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Showcasing the Use of Language in Things Fall Apart (Essay Example)

Writers of those third world countries which were previously in the hands of Europeans keep debating about one particular issue. Here, they ask themselves if they should keep writing in their native tongue or use the language of their previous colonizers. Some of them even argue that while writing in your native language, you become more imperative as cultural meanings and subtleties tend to get lost during translation. Hence, by using ‘new’ languages, they can’t really describe their form of culture.

Deciding On the Language to Use

Interestingly, Chinua Achebe maintains a different view. Through 1966 essays re-produced in his amazing book called Morning Yet on Creation Day, he highlights some key points. First, he says that through use of English, Africa gets a new voice. Therefore, he recommends the African Writer to use English in a manner which portrays the message in the best ways. However, the writer should not change the language to a point where it loses its value as a means of international communication.

The writer should also try to fashion out the English language which is universal and can talk about his much-needed experience. Of course, Achebe achieves his goal by carefully introducing proverbs, Metaphors, speech rhythms and catchy ideas into his English written novels.

Despite this, he agrees with a good number of other African writers when it comes to writing for a social purpose. Unlike a majority of western artists and writers who create art just for the sake, many of those found in Africa write having one purpose in mind. Here, they try to re-create their national cultures after the colonial era. This is something Achebe notes in his 1964 statement which is also published in the same book, Morning Yet on Creation.

It’s important to mention that the African people did not come across the term culture from their European colonizers. Instead, their communities were not mindless, but constantly had a rich philosophy of great value and depth together with poetry and most importantly, dignity. It’s such dignity which the people of Africa lost during the colonial period and now need to reclaim. To attain his goal of sharing the African culture with his international audience, Achebe started the African Writers Series which was merely a collection of African literature. He used a publishing firm called Heinemann.

Impact of Using English

Achebe represents depths and complexities of every African Culture to all readers of other cultures as well as to those who share the same morals and principles. By using English since childhood, he can reach a greater number of people as compared to writing in the Igbo language. Besides, those who write in the native tongue should eventually allow their work to be translated into English. In doing so, writers from other cultures can understand all that you’re trying to talk about.

However, even by using English, Achebe faces a tough problem. How can he showcase the African culture and heritage in a language that does not fully describe it? So, this is a key task in his book, Things Fall Apart where he confronts the lack of understanding and knowledge between the colonialist and his Igbo culture. In his book, an Igbo asks a white man how he can refer to Igbo customs as bad when he doesn’t even speak the same language.

Understanding the Igbo culture is only possible if the foreigner can understand the Igbo terminology and language. Achebe solves this huge issue by adding several elements of his native language in his book. He makes use of words, concepts, and rhythms using English to further explain the African culture. Achebe goes out of his way as he tries to bridge the existing and large cultural divide.

He merges Igbo vocabularies in his book easily so that the outsider understands the different meanings of the phrases used in their specific context. Of course, some words are untranslatable for instance egwugwu, ogbanje, chi, and obi. However, Achebe highlights them in a way that helps non-speaking Igbo readers to identify and relate to these interesting Igbo customs.

A good example is a chi which represents an essential and complex Igbo idea which he uses in different contexts throughout the novel. When he’s explaining Unoka’s terrible fortune, he uses chi to describe a personal god. As the story goes on, it slowly picks out other meanings. In the analysis section of the third chapter, chi is now more than just a personal almighty being or deity. Instead, it explains elements found in the Hindu idea of Karma, the soul concept in certain Christian beliefs and the individuality factor in other mystical philosophies. The significance and understanding of chi in Igbo culture grows as you keep reading the story.

Achebe’s continuous reference to traditional Igbo tales and proverbs is another good example of how he tries to incorporate the African language. Such elements give the book Things Fall Apart an authentic and rich African voice. In the first chapter, he describes the Igbo customs as oral presentations where the conversion art is highly regarded, and proverbs represent the palm-oil where phrases are eaten.

To offer an authentic realization of the Igbo culture would just be impossible without using proverbs in the book. Besides, the foreign reader can still relate to almost all of them. They are slowly woven into their context and need only some occasional elaboration and explanation. Such tales and proverbs are quite similar to Western fables and sayings.

Modern-day readers of this book not only understand such traditional tales and proverbs easily but also sympathize with those issues affecting Nwoye, and Okonkwo as well as other characters. Achebe has perfectly developed all his characters, and although they exist in a different time and share different customs and beliefs, one can quickly understand their feelings and motivations because they are timeless as well as Universal.

Speech rhythms and patterns are normally used to show situations of high tension and emotion. A suitable example is the beating of drums during the night in the thirteenth chapter of the novel. The (go-di-go-di-go) is repeated many times to bring together a group of people. It’s followed by a group response (Umuofia Kwenu…Yaa!) as highlighted in the second chapter. In Chapter eleven, there’s also the agonized call of from the priestess as she seeks Ezinma (Agbala do-o-o-o!).

He also adds another twist in the creative use of language by using some examples of Pidgin English. Such is the simple language used to communicate with different groups of people who normally speak various languages. He uses only a few phrases and words-tie-tie which means to tie and kotma which is a crude form court messenger.

As colonialists, the British government was adept in installing such a language in its newly acquired colonies. However, Pidgin at times takes on the characteristics of communications between a master and a servant. Therefore, it may sound as both subservient and patronizing depending on the situation.

Achebe’s use of the Igbo language, proverbs and speech patterns are carefully drawn from characters to create an African tale that effectively bridges the historical or cultural gap. Things Fall Apart is, therefore, a groundbreaking project for various reasons, but most importantly because Achebe manages to use the Igbo language in his English novel. This helped to communicate unique African experiences forever changing the world of literature!

Pronouncing Igbo Words and Names

Just like Chinese, the Igbo language is also a tonal one. Hence, the rise and fall of phrases and words in pitch produced various meanings. For instance, in the sixteenth chapter, Achebe shows how an Igbo Missionary translator cannot pronounce the Mbanto Igbo terms correctly. He kept saying ‘my buttocks’ instead of ‘myself.’ Interestingly the k form means strength while the capital ’K’ means buttocks. All in all the list of characters includes different pronunciations which use English syllables to describe different characters in the book.


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