Anthills of the Savannah and Languages of Wider Communication

Chinua Achebe is perhaps one of the best examples of a writer using a Language of Wider Communication for expressing indigenous ideas. In Anthills of the Savannah he utilizes relexification. In chapter nine, "Views of the Struggle," Ikem, one of the central protagonists, is a young journalist among a traveling delegation of men from his village home, Abazon. During a gathering in which Ikem is being honored one Elder stands and utters a speech which is filled with indigenous ideas. He alludes to customs and environments which are conspicuously native to Abazon:

How do we salute our fellows wen we come in and see them massed in assembly so huge we cannot hope to greet them one by one, to call each man by his title? Do we not say: To everyone his due? Have you thought what a wise practice our fathers fashioned out of those simple words? To every man his own! To each his chosen title! We can all see how that handful of words can save us from the ache of four hundred handshakes and the headache of remembering a like multitude of praise-names. (113)

Here the words that the reader encounters are not meant to represent English speech. We know this because in chapter 9 of Anthills of the Savannah, Achebe distinguishes between words that are actually uttered in English and those uttered in the mother-tongue, using italics to represent words which represent English. This becomes apparent when one elder from Abazon says, "I do not hear English but I when they say Catch am nobody tells me to take myself off as fast as I can" (117).

In the gathering taking place in chapter 9 the elders of Abazon celebrate the fact that one of their "sons," Ikem, is the chief editor of the National Gazette. "I had never read what they say he writes because I do not know ABC. But I have heard of all the fight he has fought or poor people in this land" (112-13). Here Achebe melds form with function. If Achebe, like Ikem, is successful at conveying the ideas and experiences of the non-English speaking population of Abazon, then he is able to give voice to a native African experience throughout the English speaking world.

Achebe's intentions are affirmed by Ashcroft's notion of "constitutive graphonomy." Ashcroft addresses the question, "how does the non-English speaker, for instance, mean anything in English? He explains how writing about a native experience in a non-native language can "signify its nature" without "reproducing" it. Ashcroft bases this claim on the "primacy of the message event." That is to say that "the written text is a social event." Ashcroft's conception is supported by theory which is widely excepted about writing. Few will disagree that a writer is "limited to a situation in which words have meaning." Many varying interpretations can be garnered from even the most simple texts. It is not the words themselves that create meaning, but the event of "participants" interacting. In this "message event" the writer and reader meet each other. By the logic of this metaphor, a text bridges a "metonymic gap." The "distance" of each party from the point of "understanding," or that point at which the experience is fully realized, helps to create the meaning of the text. In a sense no "participant" or communicator can claim fully to own any experience being communicated, but writers use creativity to bridge the gap between all those who are situated around the experience.

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Last modified 27 December 2001