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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1986

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Language as a Tool of Oppression

For Ngũgĩ, the relation between language, culture, and the possibility of human freedom are inseparable. He writes that language is divided into three fundamental aspects which include non-verbal language relations, spoken language, and written language In colonial and neo-colonial Kenya, the Indigenous languages of a colonized peoples are replaced with that of the colonizer. In separating the people from their native speech and writing, the European oppressors were able to superimpose their own language. In turn, that language is better-suited to carry narratives that benefit European colonizers and, later, the neocolonial rulers who benefit from the social hierarchies already in place. One of these narratives is that of the “good” and “bad” African. Ngũgĩ argues that one of the consequences of this and other racist narratives is that African children are indoctrinated at an early age to celebrate the “good” pro-European African and to disavow the resistant “bad” African. Of these indoctrinated children, he adds, “Their entire way of looking at the world, even the world of the immediate environment, was Eurocentric. Europe was the centre of the universe” (93).

In the wake of Decolonising the Mind, an entire field emerged to study “linguicism,” acts of discrimination based on one’s language or speech patterns.