English versus African worldview


AFRICANS, who raise their children speaking only English, will only succeed in having their children’s worldview the same as those of English people.
Their children will have no other way of knowing that the world they see and express in English is quite different from the world that other people see and express in their own languages.
This is so because each human language maps the world differently.
Each tongue construes a set of possible worlds and geographies which other languages cannot construe in the same way.
Even where it is spoken by a handful of survivors in societies destroyed by war or nature, a language contains within itself the boundless potential of discovery and re-compositions of reality.
So, when a language dies, a whole world dies with it.
There is no survival of the fittest.
Those who deny a people to speak their own languages and impose their own languages upon others, will also ultimately impose their worldview upon others.
So, an African child who is brought up speaking only English will inevitably think and dream in English.
He will be carrying the white man’s worldview and culture in his head, heart and soul the rest of his life.
When the Shona speak of Mwari and the English speak of God, the African child who is brought up speaking only English will not understand the differences between “Mwari akasika munhu” and “God created man.”
Munhu is not “man” in Shona.
To translate Mwari akasika munhu to “God created man” is to misrepresent the African view of God and gender.
Mwari is not gendered in Shona.
Munhu is not gendered in Shona.
“To create” is not the same as “kusika.”
“Kusika” is to “spin” whereas “to create” is to form or mould.
The process of coming up with people through spinning is quite different from the process of moulding people with clay or mud.
The challenge of using English to depict African worldview is what James Baldwin meant when he said, “It was intended that you should perish in the ghetto.
“Perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name.”
But when Baldwin himself says, “What Negroes want is to be treated like men,” he falls into the same trap he is trying to escape from.
That is, of saying ‘men’ to also mean ‘women’.
Commenting on this challenge of trying to depict the African thought in English, Achebe once said, “This problem of saying ‘man’ when you mean both ‘man’ and ‘woman’ does not exist in every language.
“In my native Igbo tongue, ‘man’ has never been allowed so casually to embrace ‘woman’ as in English.”
So, Achebe says, “In view of the advances made in unmasking the innate sexism in the English language, I will take the liberty to alter Baldwin’s ‘men’ to ‘people,’ although ‘people’ lacks the archaic resonance of ‘men.’”
This problem of saying ‘men’ to mean both male and female is also found in Heidegger’s statement that, “Man thinks he is speaking when in actual fact it is language speaking through man.
“Man agrees with language and language agrees with man.”
Heidegger also uses ‘man’ here to include ‘woman’.
This practice of gendering everything is dictated by the English language so that it is not Baldwin who is speaking, but the English language speaking through Baldwin.
It is not Heidegger speaking, but the English language speaking through Heidegger.
Both Baldwin and Heidegger must therefore find a language that spells their worldview and thoughts correctly outside the box of the English language.
Now, for us Africans, the use of the English language without knowledge of an African language as a backup will not help us spell our proper worldview.
For instance, the whole statement that, “Negroes want to be treated like men,” falls squarely into the trap of the English view of the African as a ‘Negro’ which Baldwin seems to accept.
The English language says the African is a Negro and Baldwin, for want of an African language says the same thing.
“Negroes want to be treated like men” also falls into the English view of the ‘male’ as the standard by which the humanity of ‘women’, ‘Africans’ and all peoples of the world is measured.
For, according to the English language, woman, human, humanity and female are all appendages of ‘man’ and ‘male’.
When Baldwin says “What Negroes want is to be treated like men,” he means like ‘white men’ as the standard, not ‘black men’ like himself.
Again, ‘to be treated’ is passive, not active.
It implies that Africans are ‘objects’ that are acted upon, not ‘agents’ of their own destiny.
‘To be treated’ gives the initiative of action back to the whitemen as saviour of Africans.
The correct position as expressed in Shona and other African languages is that Africans are not Negroes.
They are Africans or vanhu/abantu (plural).
The singular is munhu/umuntu.
They are not passive, but active.
They define themselves in their own terms and languages.
They do not take the ‘whitemen’ as their point of reference in defining themselves.
When Achebe says he can use the English language to express the African worldview, he is speaking from the vantage point of speaking both English and his Igbo tongue.
He is therefore able to make English speak Igbo.
Another way of putting it is that he is able to make me and you hear him speak Igbo in English.
Such a feat cannot be done by a person whose only way of seeing the world is through the English language.



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