Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880-1938

Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880-1938

Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880-1938

Language and Colonial Power: The Appropriation of Swahili in the Former Belgian Congo, 1880-1938

Synopsis

In this study, inquiry will be directed to the past, and it will, for many reasons, have to reach into a past which is rather remote from present-day Shaba Swahili. The author's principal concern remains with a contemporary situation, namely the role of Swahili in the context of work, industrial, artisanal, and artistic. When it was first formulated, the aim of my project was to describe what might be called the workers' culture of Shaba, through analyses of communicative (sociolinguistic) and cognitive (ethnosemantic) aspects of language use.

Excerpt

Johannes Fabian’s Language and Colonial Power is a work of very high scholarship and of a particularly valuable cultural critique. in a way that no other analyst of imperial practice has done, Fabian shows that European scholars, missionaries, soldiers, travellers, and administrators in Central Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century used Swahili as a mode of extending their domination over African territories and people. the language was first studied and characterized, then streamlined for use among laboring people, then regulated as such fields as education and finance were also regulated. the novelty of Fabian’s approach is not only that he shows how ideology informs discourse, but also how the inflections deriving from history itself from differing situations, and individuals affect the historian’s perceptions of this subject. a central feature of this book is that “the appropriation of Swahili” is seen to be a constantly changing contest, occurring at the level of micropolitics as well as at the level of international politics. This study is a fascinating, even gripping work that places the civilizing ambitions of Franco-Belgian colonialism in a much more precise, disturbingly demystifying light. Any student of what has been called Africanist discourse, or of imperialism will find Language and Colonial Power an invaluable and path-breaking work.

Edward W. Said Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities Columbia University

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