TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. Mai 2010

Sektion 1.3. Re-writing linguistic history – (post)colonial reality on the fringes of linguistic theories
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section report 1.3.

Re-writing linguistic history–(Post)colonial reality
on the fringes of linguistic theories

Eric A. Anchimbe (University of Bayreuth, Germany) [BIO]


Moving away significantly from earlier approaches that treated postcolonial societies as sub-entities striving for perfection in the linguistic codes of the coloniser nations, this section handled several issues that sought to place these societies within community-specific analytical frameworks that represent them from the standpoint of their internal specificities. These specificities show different facets of the societies in question and how they cope with their histories as (ex)colonised peoples. Focus in this section was also on how (ex)coloniser nations cope with their role in colonialism—they all try to exonerate themselves shifting blame to other countries. Speakers were drawn from a vast range of countries representing a broad spectrum from which topics such as postcolonialism, (post)colonial translation, identity creation, multilingualism, language survival and death, globalisation, and code-switching could be thoroughly discussed. The place of postcolonial reality in current and past linguistic theories was illustrated from two ends: the predominantly Western and the non-Western, represented respectively by speakers from Germany, Portugal, England, and China, Cameroon, Nigeria, India, Kenya, Nigeria.

Studies of postcolonialism have in the past been exceedingly concerned with the new nations formed at the close of colonialism. Less attention has been paid to the ways in which coloniser nations represent themselves in the postcolonial era in which blames of different kinds are levied for responsibility in the misdeeds of colonialism. Antje Honscheidt illustrated the Western European patterns of dehistoricising colonial history, vindicating themselves, and sanitarising their role in the Slave Trade, colonialism and other incursions into other parts of the world. The outcome of this, she showed, is that certain colonially linked terms and concepts have very positive connotations within Western (aristocratic) circles.

Patterns of identity construction in postcolonial communities both at home and in the diaspora exhibit fundamental similarities both in (ex)colonial regions and among migrant populations in coloniser countries. The use of Sheng in Kenya (Alice Wachira), the use of English in Cameroon (Eric Anchimbe), and the use of Cape Verdian Creole in Lisbon, Portugal (Christina Märzhäuser) mark communities that employ their languages as identity boundaries. Although these boundaries are becoming porous due to crossing by members of other identity groups, the basic pattern seems to be motivated by the same factors: the search for social esteem in the face of dominant groups and identities, the search for an in-group code, and the exclusion of non-group members.

Another aspect of postcolonial societies is the way they are represented in translations of the Bible, literary texts, colonialists’ diaries, etc. Referred to now as ‘postcolonial translation’, the study of translations of (post)colonial texts reveals interesting representations of traditional religious gods in India (Hephzibah Israel) vis-à-vis the Christian almighty God and the mental images of religious concepts in Yoruba and English in Nigerian Aladura (prayer) churches (Folorunso Odidi). In the Indian example, certain terms that had been identified with Indian gods were avoided by translators of the Bible into Tamil; rather terms that showed the Christian God as supreme were coined. As far as the Nigerian case is concerned, Christians who attend the same Christian church presided in Yoruba have different and locally-based conceptions of religious concepts such as prayer, repentance and sacrifice, from those who attend service in English. These complexities show how postcolonial communities are complex entities, which could only be understood through community-specific approaches to them.

Globalisation, in spite of how it is construed in each discipline, is affecting the currency of non-industrial and oral languages. It has transformed the process of production into a hybrid structure in which the different components of one good could be produced in several countries. What therefore is the impact of globalisation on the future: endangerment, survival, revival or death of languages? In response to this, Anthony Agwuele argued against linguists’ attempt to ‘save’ dying languages by getting them written and stored in archives. If speakers abandon their languages, he argued, for other languages and these fall into attrition, then it means even if they are revived, speakers’ interest in them must have shifted to the other languages. From a contrary perspective, Frederick Iraki called for the use of African indigenous languages in public life. These languages, according to Iraki, constitute a strong local heritage that must not be lost or abandoned in favour of the ex-colonial language, English.

Several reasons have been advanced for why bilinguals and multilinguals code-switch. The question however is: do speakers of written languages code-switch in the same manner as speakers of oral or oral + written languages? David C. S. Li illustrated code-switching in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He identified two major causes of code-switching in these two communities: the first-impression-hypothesis and the medium-of-learning effect. But in a context where only one of the two or more languages in which code-switching takes place is written, the reasons differ. Alice Wachira illustrated these reasons with patterns of switching in Kenya. She identified the need to communicate, the suitability of local languages for the expression of local concepts as the most recurrent motivations behind speakers switching across oral Kenya indigenous languages and the written English language.

The above issues, some of which have been in the limelight of postcolonial linguistics in the past few years, hold the papers in this section closely together and show, above many other things, that certain processes or lifestyles in ex-coloniser countries could be explained using aspects of ex-colonised countries. For instance, why is it that certain dictionaries of Danish or Swedish or German languages represent the Slave Trade not as a historical event but rather as a general act of imprisoning or subjecting others to forced labour? (Honscheidt). Why is it that Portuguese youths are continuously attracted to Cape Verdian Creole spoken by Cape Verdian immigrants living in refugee quarters in Lisbon? (Märzhäuser). Answers to these questions could be got through more substantive research in the line proposed by the papers in this section.

Traditional linguistic theories and Western-based cultural theories have found postcolonial contexts too complex to be unilaterally analysed using tenets defined according the Western samples. This complexity together with the series of contradictions in these societies make them peculiar necessitating the design of new theories that take into account these complexities and contradictions. As Franz Boas rightly said at the turn of the last century, “the internal structure of [postcolonial] languages and societies must be allowed to emerge on their own, without the distorting imposition of European templates upon them” (see Handbook of American Indian Languages). For example, why is it that the francophones in Cameroon have since 2000 expressed great interest in English whereas they showed a lot of disdain for the language before then? (Anchimbe). How could it be explained that some Kenyans long for the return to indigenous Kenyan languages as official media instead of English? (Iraki). All these contradictions, linked somehow to the search for an identity, explain how consistent in diversity these contexts are, and how their societal or individual identities could only be defined from the standpoint of these complexities. In this manner, there is the need for more natural and region-based findings that handle postcolonial areas not as being on the fringes of the West but as constituting centres of their own.

1.3. Re-writing linguistic history – (post)colonial reality on the fringes of linguistic theories

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TRANS   Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Eric A. Anchimbe: Section report 1.3.: - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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