialectal variations, or accents unknown by the target audience.
Kristiansen’s survey proved certain behavioral traits and linguistic stereotypes that the Danish people carry with them and use to analyze the world around them. Guthrie 21 pressure to complete a survey, he or she may rush through the questionnaire without fully reading the material or answering the questions to the best of his/her ability. And even when completed, how can the researcher determine which surveys reflect a language attitude and which are naively motivated by upbringing, environment, or personality preferences?
As analysts of language attitudes, Anne Gere and Eugene Smith argue in their book Attitudes, Language, and Change that “[o]ur professed attitudes may appear enlightened, but they often differ from the subconscious attitudes which inevitably govern our judgments and behavior” (3). Thus, with a survey that purposefully elicits one of these professed language attitudes, how is a linguist able to quantifiably determine that subconscious part of a person’s language attitude and linguistic stereotype with only a short questionnaire or survey?
A second common method for determining a person’s linguistic stereotype draws its conclusions from social and historical factors. This approach uses a broad sociological analysis to draw conclusions of gender studies, ethnicities, and nationalities. The matched guise technique is a method in which actors are taped speaking in the ‘correct’ standard variety of English, then again in the variety that matches the target population4. This approach often serves as a concrete, statistical way of proving how one or two different speech communities subconsciously stereotype others.
The matched guise technique, however, has a critical limitation. It fails to adequately determine sociological distinctions when the two parties being examined are from the 4 Author and researcher Reid Luhman conducted a study on language stereotypes toward Appalachian English and Standard English users (each group stereotyping the other). Luhman compiled past known stereotypes with current social statistics (i. e. demographics, literary rates, educational levels, etc. ) to determine how members of both speech communities react towards the binary language speaker.
Luhman utilized the matched guise method for determining subconscious behaviorisms and stereotypes. For Luhman’s research he recorded actors whose second variety was of a southern Kentucky individual with marked Kentuckian dialect and phonological patterns. After presenting the recorded surveys to his mixed audience, Luhman’s results of the matched guise technique revealed that individuals overwhelmingly concluded that the Kentucky accented individuals were less educated and/or members of lower economical and educational communities.
The audience members from Kentucky concluded that the Kentucky accents were less standard and more informal, although they refrained from giving/drawing conclusive responses that labeled the speaker as incapable of learning, or less educated than the speaker of Standard English. Guthrie 22 same speech community or nationality. For instance, if a linguist wishes to study speakers of African nations, the matched guise technique cannot serve as a stable determiner of language stereotypes if the speakers are from the same linguistic or sociological background.
African Language Attitudes The limitations that face language attitude research have prompted a new approach to the study of language behaviors and stereotypes. Linguists are too limited in the study of linguistic stereotypes, even when they have access to authentic speech and speech communities, and the current methods of study do not provide enough accurate data to truly predict a person’s conscious and subconscious attitudes towards another speaker. A new methodology must be proposed, and this thesis suggests a revised (and necessary) approach to the study of linguistic stereotypes using an interdisciplinary analysis.
To use fictional literature as a source of ethnic discourse provides what surveys and other methods of linguistic analysis cannot, namely an unhindered and natural flow of language which reveals both professed and subconscious language presuppositions. Linguists can use fictional texts to set new parameters for linguistic data. Authors who write with authorial intent, who compose literature for specific purposes and from a deliberate ideological standpoint, present to the linguist an irrefutable linguistic discourse, ready to be analyzed and unquestionably a unique representation of the author’s language attitude.
This thesis uses the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe as a case study for this revised approach to the study of language attitudes (in Africa). The use of textual analysis as a form of authorial discourse is not an original idea. The study of language attitudes in Africa is not simply a sociolinguistic concern. Africans have been defining language attitudes in literature and society for decades, but the approach or focus that they have aken only labels a person’s stereotype based on the language they use, not the Guthrie 23 underlying beliefs they have about language. The reader will recall that Joanna Sullivan highlights the language-dilemma that African authors face when writing: to write in their disintegrated native languages or to bow to the hegemonic language of English. Thus, when writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o see other authors choosing to write in the English language, they label these people as contributors and advocates of European culture.
In the depths of his disappointment towards such “betrayers,” Wa Thiong’o states that: “[i]t is the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues” (20), and later that “by our continuing to write in foreign languages, paying homage to them, are we not on the cultural level continuing that neo-colonial slavish and cringing spirit? ” (26). Many African writers today do in fact write in the English language, but the journey has not been an easy one, and a quick overview of that linguistic situation uncovers the state of language attitudes in Africa today.
Wa Thiong’o’s strict division between language use and the beliefs about language are mistaken, and this thesis shows how Achebe’s use of Igbo and English within his novel adds a unique language attitude to the African canon. One of the most prevalent African lingua francas is the language of Igbo. It is spoken extensively (both pre and post colonization) in the country of Nigeria, boasting between eighteen and twenty-five million speakers, and it is one of the few major languages in the Benue-Congo language family.
Igbo, sometimes spelled Ibo, is one of the national languages of Nigeria and is most commonly used for commerce, multi-tribal communication, and politics. Igbo first received global attention during the British colonial expansion. At first, Igbo members welcomed the British because the Europeans brought good trading business. In 1900, however, Britain officially declared Igboland to be a province of Europe and thus subject to colonization. The passive Igbo citizens began to resent European control. Writer Don Ohadike says that “many
Guthrie 24 Western Igbo towns had suffered economic, military, and political decline as a result of the combined activities of British traders, imperial agents, and Christian missionaries. This may well explain why the earliest and the fiercest military clashes took place in Western Igboland” (253). Once European explorers and missionaries entered the African continent, the language dynamics began to change in two significant ways, first in a linguistic way and second through the literature of post colonialism. Africa in the time of British imperialism exemplifies a land of convoluted language systems.
Salikoko Mufwene explains that “[l]anguages are complex adaptive systems” (Ecology 156). As such, they can be manipulated and they can change based on how the speakers choose to use their systems. The responsibility of a language’s life, death, and power will always rest, then, with the decisions of its speakers. The British used Africans as interpreters and messengers, but with the diversity of languages and dialects, the African translators often relied on lingua francas and a mix of the regional languages to communicate with the general population.
This postcolonial environment quickly influenced the production of literature. The world began to shrink as trade increased and Europeans began to live freely in Africa, but the use of languages only became more adaptive and, in some cases, more fractured. The shifting tide of language dynamics was one of the primary catalysts for mid twentieth century debates over language attitudes. As colonialism restructured the nation, African writers picked up their pens and began to fight fervidly for African rights and culture.
Many Africans wanted literature to remain purely African, written in African tongues and for the African people. But a percentage of the population decided to write African stories in the English language. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o at first seemed open to the use of English as a writing medium, but later formed his decision that a “choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a Guthrie 25 people’s definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment . . . [h]ence language has always been at the heart of the two contending social forces in the Africa of the twentieth century” (4).
Wa Thiong’o’s claim is essential to the understanding of Achebe’s criticism and modern African literature’s attempt to regain community and reestablish ethnic literature. Wa Thiong’o claims that the language through which an author chooses to communicate is the culture to which he chooses to adhere. He later claims: “[l]anguage, any language, has a dual character: it is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture” (13). For Wa Thiong’o, and for many Africans who followed his claims, the English of Europe was an invasive beast, attacking their culture and their homes at will.
It was to be avoided as a medium for literary messages, and many of those who chose to write in it were frowned upon as betrayers of a Pan-African ideal. Chinua Achebe and Things Fall Apart While many Africans felt attacked by the presence of Europeans within the borders of their homeland, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe recognized that English was a powerful presence in his Nigerian society and chose to implement it as the primary language within his literature. When scorned by Wa Thiong’o and his compatriots, Achebe stoutly affirms: “I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience.
But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings” (“The African Writer and the English Language” 30). Achebe does what many others saw as a shocking – even appalling – betrayal of his African heritage. In one of the most acclaimed African novels, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe writes the story of Okonkwo and Okonkwo’s Nigerian tribe primarily in the English language. His choice to write Guthrie 26 in English appalls African purists, and he has since been criticized for betraying his African identity.
The story of Things Fall Apart is one that has united African literature, arguably more than any other work of African fiction. The influence of the novel has been discussed recently by two African writers, Adebayo Williams and Olaniyan Tejumola. Williams contrasts the character and success of Achebe to the more bitter and caustic author, V. S. Naipaul. According to Williams, Naipaul fails where Achebe succeeds, for Naipaul cannot let go of his bitterness and accept that Africa has been changed by colonialism. He writes to his society but cannot transcend outside of it.
Achebe, on the other hand, realized that the colonial presence in Africa would be lasting. In a historical act of prophetic humility, Achebe chose to write to Africans, but he wrote in English so that the world could take part in the African narrative. Williams defends this foresight as an embracing humility that Naipaul could not bring himself to repeat. Naipaul, in a consistently pessimistic mindset, “abolishes the novel as a viable art form in the coming epoch” (19) and vows that the African author and reader will have no place in the twenty-first century.
Chinua Achebe, conversely, looks to the unification of African storytellers and the collective efforts of African people to produce African literature. Tejumola Olaniyan takes a reader-centered approach to Achebe’s success. He argues that Achebe’s writings can be reinterpreted by twenty-first century readers and for a twenty-first century audience. For example, Olaniyan cites a passage in Achebe’s Arrow of god as being an anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian statement.
Olaniyan argues that “Christianity, unlike Igbo religions, is monotheistic and therefore selfish, jealous, violent (its military arm is the colonial administration), absolutist, tyrannical and univocal” (24). Not only is Olaniyan’s scathing report wildly subjective and bitterly constructed, but he neither provides backup for his Guthrie 27 claim, nor does he mention Achebe’s personal interactions with Christianity from his early years in a missionary school, an important fact that could discredit Olaniyan’s carefully constructed attack.
Olaniyan interprets the novels as he wishes, but when faced with religious or political ambiguities in the plot, Olaniyan blames Christianity and European colonialism. He says of Arrow of God that the two main characters are “consumed by colonialism and its Christianity whose main distinguishing feature is systemic parochialism” (27). Olaniyan rails against the postcolonial state and laments the loss of pure African literature. He heralds Achebe as an “indefatigable and visionary” prophet (28), a literary sage who saw the coming doom of African life and literature, and who sought to warn his readers of the encroaching darkness.
Olaniyan’s interpretation of Achebe and of Achebe’s novels presents a clear picture to the twenty-first century reader. Olaniyan would have his reader believe that Achebe resisted all tenants of colonialism, and sought to devalue postcolonial ideologies and religions. The reader who accepts Olaniyan’s article without any further biographical or historical analysis will find himself surprised to find that Achebe did in fact value much of colonial influence, and heralded the English language as a gift to African literature5. Olaniyan’s egocentric reading theory is a dangerous extension to Daniel Schwarz’s idea of the reader’s Odyssean journey.
Whereas Schwarz values the reader’s personal experience with a text, Olaniyan focuses on only the elements of literature that benefit his subjective opinions, and discredits the role of objectivity and authorial intent. Such an approach narrows both Achebe’s effectiveness as an author in the African canon, and Olaniyan’s influence as a modern African literary critic. Williams and Olaniyan share a passion that views fiction as a door through which readers enter into the realm of unknown African literature. They place Achebe as a monumental figure in the current African literary discipline, although their approaches to reading Achebe are 5
See Ravenscroft (1969) and Achebe (1965). Guthrie 28 fundamentally opposed. Williams values the power of authorial intent and biographical influence over literature. His reading theory encourages the audience to appreciate authorial constructions, while Olaniyan conversely argues for the reader as the interpreter of meaning. Sullivan says that a novel “that reflects or mirrors the unique characters and experiences of the nation would then represent an example of national literature,” and that “national literature demonstrate what is unique and special about one nation to its own citizens and concomitantly to the outside world” (74).
This is the heart of African literary potential. It is Achebe’s success both as an author and as a member of the struggling African canon that has earned him the place as a father of African literature, as well as a pillar of world literature. Guthrie 29 Chapter 2 Achebe and Authorial Intention: Professing a Language Attitude through a Literary Text The unique blend of literary and linguistic analyses of Achebe’s text allows the reader to see an emerging parallel structure. Achebe dives into the melee of postcolonial literature with the purposeful intent of re-establishing a broken African image.
He rectifies the broken image by building it upon a foundation of literary and linguistic elements. Yet it is the state of brokenness that must be appreciated before Achebe’s response can be fully appreciated. Many European authors played a role in the 20th century development of the Western mindset about Africa. One such writer is Joseph Conrad, whose books have captivated readers and ignited transcontinental debates over his depiction of the African continent. Some writers view Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a satirization of Africa and its people, others accept it as a realistic depiction of the region.
Regardless, critic Martin Tucker captures the influence of Conrad with this statement: It was after the novel Heart of Darkness (London, 1903), by Joseph Conrad, that English fiction about Africa changed its direction. Hitherto, both English and foreign novelists had utilized Africa as a school for moral instruction; the Germans, particularly, saw Africa as a testing-ground for their superior moral qualities. Conrad, to the contrary, introduced Africa from a psychological standpoint; his “exploration” of the continent signified a state of compulsion. [ . . . ].
It is this obsessive belief that the deep hinterland of Africa will open the door to the illumination of self that characterizes the writing of Conrad, Gide, Graham Greene, the German writer Kurt Heuser, Thomas Hinde, and a host of other novelists. (12-13) Guthrie 30 Tucker argues that the European authors viewed Africa as a chance to delve into the world of psychoanalytic literature, and he suggests that, at least for Conrad, the African world was one of mystery, of intrigue, and of danger. The Western world began to construct a Conrad-inspired image of Africa.
The discovery of self that Tucker mentions was the sense of self-worth and cultural esteem that the European discovered when faced with the “barbaric” African. Some Western literature viewed Africa as the lesser otherworld, and for native writers of African literature this hindering image of Africa did not bolster strong allegiance to Europe. Achebe disagrees with Conrad’s portrayal. Achebe struggles with Conrad’s portrayal of Africa, because it leaves the reader with the assumption that either all Africans are “dumb brutes”, or ignorant children who should remain in their place and not taint the European mind (Image 327-8).
It is for this image of Africa that Chinua Achebe writes his first novel. Achebe chooses to write as the antithesis to Joseph Conrad’s view of the world, in opposition to those whose “residue of antipathy to black people” (Image 329) has cost the African people a chance to prove themselves in pre and post-colonial life and literature. This chapter is an overview of some of the most important literary themes and elements within Achebe’s classic novel.
It will begin by painting for the reader a broad picture of Igbo life and culture within the novel, before moving more specifically into a deeper character analysis of two of the most important characters in the book. This literary analysis will show the lessons about African life and the convergence of culture as interpreted and passed down by Chinua Achebe. A close reading of Things Fall Apart reveals the way in which the characters find strength and dignity when faced with colonialism, and how that same struggle forms Chinua Achebe’s own language attitude. Umuofian Life Within the Novel
Guthrie 31 For Achebe, writing Things Fall Apart is an opportunity to provide a description of his home and culture that is more complete and realistic than Conrad and his followers. The novel is first and foremost about the Igbo tradition, and Achebe does not hesitate to fill the pages with a descriptive writing style that encapsulates the life (and his own experience) in Africa and Nigeria. The village of Umuofia is the primary setting for the novel. It is a small village in the heart of Igboland, untouched at the beginning of the novel by Europeans or colonial imperialism. Umuofia is run by the men of the village and by the deities.
A man rules with the respect he earns through the strength of his arm or the words of his mouth, a foreign concept to the British imperialists who “could not comprehend the democratic genius of Igbo political organization, and felt more comfortable with the familiar hierarchies of kingdoms and empires” (Ohadike 255). Pre-colonial Igbo life exists through community, and it is through community that the individual experiences life. Achebe begins to build this image for the reader in the first paragraph of the novel when he opens with a discussion about Okonkwo’s wrestling match with Amalinze the Cat.
Achebe describes the frenzied passion with which the tribesmen watch the fight: “[t]he drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath . . . ” (3). From the outset, the villagers are presented as partakers of Okonkwo’s life. What he does affects Umuofia, and vice versa, or in the words of critic Emmanuel Obiechina, this scene shows us the “intimate relationship between the individual and the community” (40). The appreciative reader may see in this not only a story about the life of one man, but how one man is an integral part of a community.
An integral part of the communal life of Igbo societies in pre-colonial Africa was the adherence to deities and spirits. The Nigerian community in pre-colonial Africa was replete with ancestral gods and other mystical entities, a pluralistic society (according to Achebe) to which Guthrie 32 Achebe does not hesitate to give a figurative nod. The people in Umuofia serve gods of the earth and sky, as well as human oracles who serve their respective deities. Igboland also, according to researchers such as Ohadike, follows the ideology of reincarnation and the ability for people to be possessed by spirits.
The gods bless or curse the land in the Igbo village. Good land is distributed based on how many people a man has living on his compound. Neighbors help each other build compounds, houses, fences, and barns. The land is used for farming. The planting and harvesting of yams is heavily prevalent in the novel. The cursed land is abandoned by the Igbo villagers, but later is given to the invading Europeans in the latter half of Things Fall Apart. A man’s crop is his livelihood, and if a man cannot succeed at home, it is unlikely that he will find a place of authority within the tribe.
The village of Umuofia is an agricultural village. A man does not only receive his livelihood from his crop, but his crop in fact defines him. The reader can see this displayed throughout the novel as Achebe repeatedly writes about the importance of the yam. The yam is to the village one of the primary sources of income. Many of the prayers offered to the gods of the earth and sky are prayed for the blessing of the harvest and the good growth of the crops. When prayers are answered and a family receives a large crop of yams, the village rejoices together with a feast of yams.
The yam is personified as “the king of crops, [who] was a very exacting king. For three or four moons it demanded hard work and constant attention from cock-crow till the chickens went back to roost” (21-22). When the outsider Ikemefuna arrives in the village and begins to live with Okonkwo and his family, the narrator says that Ikemefuna “grew rapidly like a yam tendril in the rainy season, and was full of the sap of life. He had become wholly absorbed into his new family” (32). The yam is a metaphor for life, and the growing of yams often determines a man’s reputation.
Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was a man who was too lazy and foolish to grow a good Guthrie 33 crop of yams. He often lived indebted to other Umuofian villagers, and because he could not work the land he died with no title and without honor. Fortunately, Okonkwo is not condemned to his father’s reputation, for “among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father” (7). The Igbo society is one that values hard work, discipline, and authority. Once earned, authority is hard to lose. Umuofian society is one that encourages the growth of families.
Familial relationships and the success of the family rely heavily on gender roles. The woman is meant to be the caretaker, the cook, and the wife. She fulfills her duties at home and to her husband, living on her husband’s compound and raising her children among her husband’s other wives. She is usually uneducated and unheard. She does not often speak up at public gatherings, but she can socialize and walk freely within the town and with her friends. Some Igbo women receive the honor of becoming oracles or priestesses for certain Igbo deities because the female is believed to possess more spiritual prowess (Ohadike 241).
These women devote their lives to serving the deity and proclaiming the will of the god(s). The man is the provider and the head of the home. He chooses his wives as he pleases, but often (and as with the case of Okonkwo) he considers one wife to be in some manner superior to the others. He works hard to establish his home, and as such he expects to be fed, loved, and supported when at home. Young children are not overworked, but they learn at an early age to obey their father and help their mother. Girls help with cooking and cleaning, while the boys are brought up to be warriors and yam growers.
Readers should use caution when interpreting the gender statuses within the novel. As author David Carroll suggests: It would be quite wrong, however, to give the impression that the tribal society of Things Fall Apart is formidably monolithic. This is far from Achebe’s intention. Guthrie 34 He is anxious to display the flexibility of the social structure, for only by understanding this can we understand the life and death of the central character, Okonkwo. What at first sight appear to be rigid conventions invariably turn out to be the ritual framework within which debate and questioning can be carried on. 389) Carroll mentions something in passing that lies at the heart of Igbo society. The people in Umuofia obey authority and respect one who is worthy of respect, but they also possess minds and intellects that give strength and dignity to the culture. Achebe values both male and female roles, both young and old characters alike. The Igbo society welcomes diverse roles and responsibilities, and only asks that each member works for the good of the community at large. Things Fall Apart takes a turn in plot when Igboland suddenly becomes a target of cultural and political imperialism.
Thus far, Achebe has focused on a descriptive identification of the African lifestyle and the lives of one village, Umuofia. When Umuofia encounters the white man, the novel begins to reflect the convergence of cultures and the outcome of a societal clash. The village of Umuofia has its first interaction with the white man when missionaries come from Europe and make their way into the heart of Igboland. Achebe again works in the Igbo’s historical pre-colonialism with his current state of post-colonialism. The first Europeans enter Nigeria and begin to establish education and trade.
The British move into Igboland with the goal of consolidating what they see as small, fragmented groups of polities, and forming hierarchical political structures and governments. Some communities never saw much of the British citizens; other towns and provinces were overwhelmed by them. Achebe captures this social change through the introduction of outside characters, specifically Mr. Brown and his interpreters. When the white man enters into Mbanta, another Igbo village in Nigeria, they bring with them several
Guthrie 35 Igbo translators who, although capable of speaking the language, come from a different dialect and are thus perceived as outsiders by the Mbantan villagers. The Mbantans are unsure of how to deal with the appearance of the white man and the strange allegiance that some of their fellow African brethren have for the white strangers. At first, Mbanta attempts to ignore the influence of the Europeans. The village elders assure the people that the white man and his religious ideology will not last, and that to wait for them to leave is the best way to handle their trouble.
As time passes, however, the Igbo speakers realize that these people have settled in. Soon the white missionaries approach the Igbo villagers and ask for land on which they may build a church. The Nigerians provide the white men with the Evil Forest, the cursed plot of land reserved for the unburied dead. As the missionaries begin to establish their church on the Evil Forest, the Mbantans wait expectantly for the gods to destroy the sacrilegious white man, but “[t]he first day passed and the second and third and fourth, and none of them died. Everyone was puzzled.
And then it became known that the white man’s fetish had unbelievable power” (86). It is at this point, after the white man has successfully defied the gods and lived, that the citizens of Igboland begin to question the truth behind the white man’s ways. The entrance of the white missionaries threatens the proud Igbo villagers, whose lifestyle and customs have always relied on communal strength and dignity. Achebe’s explanation of the Igbo mindset helps to clarify the strange relationship that Igboland and Britain shared during the early homestead years, or the period in which the British slowly took up residence in the African nations.
Achebe explains that the “Igbo insist that any presence which is ignored, denigrated, denied acknowledgment and celebration, can become a focus for anxiety and disruption” (Education 110). It is this belief that governs the Igbo’s response to the British presence, even as elders of the longstanding community begin to leave the shelter of the village and cross into the Guthrie 36 forbidden realm of the white man. After the establishment of the church, one prominent Igbo tribesman named Ogbuefi Ugonna cuts ties with his village and casts away his two titles, turning instead to the Christians and becoming a member of the established church.
This switch evokes two significant changes in Igboland. It encourages the missionaries in their goal, for The white missionary was very proud of him and he was one of the first men in Umuofia to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, or Holy Feast as it was called in Ibo. Ogbuefi Ugonna had thought of the Feast in terms of eating and drinking, only more holy than the village variety. (99) The missionaries achieve something significant here, for not only is their newest convert a man and a member of the community, but he is a man who has earned honor and titles within Umuofia and has given them up for the sake of the church.
But this conversion also shows that the Umuofians have become divided. They were once a village that pulled its source of strength from the pot of shared beliefs. Umuofians once prided themselves on