World Englishes: Achebe, Thiong’o, and Jenkins

World Englishes:

“The African Writer and the English Language”—Chinua Achebe

In this short excerpt taken from Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe reminds his reader that the adoption of the English language by postcolonial societies can be instrument of agency and resistance. He illustrates how it is possible to retain one’s native culture and character and even ways of communicating when speaking and writing in the English language; the English language will simply be a “new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit is new African surroundings” (172).

He is responding to charges of writing in English and taking up colonizer’s language.

“The Language of African Literature”—Ngugi wa Thiong’o

In opposition to Achebe’s argument, Thiong’o argues that English language is a form of domination, which has a deep history in Kenya of becoming a main determinant in upward mobility. Calling the acquisition of English as a second language a “English language credit card,” Thiong’o illustrates how this credit card was the “official vehicle and the magic formula to colonial elitedom” (173). He claims, the English language distances natives from their own worlds and their very selves because one’s culture and one’s identity is embodied in language. Thiong’o explains “language as culture has three important aspects….Culture is product of history and a reflection of human beings communicating with one another in a struggle to create wealth and to control it…Language as culture is image-forming agent in the mind of child….Language as culture transmits the images of the world contained in the culture it carries” (174-75). Language creates and carries culture; thus language cannot be separated from ourselves as particular members of particular cultures (175). Imposed English language contributes to main form of colonization—mental colonization—because it divorces child from culture and self. Thiong’o ends his article by claiming that the defense of values of imposed English language as expressed by Achebe are signals of “the final triumph of a system of domination” (176).


The other day in class when I was trying to explain how Christianity was a part of colonization in the N. society, which seems to be made light of in Besneir’s ethnography, I was trying to express what Thiong’o articulates in his argument. I see how both Besneir and Achebe are right in the acquisition of imposed language and/or religion can be used as instrument of agency and resistance; however, ultimately, I believe that domination occurs before agency. By that, I don’t think in colonial or post-colonial societies you can have agency without domination. I do believe that once colonization occurs and imposed traditions and languages leak into society, that native cultures are divorced in some way from their cultures and their selves. Perhaps, Besneir and Achebe are right in that one’s culture can be preserved in the process, but the “new” language/culture that is formed is always different/divorced from the original. What we can learn from all of these articles is that nothing is a simple as it seems, and when conducting ethnographies and/or studying literacy in post-colonial societies, we must keep in mind spatial and historical specificity. We must avoid ideological generalizations and be open to describing as Besneir says how literacies are embedded in specific aspects of social life, why they are embedded, and the consequences of each specific instance.

What is most difficult about all of this is our interpretation of the results….How do we keep our own ideologies, cultural values and beliefs, from interfering????

Class Notes:

Cultures are always changing anyway. An existing culture is really just a sumulacrum. Cultures are always influencing the other. English language is not responsible for changing a culture or divorcing it from original. Other forces are and always been at play.

World Englishes: –Jennifer Jenkins

Kachru’s three circle model: expanding, outer, inner circles. Inner is norm providing. Outer norm-developing. Expanding is norm-dependent.

Pidgin—contact language; corrupted language; becomes creole over time.

Standard language: that variety of language which is considered to be the norm. Spoken by a minority of a people within a society, typically those occupying positions of power: result of direct intervention by society

Language standards: prescriptive language rules which together constitute the standard and to which all members of a language community are exposed and urged to conform during education, regardless of local variety.

Process of Standardization:

1. Selection
2. Codification
3. Elaboration of function
4. Acceptance

Standard English:

defines by what it is not:
not a language, only a variety
not an accent
not a style
not a register
not set of prescriptive rules

fossilization: process by which standard language is learned

Lingua Franca—communication involving no native speakers

People learn English because:
• Historical reasons
• Internal political reasons
• External economic reasons
• Practical reasons
• Intellectual reasons
• Entertainment reasons

Mutual intelligibility:


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