The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies

By Christian Mair | Go to book overview

"The nuisance one learns to put up with"
English as a Linguistic Compromise in Es'kia Mphahlele's Fiction

Richard Samin University of Nancy 2, France

ABSTRACT

Es'kia Mphahlele's commitment to and pronouncements on the use of
English as a creative medium in black South African literature situate him
squarely within a postcolonial problematic of abrogation and appropriation
whose ambivalence is implicitly predicated in the statement which serves as
a title for this essay: "English, the nuisance we have to put with," taken from
an article written in the US (Mphahlele 1973: 37) after almost twenty years
of exile. In numerous articles and essays, Mphahlele has repeatedly justified
his choice of English as a medium for creation in a colonial context and
carefully analysed how a colonial language can be used to convey African
experience and as an instrument of self-discovery and social mobility. In this
essay I want to show how Mphahlele's ambivalent stance towards English
can be accounted for in terms of a tension between abrogation and appro-
priation (Ashcroft et al. 1989: 39) and results in a form of writing which is
both a cultural act and a literary creation.


1. Mphahlele's approach to English

MPHAHLELE'S POSITION on the use of English and of African languages has always been consistent. At the outset of his writing career he felt no qualms about using English in his literary and critical writings but at the same time he strongly encouraged budding African writers to use African languages in their works and academics to teach African literatures in African languages, as he did at the Accra Conference in 1962.

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