Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Languages and Literatures of Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Languages and Literatures of Africa

Article excerpt

Alain Ricard. The Languages and Literatures of Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2004/Oxford: James Currey, n.d. x + 230 pp. Photographs. Maps. Bibliography. Index. $29.95. Paper.

What speaks for this book, evidendy, is the broad experience in the field of African literature and the long history of encounters with all the major writers and critics that the author, Alain Ricard, brings to enrich the vexed question of the relationship between language and literature. As Ricard demonstrates, that relationship takes a different turn when viewed within the context of Africa's historical situation. This peculiar turn must, he suggests, inform any genuine understanding of African literature more in terms of Ali Mazrui's conceptualization than of Cheik Anta Diop's. According to this approach, a focus on the relationship between language and literature takes us away, cheerfully, from the unproductive epistemological binaries of colonial and anticolonial discourses. Since no African literary text, regardless of the language in which it is written, foreign or autochthonous, can hope to escape the language question, the true path to the production of meaning, to the unlocking of every text, must be in an appreciation of the writer's relation to the politics and problem of language. Ricard's theory operates at three levels. It tracks how the frontiers of coexisting languages, the linguistic plurality in social situations, dictate artistic possibilities and choices. It delineates how a particular linguistic consciousness shapes the overall forms of expression and production of meaning. And it explores how a writer experiences linguistic consciousness, either as a rift, as a fusion, or as an opportunity to invent something new.

To highlight the linguistic consciousness as the space "where literature is shaped and where the inevitable path that the text must follow is to be found" (30), Ricard takes us through an examination of the nature of African languages with the aim and effect of destabilizing the colonialist hierarchies such as those imposed, for example, on the relationship between written and oral languages. …

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