Written Response (Language)

29 Sep

While Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, has been translated into 50 languages, it was originally published in English, the language in which he chose to write it. As is the norm for any literary accomplishment, there is much criticism associated with the novel, particularly on the author’s choice of language. There are a few potential reasons as to why Achebe chose to do so. Firstly, English is a global and common language, thus to publish it in English would increase the novel’s “market potential”[1], or the ability for the book to become globally recognized. The most significant reason behind the author’s intentions would be to communicate his argument directly to the colonizers, his main audience.  The novel depicts the colonization of Africa and one of its purposes is to defend African cultures against Western society and the colonizers, whom underestimate(d) the traditional cultures in Africa. Furthermore, it has been suggested that another purpose of writing the novel is to “resurrect” African cultures. However, the fact that it is not originally written in the native tongue of the African people may hinder their understanding of the novel.
Hence, those who criticize the author’s choice of language have a point, as there are potential consequences to consider. If the book were first published in Achebe’s mother tongue and then translated into English, the novel could lose its true meaning. In other words, some of the concepts of Ibo culture, when translated, could become distorted. Perhaps there are, or would even be concepts Achebe would not be able to translate into English. In spite of this, I personally believe that the pros override the cons, in terms of the author’s choice to write in English, because otherwise, the novel may not have been recognized and ultimately, his message(s) would not have been sent to western society, as well as his native people.

[1] “Chinua Achebe.” New World Encyclopedia. 22 Aug 2009. 28 Sep 2010.


One Response to “Written Response (Language)”

  1. camerongilroy September 30, 2010 at 10:43 PM #

    Your point about the author attempting to direct his themes and points directly to the colonizers is well developed. I also agree that Achebe may have written the novel in English as an attempt to reach as wide an audience as possible. It is also interesting to think about why Achebe used some African words throughout the novel when some could easily be translated into English. Is he trying to keep his African identity and the identity of his tribe or this there some other reason behind this?

    “Achebe argued that an African writer who works in English often “describes situations or modes of thought that have no direct equivalent in the English way of life”. In this situation he can either “contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English”–producing competent but lifeless work or “can try and push back those limits to accommodate his ideas.” The second method “produces something new and valuable to the English language, as well as to the new material he is trying to put over”.”


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