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Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

In today’s world there are thousands of different languages which are being spoken by

different societies in different countries. However, it is estimated that English ranks third in

the list of most spoken languages around the world. Once this fact is considered, as well as the

fact that the number of English speakers’ in the Kachru’s ‘inner circle’ countries are exceeded

by those in the ‘outer circle’ and ‘expanding circle’ (Canagarajah, 2006), the idea that English

language has

become an essential part of our time (Weshan & Tomok, 2012) cannot be

underestimated. Given that English plays a huge role in opening people to other cultures,

making them discover, innovate and modernize, many names are being used to explain the

current status of English. Thus, it is considered as the global language (Crystal, 2003), the

lingua franca, the international language and the ‘‘academic lingua franca’’ (Faber, 2010, p.

20) of today’s world. However, the status of English in a country as well as the attitudes of

people towards using the language may vary not only within people who share the same

ethnic origin but also cross-culturally. Taking this as a starting point, this paper will compare

and contrast two well-known authors’ attitudes (one being African and the other Indian)

towards English language.

Kachru’s framework, which contains three concentric circles (as inner, outer and

expanding) differentiates countries according to the usage and the status of English. In inner

circle countries, English is spoken as the native language (Australia, Britain, Canada, New

Zealand, USA), whereas in outer circle countries such as Malaysia and Philippines, English is

spoken as a second language or has a status of official language due colonial history.

However, in expanding countries English is being spoken as a foreign language, and it is not

being used on daily bases (such as in China, Indonesia, Turkey, Japan). English in India as

well as South Africa (especially Nigeria), belongs to the outer circle but when compared to

other countries in the same circle, the linguistic situation in both of these two countries is

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

regarded as somewhat complicated (Kirkpatrick,2007).This is due to the fact that there exist

many mother tongues in each country. According to Kirkpatrick (2007) there are 1652

different mother tongues in India and more than 300 in Nigeria and among these languages

only 18 in India and 11 in South Africa are considered as official languages. Especially,

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe touches upon this issue in his article, which will be discussed

in the further parts of this essay.

In his article entitled as ‘English and the African Writer’ Achebe (1997), provides his

readers with a discussion based on the controversial issue of language(s) used for literature in

Africa. He opens his discussion by telling the readers about a conference held about African

literature and partially informs us about the discussions took place. Taking this as a starting

point, he presents us his ideas in a clear precise manner and sometimes refers to other African

writers and gives examples from their works to prove his ideas. Therefore, he not only

discusses the issue in detail but familiarize us with other well-known authors and historians of

Africa and their works. In his article, on one hand Achebe shows us that he has a positive

attitude towards the fact that Nigeria being a former colony and the usage of English. For

instance, he says that being a colony provided Nigeria with a kind of unity since it ‘‘gave

them a language with which to talk to another’’ (p.334). He believes that through national

language, which according to him is English, one can refer to everyone in the society whereas

by using an ethnic language one can only reach audience belonging to that ethnic background.

Therefore, he is using English to reach not only to other people in the world but the all

Nigerians in the Africa. If he were to write in ethnic language, in his case that would be Igbo,

he would have only reach people in Igbo society. Then his works would not be read by people

who speak for instance, Hausa or Yoruba languages. However, on the other hand, though he

has a positive attitude, I believe that it is probable for him to see English as a double-edged

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

sword which he continues to use. To me, this is why he not only mentions the advantages of

using it but disadvantages as well. Additionally, the way he made use of some metaphors

created dilemma in my mind regarding his attitude towards English language and British

colonization. To illustrate, I would like to share some of his quotes which made me think this

way; ‘‘Today, for good and ill, that language is English’’ (p.345), ‘‘Let us give the devil his

due: colonialism in Africa disturbed many things, but it did create political units’’ (p.344),‘‘it

looks like a dreadful betrayal and produces a guilty feeling…but for me there is no other

choice’’ (p.348). So, in order to attain his goal of reaching such audience, English is the only

solution and he has to accept it and take advantage of its usage even though he feels he is

betraying to his mother tongue Igbo. This is why in his article he appreciates other writers

who write in their ethnic languages and he says that he wishes he had learned the other

languages in Nigeria. According to my point of view, this is part of his dilemma as well.

Apart from these dilemmas, what I can tell for sure is that by saying ‘‘speaking of

African experience in a world-wide language’’, Achebe believes that English can be used to

reflect the values of African culture as well the experience an author would like to share and

to be able to convey his messages to a larger audience. However, to me, we need to keep in

mind that such experience does not necessarily have to be a positive one. Indeed, in his first

novel called ‘Things Fall Apart’, this is what he does actually, using English to tell a story,

but a tragic ending one. Thus, in this novel, audience is presented with three main themes

being: religion, status and colonization. Achebe makes use of English to write the novel and

adds some African words to include things particular to African culture, especially to Igbo

tribe. Therefore, as readers we are presented with Igbo tribe life as it was in reality at the time

of the story. We learn for instance, what Igbo words ‘egwugwu’ (a person who has spiritual

connections and responsible from judging disputes in the villages) and ‘chi’ (personal God)

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

means to villagers. We learn about the way life is in the villages such as ‘Umuofia’ and

‘Mbaino’ from the lives of African characters who has African names, we learn about their

superstitions such as ‘ogbanje’ an evil child and its connection to ‘iyi-uwa’ a special stone.

Additionally, in the novel we are presented with a lot of animal imagery and lots of

symbolism, which I believe are also part of the African life and culture. For instance, locusts

in the story represent white men coming to Africa, fire represents Okonkwo’s fears and drums

represent hearth beat. As the name of the novel suggests, we also learn how things fall apart

during the time of colonization when missionaries come to villages. So, Achebe uses the

language to tell us about his grandfather Okonkwo’s tragic ending story by using words and

cultural elements and words which belongs to African Igbo tribe. As he says, he uses English

in a way that is ‘‘altered to suit its new African surroundings’’ (p.349). This in a way shows

that Achebe feels like English language belongs to them as African Nigerians. His point is in

line with another Nigerian author Wole Solinka who says that ‘‘when we borrow an alien

language…we must stretch it, impact and compact it, fragment and reassemble it…’’(as cited

in Kirkpatrick, 2007, p.113). Similarly, Kirkpatrick (2007) states that ‘‘English can be

Africanised and adapted’’ and he highlights the fact that even though the debate continues to

grow regarding which language to use in African literature, majority of the writers support the

usage of ‘‘African form of English’’ (p.114). Therefore, it can be concluded that Achebe has

accepted English as his own and has positive and hospitable attitudes towards it and he uses

English to promote Africanness. Such attitude is not only evident in this article but also from

the way he chooses to write his novels and receiving Nobel prizes. Considering that ‘Things

Fall Apart’ was first published in 1958 and that it is still being read at schools all around the

world, Achebe has managed to reach a larger audience with his authentic African novel

written in English and with some Igbo words added to it.

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

In case of authenticity, we are presented with another writer’s article entitled ‘The Cult

of Authenticity’. Chandra (2000) in his article provides his readers with a discussion based on

the controversial issue of the way language is used in Indian literature. He opens his

discussion by telling the readers about a conference held in British Council and the way he

and his friends Sunil Khilnani and Ardeshir Vakil were bombarded by questions of other

literati. Chandra’s article is in a way a reaction and an answer towards the criticism made

towards him, especially by Meenakshi Mukherjee. Her criticism arose from the fact that

Chandra had made use of Sanksrit words in his novel written in English, which according to

Mukherjee was for the sake of showing ‘‘Indianness in a Western context’’. However,

Chandra rejects this and states that he had used those words because he loved the ‘‘energy

inherent in them’’. It is noteworthy to mention that, Chandra in this article again makes use of

Sanksrit words such as ‘‘Shiva-bhakt’’, ‘‘mashooq’’ and ‘‘vatan’’ and to me this is done on

purpose and as a reaction to Mukherjee and other people who would support her views. By

adopting such strategy he is showing that he does not care about the criticisms made about the

way he uses Sanksrit along with English. Just like Achebe, Chandra refers to other well-

known authors’ works to prove his points and clarify his views. Additionally, in his article,

Chandra in a way talks on behalf of Indo-Anglian writers like him in a sarcastic way to

answer the common misconceptions made about them. Chandra thinks these people who

criticize him and his friends of promoting ‘‘Indianness’’, are themselves in favor of

Westernization. He states that the historical experience as well as the multilingual nature of

India has given rise to importance of English and it is the ‘‘lingua franca of power, of

business, of cultural exchange, of politics’’ (p.13). Chandra also touches upon the fact that for

the sake of one language the other does not necessarily have to be abandoned as he says ‘‘If

Hindi is my mother tongue, then English has been my father-tongue. I write in English, and I

have forgotten nothing, and I have given up nothing’’ (p.13). Therefore, with a positive

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

attitude he talks about the advantages of English, as Achebe did. However, just like Achebe

he also talks about the guilt of using English. He highlights the fact that people like him, who

use English, are accused of having unreal reality of India. He states in a mocking attitude that

it is considered that only Indian writers are capable of reaching the ‘Real India’. To illustrate,

he says ‘‘If we are here, comfortable and Anglicized, then ‘‘regional writers’’ are there’’

(p.14). From his line of thought about the followers and supporters of ‘‘Real India’’, it can be

concluded that there is a hostility towards English language among those whom he calls

regional writers. It seemed to me that Chandra also does not appreciate these ‘‘regional

writers’ works as Achebe does with authors who write in their ethnic language(s). However,

he feels that instead of looking at and being obsessed with the language, especially the degree

of ‘‘Indianness’’ in a text, one should appropriate the effort made in their work. I think

Paranjape’s (2014) following quote would be appropriate to summarize what Chandra thinks

regarding the issue; ‘‘while the dominance of English as a global languages promises

unprecedented reward to its practitioners, it also casts a distorting spell over their creative

efforts’’. Therefore in order to break this spell, in ‘The Cult of Authenticity’, Chandra

encourages the writers to ‘‘be free’’ in their way of writing instead of being obsessed with the

level of its authenticity. In addition, he advises writers to not to be afraid of language

alternation. Thus, Chandra, uses metaphor in order to say what writers need to do with

language, which is to ‘‘inhabit it, mangle it, pervert it, until it becomes your own and

therefore comes alive again’’. This view of his is in line with views of Achebe’s, Wole

Solinka’s and Bapsi Sidhwas’s on language alternation as well as the ownership of the

English language. Indeed, Sidhwa states that ‘‘English

is

no longer the monopoly of the

British. We the excolonised have subjugated the language, beaten it on its head and made it

ours’’ (as cited in Kirkpatrick, 2007, p.96). Based on our in-class discussions, I can say that

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

Sidhwa wants to state that English has no power, therefore it should not be seen as the enemy

but as something which now belongs to them.

Although these authors seem to come from two different countries, they have lots of

things in common. The countries these two authors come from have post-colonial history.

Even though they gained their independence long ago, English in these countries has been

there for more than decades and continues to exist. Both of these authors, one favoring the

usage of the language with local motives of Africa in his novels, one favoring creativity and

freedom in writing by not necessarily being authentic, have shown us that they feel English is

theirs and they use it to achieve their goals of reaching to a broader audience. Though Achebe

is more tolerant of criticisms and he appreciates the importance of ethnic literature written in

ethnic languages, Chandra is more reactant to people who criticize the way he chooses to

write. In my point of view, both of these articles have the same message written in different

styles, different places, by different writers coming from different ethnic backgrounds who

share only one thing in common, English. The message which can be taken from both of these

articles is that, whatever it is called; the lingua franca, the international language or the global

English, English belongs to everyone and as long as we embrace it we can benefit from it.

Additionally, the way we choose to benefit from it should solely be our own decision to make.

These authors have made their own decisions on the side of using and embracing English,

knowing its advantages, disadvantages and criticisms made towards such usage of it.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, these two authors

have their own way and own aim in

using English in their novels but they both make use of language alternation and metaphors to

communicate their messages to audience, whether they be Africans, Indians or any one of us

with different nationalities with different mother tongue(s). Through such strategy they again

show us that they are able to make use of the language in such a way that they can convey

Comparison of the attitudes of Achebe and Chandra towards the use of English

By Yağmur Raman January 2014

messages in their own way with ‘their’ language. Therefore, through their English, our

English, the World’s English, they aim to create something with the language and contribute

to our understanding of the world as it is or as it was in the past or as it is in their stories, in

their imagination.

References

Achebe, C. (1958) .Things Fall Apart.

London: Heinemann Press

Achebe, C. (1997). English and he African writer. Transition, 75/76, The Anniversary Issue:

Selections from Transition, 1961-1976 (1997), 342-349

Canagarajah, A. S. (2006). TESOL at forty: What are the issues? Tesol Quarterly, 40(1), 9-

34.

Chandra, V. (2000). The cult of authenticity: India’s cultural commissars worship

‘‘Indiannesee’’ instead of art. Boston Review.

Kirkpatrick, A. (2007). World Englishes: Implications for international communication and

English language teaching. Cambridge University Press

Paranjape, R. M. (2014). Indian English and its con-texts: Re-presenting India in our time

[plenary talk], Retrieved on June 4, 2014 from

presentingIndiainourTime.htm

Weshah, H. A., & Tomok, T. N. (2011). The Impact of a Training Program Based on

Pedagogical Knowledge on Improving the Speaking and Writing Skills Teaching Practices

of Female English Language Teachers. Reading Improvement, 48(4), 179-194.