Kenyan Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o was recently hosted by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where he gave a rousing lecture on African languages.
The actual topic of his lecture was Decolonise the Mind: Secure the Base. Ngugi used the topic to expound on the neglect of African languages both locally and globally.
The gist of his talk pointed out the fact that African languages do find their way into our daily lives but are pretty much absent in African institutions—government departments, law courts, schools, etc.
He does not spend the whole lecture berating as he proposes a way forward that would involve working hard to put African languages on the global stage. According to him, it’s about learning to “use English instead of English using us.” It’s about “making it cool and clever to know an African language.”
Check out our ten favourite quotes from the hard-hitting lecture of Kenyan Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Kenyan Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o on just how important African languages are to Africa
- For him [Kwame Nkrumah], the knowledge existing in African languages was an important starting point in our intellectual journey in Africa and the world. He called for the sharing of experience contained in our different languages, as part of a common endeavour of presenting our history as the history of an African people, and not as history written by Europeans about African people.
- African languages were central in African scholarship, development and its relationship to the diaspora and the world.
- African languages were not a lower rung on the ladder to an English heaven but rather as equal partners in the construction of a common but multilingual heaven
Kenyan Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o on how language was a tool used by our oppressors
- We can only see ourselves through European eyes, at the minimum. This makes us look at Africa with the eyes of an outsider, thus in effect giving up on our responsibility to secure the continent for African people.
- The fact is in any independent African nation today the majority are rendered linguistically deaf and mute by government policies that have set European languages as the normative measure of worth in every aspect of national life.
- In all such cases of colonial conquest, Language was meant to complete what the sword had started; do to the mind what the sword had done to the body.
Kenyan Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o on how Africa gave Europe access in exchange for accents
- They gave us their accents in exchange for their access to our resources. Or let me put it this way: Europe gave Africa the resources of their accent; Africa gave Europe Access to the Resources of the Continent.
- So when African intellectuals and leadership were busy perfecting their borrowed accents, Europe and the West were busy sharpening their instruments for access to the resources of the continent Accents for Access: that, unfortunately, is the story of post-colonial Africa.
- We need the globe, we are told, and that globe can only hear us in English. The English accent blinds them to the reality that what they are getting from the global table are simply the remnants of the global access to African resources.
- If you know all the languages of the world and you don’t know your mother tongue or the language of your culture, that is enslavement; but if you know your mother tongue or the language of your culture, and add all the other languages of the world to it, that is empowerment.
The full lecture is available online at this link.