Saro-Wiwa's Language of Dissent: Translating between African Englishes

Judy Kendall
2018 Translation and Literature  
For more information, including our policy and submission procedure, please contact the Repository Team at: 1 2 Judy Kendall: 'Saro-Wiwa's Language of Dissent: Translating between African Englishes' This article calls attention to the essential translational aspect of linguistic experimentation in literary uses of African Englishes in colonial and postcolonial West African literature. It focuses mainly on the literature of the most linguistically diverse country in Africa
more » ... geria. Drawing on the theoretical work of Itamar Even-Zohar, Lawrence Venuti and Pierre Bourdieu, it demonstrates how the use of different Englishes in this literature act in a translational way, relating and responding to cultural, political and social contexts. Specific attention is paid to Amos Tutuola's use of interlanguage and diglossia; Chinua Achebe's manipulation of acts of code-switching and mixing; and how Ken Saro-Wiwa's development of a unique language of dissent in his novel Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English is built upon these earlier experimentations with translations between Englishes. In his 1985 novel Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, Ken Saro-Wiwa develops a unique language of dissent that builds on linguistic and translational experimentations in earlier West African literature in English. These include Amos Tutuola's controversial use, in the preindependence The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), of interlanguagea term that Jennifer Jenkins problematically describes as 'learner language which has not yet reached the target'; and Chinua Achebe's deployment in the post-independence A Man of the People (1966) of code-switching and code-mixingterms that Jenkins defines as the use of 'words, phrases, and longer stretches of speech in two or more languages'. 1 In these and other cases, such experimentation coincides with crises in the political context in which they were conceived. This is not simple coincidence, however, as application of translation theory to the linguistic aspects of such developments will demonstrate. Saro-Wiwa, in particular, breaks significant new ground by making deliberate use of this connection between Englishes and economic, educational, social, and political conditions in his employment of what he refers to as 'rotten 3 English' in Sozaboy. This rotten English is a fluid language of dissent specific to the context and development of its speaker. It consists of a highly creative, subversive mix of different Englishes, acutely enabling for those with no political voice. The mix is comprised of multiple acts of translation that present, mirror, negotiate, and challenge political and social effects of shifts in status through unusual relations between source and target language, and alterations in writer/narrator/translator visibility. The result is an extraordinarily brave contribution to the development of African Englishes in literature, deliberately exposing and exploiting political effects of language choice within the specific context of postcolonial Nigeria. Language use can have such an effect because, as Susan Bassnett puts it, it 'does not simply mirror reality, but intervenes in the shaping of meaning'. 2 Separate languages, composed of discrete units used in different combinations, shape meaning differently. Such differences, however subtle, reflect and result in different ways of thinking. Such a perception of language is not new. In words that scandalize today, the London Missionary Society referred in 1826 to the pernicious effect on the mind of particular languages, '[a]ll the Indian languages have been for so many ages the vehicle of every thing in their superstition which is orally debasing or corrupting to the mind, and so much is the grossly impure structure of heathenism wrought into the native languages, that the bare study of them often proves injurious to the mind of the European'. 3 In 1966 Kenneth Burke remarked, in much more even-handed words, that 'if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality '. 4 As a result of the global spread of English in the twentieth century the number of Englishes that now exist is vast. This is particularly evident in Africa. Hans-Georg Wolf's attempt at categorization breaks down West African English into 'national varieties', and
doi:10.3366/tal.2018.0320 fatcat:ze6fu7pyprgybifzn224vth6iq