African Literature, African Critics: The Forming of Critical Standards, 1947-1966

By Rand Bishop | Go to book overview

2 The Languages of African Literature

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

An important argument relating to the definition of African literature has been the controversy surrounding the languages in which it is, and ought to be, written. What is the relationship between a literature and its language? In pursuing this question, African critics began to establish a critical standard. Not many Africans approached the question as directly as did Nigerian critic Obiajunwa Wali. His 1963 article, "The Dead End of African Literature?" set off a lively debate. Wali's basic premise was that

the whole uncritical acceptance of English and French as the inevitable medium for educated African writing, is misdirected, and has no chance of advancing African literature and culture. In other words, until these [African] writers and their western midwives accept the fact that any true African literature must be written in African languages, they would be merely pursuing a dead end, which can only lead to sterility, uncreativity, and frustration. (14)

One of the bases for Wali's position was that literatures are defined by language and, therefore, "African literature as now understood and practised, is merely a minor appendage in the main stream of European literature" (13). He explained further,

The basic distinction between French and German literature for instance, is that one is written in French, and the other in German. All the other distinctions, whatever they be, are based on this fundamental fact. What therefore is now described as African literature in English and French, is a clear contradiction, and a false proposition, just as "Italian literature in Hausa" would be. (14)

-27-

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African Literature, African Critics: The Forming of Critical Standards, 1947-1966
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Languages of African Literature 27
  • 3 - African Literature for Whom? the Question of Audience 47
  • 4 - The Making of a Literary Tradition 59
  • 5 - Realisms, African Reality, and the African Past 79
  • 6 - African Literature, Littérature Engagée 111
  • 7 - Negritude and the Critics 141
  • 8 - Conclusions 169
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 205
  • About the Author *
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