`Good Speech': An Interpretive Essay Investigating an African Philosophy of Communication

Article excerpt

"The communication person is a relationship person, in the sense that relationships are meaningful, because they bind society and are also the source of harmony ... permanence resides in the maturity of the relationships we possess." (Asante, 1993, 183)

"... the human personality is to be elevated, exalted and healed in order for communicationists' roles to be fully realized" (Asante, 1993, 183).

"Relationship [harmonious] is the operative value in the communication person's view of the world." (Asante, 1993, 184)

Many scholars then go on to assume that since the word is not the thing, any discrepancy between words and things must necessarily be resolved in the direction of things and that words are to be discounted as misleading, trivial, or unimportant unless they stand in a close and accurate relation to things." (Bormann, 1971, 17)

Jack Daniel's groundbreaking edited volume Black Communication (1974), contained the lament that black studies, a new addition to "the academy" was engaged in the historically unfortunate task.... of developing ... in-depth understandings of the world of [B]lack experience, and of human experience [from a Black perspective]" (vii). Daniel et al undertook the task of providing those who would study, critique, and teach, Black studies with the tools to hear as they [Black people] hear and see as they see" (x). The scholars involved in the book project were trying to define and elaborate on the African worldview to give more clarity to communication norms and practices in the African Diaspora. It was necessary at the time to assert the humanity, intellect, and the existence of an African and African American legacy to the world and to Western education systems (vii-xiv). Daniel and his colleagues took up the call to provide theory, proofs, and directions for teaching the subject of African Diaspora communication styles and theories. Unfortunately, more than a quarter century later there is still a need to assert the legitimacy of African, Caribbean, and African American communication theory and practices. Not fully integrated into the field of Black Studies are African centered Communication Studies. Importantly, Communication Studies address the mechanisms of human interaction that reflect, shape, and build (rebuild?) society and societal structures. In this paper I shall try to extract the essence of an African traditionalist philosophy of communication and offer an explanation of how that philosophy shapes the African American's response to oppressive societal structures. In so doing, I operate from certain assumptions of Pan-African thought of the type that Williams (1976) documents, which states that the African continent was fully democratized twice and, therefore, shared philosophical beliefs have had a lasting and significant impact upon expectations both in countries on the continent and in the Diaspora. Diop has also argued that Africa had a cultural unity that included both moral and philosophical concepts. My argument follows this line of thinking as I posit that that cultural unity extends to Africans in the Diaspora. My argument includes, particularly, the philosophical aspects of African thought which I claim can be accessed through study of Ptah Hotep's writing regarding Good Speech. In short, there are three distinct areas of focus in this expansive investigation of Good Speech. First, this study advances that there is an African locus for African American shapings of rhetoric and communication expectations. Second, the study focuses on a philosophy of human behavior as the basis of a healthy functioning society that is wholly African centered. Third, a methodological tool for investigating African American approaches to lived experience is implied through the use of Good Speech criteria.

I am in agreement with the founding arguments that Daniel et al., put forth in the aforementioned text concerning the quality and type of communication that takes place for African Americans which is based on a primary set of assumptions that are derived from an African worldview. …