The Impact of Language Choice in African Literature: Is Writing in English a Necessity or Should Indigenous Languages Be Prioritized?

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Good evening everyone. Today, we’d be debating on a crucial and very interesting topic. I love it because there are so many perspectives on this topic, like the twists are twisting.

African literature pulsates with vibrant stories, but the language it speaks is a complex question. Should writers prioritize the richness of its indigenous languages, or is English, a legacy of colonialism, a necessary tool for global reach? This debate rages on, with some arguing for authenticity in local tongues, while others see English as a bridge to a wider audience. Delving into this language choice unveils the power dynamics of colonialism, the fight for cultural preservation, and the yearning for international recognition, all intricately woven into the fabric of African literature.

Even though it’s important to write in our languages, it’s also very important to present your works in a language the audience you want them to reach, would understand. By this I mean. The entire topic is subjective.  I would prefer to write in English then add sprinklings of my local languages and, if needed, add translations or something. Our local languages are so beautiful so So so so beautiful, especially in poetry, but if my audience doesn’t understand me, I must consider them too while writing. Zakiyyah, what’s your take?

The floor is open guys, we need your takes on this.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: This is a fascinating topic that I’ve been looking forward to. The impact of language choice in African literature is worth exploring. It’s a topic with different perspectives. There is a Eurocentric perspective that writing in English helps reach a wider audience, which is very true and real since English is the lingua Franca of most African countries, while others believe prioritizing indigenous languages preserves cultural identity.

I agree with what you said about writing in English and adding a sprinkle of our local languages while maintaining culture. It’s an excellent way to preserve culture.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Why do you agree with me? What would you say about social aesthetics with regard to this?

Adamu Yahuza: Okay. first thing first, why do we write? what is our purpose for writing? who is our target audience?

It’s one thing to write and entirely another thing to convey to your audience. the audience should always come first, they are the reason we write. because I’m Fulfude and want to write a poem, doesn’t necessarily mean the poem has to be in Fulfude. writing in English broadens one’s audience. let’s even forget the lingua franca thingy. not everyone here can write and read in their indigenous languages. so, imagine writing in our indigenous language.

I am not denying that literature has an important role in preserving our culture; I’m just saying there is no point in writing a work that people can’t read and understand. ‎We all know how hot it’s out there. language is one of the many factors that garners an audience. You have to write in the latest style and form, the contemporary ish, for some magazines to accept your work. I don’t know, how many Nigerian mags accept works written in our indigenous languages. I seriously don’t know any.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Nah I don’t believe, I put a lot of Hausa in my works, and magazines accept them. We put a lot of Arabic too.

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Hey! I think this argument comes with a ratio of 80/20

Why not? My take!

The first point is that English reflects Westernization in African countries like Nigeria. Here, we find out that for a long time, people have tended to come up with the idea of teaching, using mother languages, but to no avail. 

Yes!! Back to ‘art’. I think one of the major things I loved about Yoruba is the fact that; to date, there’s this nurture of proverbs & idioms preserved in their children.

The first road has been taken. English has been the optics of most things if not all.

We can’t go back to primitive ways because even the villages lag behind some things commonly attributed to language.

I’d only love to call it revolutionary. “Modernization of languages”. By subjecting its dishes to English-permeable stuff. (Writing, music, and so on)

This will be a deductible and perhaps a little closure of the gap. Let English continue to blend with our local language.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Sister, a chapbook by Hauwa Shafii published by the APBF chap series, is a sweet collection of both Hausa and English. All in all, what’s your take???  Tell us which is 80 and which is 20

Adamu Yahuza:  You have a work written wholly in Hausa?

I am not referring to mixing our indigenous languages with the English language, of course, magazines should accept that. We are saying the same thing. if we return to writing entirely in our indigenous languages, even our local journals won’t publish us. ‎However, we can scale writing in indigenous languages by mixing it with English or creating local magazines for them.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Okayyy. I feel you

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Indigenous Languages can’t be prioritized. English has already become a necessity.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Nah I don’t agree, we can’t prioritize because we ain’t writing for our local audience. You can’t go to the core of Sokoto and read them English poems for a contest. 

Dem go flog you, no offense ooo, this is just an analogy.

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Yess! I see the kind of vibes that came with “The Alchemist.”

Even though Arabic was little, for poets like Safia, the promotion of the language makes it miraculous. But, how many are there?? There are often contests as such. Even HIBAF has to blend with English a little to patch things up. I’m sure there are some things that you just have to say in English at home for Mama to understand better.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: We’re not talking about Mama, but I understand you. We are talking bout the arts. It’s only justified that we must continue to write in English because English has become a universal language. And that’s why the basis of this whole debate is subjective.

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: I’m enjoying this. 

Abdulrazaq Salihu: I would only argue based on the audience and Message I’d love to hit.

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: I don’t think there are gatherings nowadays for traditional art’ purposes. That’s it; either some cultures are re-welcomed again.

I’m Nupe by tribe. Most of the traditional festivals are gone. There is no avenue for oral literature in its entirety.

BM Dzukogi: They are not gone. No bi Minna you dey?

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Baba, I do go to Sallah festivals. It’s only the That Bariki stuff. Before, my mum did tell us that On ‘Ranar Cika Ciki‘ there’s this showcase they do of ‘playing fires or such’ I don’t know its name in English. I was happier than to see that I’ll witness such the next year. To my surprise, nothing!

It’s called “Worio” sir.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: I agree.  Go to your village, Aliyu. You can’t be talking when you are enjoying the fans and shawarma.

Adamu Yahuza: That’s where the audience comes in. The first thing to consider while writing, especially for a contest, is the audience. Believe me, if at that very event, the judges happen to be writers who write in the contemporary style with great taste for language, writing in our local language won’t save you. But of course, I get that when in Rome, behave as Romans do. 

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Exactly!!!! The world is now a big Rome . An English-speaking Rome.

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Yup! even when I heard that some lecturers at Sokoto lectures in Hausa,

My precision; well the exams must be in English.

Adamu Yahuza: Lecturing in hausa? it’s rare. Very rare. Maybe in cases where the lecturer has to use hausa for better understanding. My course, for example, Botany, if a lecturer didn’t call some plants by their local names, most of us wouldn’t get it.

Back to our discussion. what do you think is the cause? how can we make our indigenous language stand out? Do you think the writers are at fault?

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Writers can’t be at fault simply because they needed an audience. As Abdul mentioned earlier, you tend to relate your work with the kind of people who serve as the audience.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: But you know you can always change your audience, right?

Adamu Yahuza: Yes. I feel you. If I should write in my language, for example, only a few of my people can read and comprehend what I’d written.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Exactly!Any more contributions from the house?

Aliyu Umar Muhammad: Me ooo, it might be kinda funny! But the truth is, I love the way Arab poets use their language while writing. It makes me feel mad!! Even someone who doesn’t understand Arabic would love to know little about it.

The same applies to our languages, if you want to promote your language, then use a mixture of both. The sound will be top-notch.  Writing with “Esangi” infused will taste sweet like ‘Nymgbana.’

When we write with both, it will give a room of one’s pride for his language. At least, someone might learn the ‘one or more words’ you used in your work.

This is another way of using art to gain a reader’s insight into knowing your language or culture.

My take.

Abdulrazaq Salihu: Thank you so much for your beautiful insights and contributions, we really appreciate it.  And I hope next time we get more people to add their own opinions. Plus I think we’d be gifting contributors so the rest know we not playing. So today, for all the contributors, get a signed copy of Constellations by Abdulrazaq Salihu. Thank you so much for your time.

Lights out

Zakiyyah Dzukogi: Thank you so much for participating in the discussion, I look forward to seeing this type of energy next week.

Thank you, Abdulrazaq, for moderating today’s session and making it interactive. Next week is going to be another banger with the topic: Exploring Gender Dynamics in African Literature: Are Female Characters Portrayed Realistically or Through Stereotypical Lenses?

See you next Saturday, goodnight!