`Good Speech': An Interpretive Essay Investigating an African Philosophy of Communication
Kelley, Venita, The Western Journal of Black Studies
"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. In the Intercultural Communication rubric of Communication Studies one of the theoretical perspectives is that everything that a culture does can be understood and predicted with some accuracy by recognition and understanding of that culture's worldview (Pennington, 1985, 31). Intercultural Communication scholars argue that worldview and subsequent approaches to crafting culture is/are lasting, and influence descendants over time no matter how far the descendants travel away from the home culture in this case, Africa (Smitherman, 1977; Diop 1957; Asante, 1981; Williams, 1976; Richards, 1985; Herskovits, 1967; Jones, 1972; Mosby, 1972; Kamalu, 1990). Worldview then, becomes of prominent influence when assessing culture and the philosophical practices of the people who share a home culture base.
Worldview presents people with a way to make sense of their world. It injects meaning into life. It affects and determines behavior and expectations (of the universe and the world). It shapes everything that a people/culture does and believes about: a creator, the nature of the universe, the nature of human existence. Worldview influences the ways a people/culture face challenges. It informs the kinds of relationships a people/culture have. It inspires the way a people/culture thinks. It forms the beliefs, attitudes, and values of a people/culture. It is reflected in the language systems a people/culture uses. It constructs the religion, myths, and expressive forms that a people/culture develops. Worldview shapes a people's use of time. It formulates a people/culture's use of space. Worldview influences people's beliefs about the universe (cosmology), their beliefs about the nature of Being (ontology) and their beliefs about acquiring knowledge (epistemology) (Pennington, 1985). Dona Richards Marimba Ani (1985) adds that the African worldview in sum is humanistic, holistic, spiritual, seeks harmony, balance, creative expression, connection to others, respect, reciprocity, intellectual scrutiny, welcomes expressions of emotion, emphasizes dignity, seeks dialogue to access truth and meaning of life and life circumstances (1985). Based upon the available literature, this humanistic/holistic worldview foundation influences the African and African Diaspora person to seek relationships, in interpersonal form (kinship and social) and in philosophical form where everything is seen as connected and having some kind of mitigating force upon all else that is in existence. The person has agency to the degree they contribute to harmonious and balanced outcomes for the collective.
Daniel asserts that the "truth" of Black (Diaspora) communication cannot be discovered by solely studying its external manifestations (xi). To understand the backbone assumptions that explain these manifestations will be to investigate the internals of African based communication. It will be to avow an African based communicative approach to the world and the philosophy African heritage communicators base their communication behavior and expectations upon. My interest is in discovering the precepts which African centered communicators inherently insist must be followed to achieve legitimacy and normalcy in human interactions.
Daniel and others assert that the place to begin searching for an African centered philosophy of communication is the continent of Africa. In 2400 B.C. Ptah Hotep [p.n. puh-tah hoe tehp], the African, the Mayor of the city, wrote and gave an edict regarding …
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Publication information: Article title: `Good Speech': An Interpretive Essay Investigating an African Philosophy of Communication. Contributors: Kelley, Venita - Author. Journal title: The Western Journal of Black Studies. Volume: 26. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2002. Page number: 44+. © 1999 The Western Journal of Black Studies. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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