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New Left Review I/150, March-April 1985

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

The Language of African Literature

The language of African literature cannot be discussed meaningfully outside the context of those social forces which have made it both an issue demanding our attention, and a problem calling for a resolution. [*] This is a shortened version of the first of four Robb Lectures given in 1984 at the University of Auckland, New Zealand under the general title: ‘The Politics of Language in African Literature’. They will be published by Auckland University Press later this year. On the one hand is, let us call a spade a spade, imperialism in its colonial and neo-colonial phases continuously pressganging the African hand to the plough to turn the soil over, and putting blinkers on him to make him view the path ahead only as determined for him by the master armed with bible and sword. In other words, Imperialism continues to control the economy, politics and cultures of Africa. But on the other hand, and pitted against it, are the ceaseless struggles of African people to liberate their economy, politics and culture from that Euroamerican-based stranglehold and to usher in a new era of truly communal self-regulation and self-determination. It is an ever-continuing struggle to seize back their creative initiative in history through a real control of all the means of communal self-definition in time and space. The choice of language and the use to which language is put are central to a people’s definition of itself in relation to its natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe. Hence language has always been at the heart of the two contending social forces in the Africa of the twentieth century.

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Thiongo Ngugi wa, ‘The Language of African Literature’, NLR I/150: £3

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