Culled from Women's Connection (Volume XXVII, Number 1, pp. 9-10)
A Report from the conference on Africa and the African Diaspora: Agents for Change held at the University at Albany on March 24th, 2006.
Dr. Eloise Briere introduced Keynote speaker, Dr. Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi, feminist, professor, writer and literary critic. ... In Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi’s lecture "English Is Your Friend: Cameroon Anglophone Postcolonial Narratives" she spoke to the audience about post-colonial identities in Africa and the African Diaspora. Drawing on theories of language, she focused on language as a carrier of culture and how it can be used to justify hierarchies.
Her presentation examined how language continues to be used in the struggle for minority, regional and national identities. In the case of Anglophone Cameroon, she asked, "If over 200 languages co-exist without conflict in Cameroon, why this campaign against Pidgin?" She interrogated the “Pythagoric warnings” embedded in posted messages across the University of Buea campus. For instance, the sign, “NO PIDGIN ON CAMPUS. PLEASE!” is posted at the entrance and at the exit to the University. Other signs on the campus read,
“PIDGIN IS TAKING A HEAVY TOLL ON YOUR ENGLISH. SHUN IT.”
“PIDGIN IS LIKE AIDS. SHUN IT.”
"SUCCEED AT UB BY AVOIDING PIDGIN ON CAMPUS.”
“COMMONWEALTH SPEAK ENGLISH, NOT PIDGIN.”
Nfah-Abbenyi had seen these signs in photographs taken in 1996 and during a visit to the UB campus in 2005, she was shocked to see the signs were still there.
Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi stated that, “These texts about language use bear witness to a contested terrain of competing postcolonial nationalisms.” In this struggle, Nfah-Abbenyi articulates “a palimpsest of competing ideas of nationalities.” The University of Buea administration claims that their goal is to promote a higher standard of English at Cameroon’s sole Anglophone campus. Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi agrees that promoting a standard of English language is necessary, but she argues that these texts do much more. Referring to the sign on the “Commonwealth” she asks, “What/Whose culture is being re-inforced through this language?”
|Web Polls by Vizu|
In her view, these texts point to a larger metaphor and project at work. The appeals embedded in these signs are “specifically designed to protect colonial imperatives even as they simultaneously further power struggles for minority rights and agency.”
Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi refers to this project as the "cancerous embrace of national integration" and asked us to consider the de-legitimizing efforts of such practices and their impacts on people. She quotes Gloria Anzaldua who said, "Until I take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself." Nfah-Abbenyi favors a recognition of heterogeneous national identities. She argues that Pidgin “denies a homogenizing approach to identity and forces recognition of disjunction over fixed realities.”
Her perspective urges us to re-consider the power of language within global/transnational contexts, to pay attention to “benign messages” and how such language and power are employed in masculist ways. Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi stressed that we cannot afford to be complacent. We must continue to do the work of articulating heterogeneous subjectivities that are constantly in flux and shaped by gender, class, ethnicity, race, and linguistic realities.
Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi is author of Gender in African Women’s Writing: Identity, Sexuality, and Difference and a book of short stories Your Madness, Not Mine: Stories of Cameroon. Her fiction has appeared in Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters, The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad, Crab Orchard Review, Thamyris, Worldview and Asian Women. Her many scholarly publications include book chapters, articles, and essays in journals. Her work has been reprinted in such anthologies as The Anchor Book of Modern African Stories, Canadian Woman Studies: An Introductory Reader and African Gender Studies: A Reader.
Dr. Nfah-Abbenyi, also known by her pen name Makuchi, was born and raised in Cameroon. She was educated at the University of Yaounde, Cameroon, and McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She is currently, Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS, where she has lived since 1995. Recently, she was honored during Black History Month as an outstanding role model by the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi State Institution of Higher Learning.