Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Beyond the Language Debate in Postcolonial Literature: Linguistic Hybridity in Kojo B. Laing's Woman of the Aeroplanes

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Beyond the Language Debate in Postcolonial Literature: Linguistic Hybridity in Kojo B. Laing's Woman of the Aeroplanes

Article excerpt

Abstract

One of the most persisting dilemmas African writers continue to face in their literary work is the choice between African languages and the European languages they acquired through colonization. The debate over the language question in African literature is not new and will continue to pre-occupy African writers because of the pivotal role European languages have played in the alienation and subjugation of Africans. In fact, critics argue that the European colonial enterprise would not have been so successful without the imposition of European languages on the natives on the one hand and the annihilation of the local languages on the other hand. The colonizers understood that it was only through this imposition that they could propagate their European world view, culture, and civilization in the colonies. This is what some African nationalists and theorists have realized as they vehemently oppose the use of European languages in African literature. Against this opposition, there are also some African writers who view the use of European languages in African literature as very beneficial and argue for their embrace. Today, some postcolonial African writers have decided to move beyond this debate by calling for a linguistic hybridity. Among these writers the Ghanaian Kojo B. Laing has been viewed by critics as the pioneer of this new linguistic movement. Perhaps more than any other of his novels, Woman of the Aeroplanes has provoked intense controversy in the postcolonial literary criticism over the use of hybrid languages. This paper argues that through his hybrid language, Kojo Laing intends to substitute the debate of exclusivity with that of inclusivity, for he believes that there are no self-sufficient languages, but complementary languages. Ultimately, Laing contests the notions of authenticity, superiority, and purity in language. Thus, for him it is no longer about the appropriate language for African literature; rather, it is about the language that reflects the diversity among the citizens of the world.

Hybridity is a postcolonial construct that aims at countering all binaries based on notions of ethnic, cultural, racial, and political purity. It refers to the new trans-cultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. For Nikos Papastergiadis, "it is an invention of postcolonial theory, a radical substitute to the homogenous ideas of cultural identity such as racial purity and nationalism. It is an antidote to essentialist subjectivity"(189). Conversely, cultural critics like Jean Fisher stress that "the concept is too deeply embedded in a discourse that presupposes an evolutionary hierarchy and that it carries the prior purity of biologism" (qtd in Papastergiadis 169). Nonetheless, other critics continue to celebrate the positive aspects of hybridity in the current identity debate. Papastergiadis argues that the positive feature of hybridity is that it acknowledges that identity is constructed through a negotiation of difference, and that the presence of fissures, gaps, and contradiction is not indicative of failure. (Turbulence of Migration: Globalization, Deterritorialization, and Hybridity)

Kojo B. Laing, a Ghanaian novelist has also embraced hybridity in his texts; but it is his novel, Woman of the Aeroplanes, that highlights his tremendous contribution to the debate over hybridity. In this novel, Laing intervenes in the hybridity debate on many levels, including linguistic, cultural, and racial. However, linguistic hybridity is the starting point of this intervention, as exemplified in his use of Ghanaian Pidgin English and other vernacular languages alongside the English language. Laing has been criticized for targeting hybridity in his texts; his critics view his effort as purposeless. For instance, in his examination of Laing and the new generation of African writers who emerged in the 1970s, with regard to the political commitment of their literary work, the postcolonial critic and playwright, Femi Osofisan notes that: "Mythology, fabulation, polyphony - or according to some, cacophony - these are the narrative goals, and grammar, realism the satirical elements. …

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