Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Soyinka's Language Engineering in the Jero Plays and the Beatification of Area Boy

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Soyinka's Language Engineering in the Jero Plays and the Beatification of Area Boy

Article excerpt


Wole Soyinka engineers language to reflect his bilinguality and biculturalism, and to define his style. The paper attempts to debunk some misconceptions about Soyinka's language which portray him as a Eurocentric scholar who often uses obscure diction and foreign imagery in his works. Two of his plays- The Jero Plays, published before he won the Nobel Prize, and The Beatification of Area Boy published after, serve as points of reference. The systemic functional linguistic theory is used as a framework because it recognizes situational constraints on language use. A content analysis of the texts under review undertakes from the viewpoint of Soyinka's style, his portrayal of the African culture and worldview, and his concern for the language problemreveals that in most of his works, Soyinka has used features which mark out the varieties of English used in a second language situation.

Key words: Bilingualism; Biculturalism; Eurocentr icism; Obscurantism; Code mixing; Code switching; Hybridization; Second language; Transliteration; Neologism; Idiolect; Nigerian pidgin; Interference variety


English serves as the most prestigious foreign language in Nigeria, having assumed the role of second language as well as that of an official language. In addition, it serves as the language of wider communication and of education. Scholars like Essien-Eyo, Akindele and Adegbite, and Bamgbose agree that most Nigerians are bilingual in their mother tongues and in English, so that as in any other bilingual situation, the hybridization of English and the indigenous languages has resulted in biculturalism.

It is interesting to note that from the time in 1962 when Obi Wali wrote the paper entitled "Dead End of African Literature?" the language question in African literature has remained a major issue in literary debates and conferences. The 32nd meeting and conference of the African Literature Association (ALA) held in Accra, Ghana in May 2006 was one such occasion. The conference, which drew participants from all over the world, had as its theme "Pan-Africanism in the 21thCentury: Generations in Creative Dialogue". Here again, the language question was the centre of discourse. Many scholars including Tadjo, an award-winning Ivorian writer, as well as KofiAnyidoho, KofiAwoonor, NiyiOsundare, Femi Osofisan, OdiaOfeimun and MolaraOgundipe all made their contributions on the language question with some taking the extreme position of rejection of European languages, and others taking the moderate position of adoption. All the statements, opinions and contradictions during the conference pointed to one fact: the language question in African literature is a sensitive one, and the question still remains as to whichlanguage is most suitable for literature in Anglophone African nations.

First Obiechina and later Adedimeji have confidently asserted that Nigeria cannot do without English, since in Odumuh's words, it "has taken a firm root in the Nigerian speech community. Its present role may change, but the language has come to stay" (Obiechina, 60).

Rather than ignore the language problem, therefore, African writers are conscious of the choices available, especially in fashioning a new kind of English to suit the African audience, while validating Nwachukwu's assertion that "English today owes its world language status to its flexibility and readiness to borrow from and adapt to other languages" (216).


This contribution to the debate on the language question demonstrates the need to go beyond analyzing a text merely for its message, to exploring its language use, since it is through language that the message can best be deciphered. Again, the assertion that Soyinka is Eurocentric often causes his language to be dismissed as difficult, leaving the impression that he is not sensitive to the language problem in Nigeria, and leading scholars, especially students, to avoid carrying out research on his works. …

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