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Chinua Achebe and the Language of the Colonizer Essay

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Chinua Achebe and the Language of the Colonizer

A powerful instrument of control used by the colonizing powers is the instrument of language. Language forms a huge part of the culture of a people - it is through their language that they express their folk tales, myths, proverbs, history. For this reason, the imperial powers invariably attempted to stamp out native languages and replace them with their own. As Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin point out, there are two possible responses to this control - rejection or subversion. (The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, London: Routledge, 1995. 284) While Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is famous for advocating outright rejection of the colonialist language, believing that this rejection is central to the anti-imperialist struggle, Chinua Achebe has chosen the idea of subversion rather than rejection. According to Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, his writing “displays a process by which the language is made to bear the weight and texture of a different experience. In doing so it becomes another language.” In The African Trilogy, Achebe uses the language of the colonizer to convey the Igbo experience of that colonization. The idioms, proverbs and imagery of these books all invoke his Eastern Nigerian culture, forcing the reader to accept on Achebe’s (linguistic) terms, the story he has to tell.

Any reader of The African Trilogy comes away with at least a limited knowledge of Igbo words and phrases. Some words such as obi, chi, osu, and egwugwu be...


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