Chamoiseau – Solibo Magnificent

Chamoiseau, Patrick. Solibo Magnificent. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. Print.

The story of Solibo Mangnificent composed by Patrick Chamoiseau is an example of oraliture in that it combines the devices of both orature and literature. The “telling” of the story uses oral devices throughout the story, but then in the second section “After the Word: Document of the Memory” we are given a fuller “telling” of the story that approximates the way Solibo spoke with the people the night of his death. Here Solibo speaks of a place after death without French colonization; without “Arif-France, no bekes plantations or factories, or big stores (172).

In the third section, “Bringing the Word,” Rose-Myriam Réjouis gives the afterword supplying a greater context to understand Chamoiseau’s work. Réjoius helps the reader to understand Chamoiseau as the “word scratcher” making way for a “new” story writing now that Solibo, oral Créole expression is dying/ dead (177). She concludes that “Chamoiseau’s text is thus a tale about the birth of his own linguistic creativity (181); one that explores the plurality of voices – Créole and French and oral and literary.

Chamoiseau also charts out new territory by writing in his own invented language, one that neither those from Martinique of France speak, Fréole (a hybrid of French and Créole).

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Fanon – The Negro and Language

Fanon, F. “The Negro and Language.” Black skin, white masks (1967): 17-40. Print.

In this chapter, Frantz Fanon used the example of the “Negro” in Antilles as an example of challenges that colonized people face regarding language. Blacks in Antilles, specifically Martinique, were pressured to speak French as opposed to Creole. By speaking French, Fanon explained that Blacks could become more “white;” achieve higher social status and think of themselves as being equal to whites in society as can be seen in his personal example:

“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is. Rather more than a year ago in Lyon, I remember, in a lecture I had drawn a parallel between Negro and European poetry, and a French acquaintance told me enthusiastically, ‘At bottom you are a white man.” The fact that I had been able to investigate so interesting a problem through the white man’s language gave me honorary citizenship.” (38)

Fanon explicitly extended his example  of the “Negro” in Antilles to represent larger issues of colonized people. He broadly defined colonized people as “every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality” (18). Fanon detailed the process in which the colonized is expected and pressured to conform to the colonizer’s standards, particularly as it relates to language, and the types of alienation that can occur as a result.

Fanon argued that the European had a fixed image of the Black man (same can be said for whites in the U.S. and throughout the world in accordance to his colonial analogy). Language is used to reinforce this image: “to make him talk pidgin is to fasten him to the effigy of him, to snare him, to imprison him, the eternal victim of an essence, of an appearance for which he is not responsible” (35).

Fanon also pointed out the potential for upward mobility in race and social class through the acquisition of the colonial language  or language that bears more social capital, in this case, French. However, even when this mastery is accomplished, Fanon asserted that Blacks are still seen as suspect and outsiders:

“… what I am trying to say is that there is no reason why André Breton should say of [Aimé] Césaire ‘Here is a black man who handles the French language as no white man today can.'” (39)

Smitherman – Word From The Mother

“to speak . . . means to assume a culture . . .every dialect is a way of thinking.”

–Frantz Fanon (1967)

In Geneva Smitherman’s Word from the Mother, Smitherman speaks with maternal authority and explores the push-pull relationship that both African and White America have with African American Language. Through an overview of AAL debates past and present, Smitherman demonstrates that while White and African America are still undecided on how they feel about Black people and their culture, there is nothing ambivalent about AAL; it has roots, consistent rules and continues to have a recognizable impact on mainstream America and the language of wider communication, “standardized” American English. Smitherman also makes the case that because of this we should broaden the concept of AAL beyond the notion that it is only for and used by young Hiphoppas, but that AAL should be included in writing pedagogy at all levels, as well as, a national bi/multilingual policy for all U.S. citizens.

Smitherman asserts that AAL is rooted in the West African languages that enslaved Africans brought to the United States over 400 years ago.

“AAL comes out of the experience of the U.S. slave descendants. This shared experience has resulted in common speaking styles, systematic patterns of grammar, and common language practices in the Black community.” (3)

Smitherman points to similarities in words of West African origin and AAL to demonstrate the connection between the two languages. For example, she compares the “tote” as in tote bag and “tota” meaning to carry in Kikongo. Smitherman uses these similarities and research to disprove the notion that AAL is random and an indication of genetic inferiority. “Linguists then and now are united in our overwhelming rejection of assertions that AAL is illogical or evidence of some kind of intellectual shortcoming in Blacks.” (11)

Although many still deny AAL’s legitimacy and value as a language form, Smitherman presents undeniable evidence of the linguistic crossover of terms that were at one point exclusively Black and are now enjoyed by all. The “high five” previously known as giving and getting skin/ five has its roots in West Africa.

There are several West African language sources, including Mandingo, I golo don m bolo, meaning literally “put your skin in my hand” as an expression of agreement and solidarity. Practiced on the down low in Black America for most of the entire twentieth century, “put your skin in my hand” morphed into the “high five” around 1990 . . . one can observe its use not only among White males, but also among elite White women on the golf course as well as among elderly White females confined to nursing homes (113).

If this text had been written after the 2008 presidential campaign, I’m sure Smitherman would have also addressed the closed fist variation used by then Black Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, which later became known to White America as the popular “fist bump” only after they were assured there was no terrorist affiliation indicated by it.

The bottom line in Word from the Mother is that AAL or Negro Dialect as it was once called should not be seen as a hindrance to African American progress. In chapter 7, Smitherman debunks the argument put forward by Gordon C. Green in 1963 that Negro Dialect would be the last barrier to integration. At that time, Green argued that within the next generation all signs of segregation and overt racism would be eliminated and that Black folk needed to lose their dialect in order to reap the benefits of the societal about-face. Smitherman points out that the de-facto segregation that is still present forty years after Green’s plea has nothing to do with AAL. “Indeed, the irony of Green’s four-decades-old argument is that in the U.S., the “Negro Dialect” has been integrated, but the “Negro people” have not.” (122)

Smitherman argues against simplistic approaches to AAL and attempts to move the conversation to higher ground by discussing possible uses in education. She explores language awareness programs in elementary and secondary school that serve to develop and reaffirm positive attitudes toward AAL. “Education about language diversity has to start early on – with all children” (138). She also cites Gwendolyn Pough’s use of Hip-hop pedagogy in her college courses as “a vehicle for critical thinking and social change” (141).

However, the broader issue, Smitherman concludes, is what kind of stance we will take as a nation concerning acquisition of language. Smitherman suggests a bi/multilingual national policy where AAL would be one of several languages that students could select. Students would also study the respective cultures of the languages offered and therefore be prepared to enter the adult world as bi/multilinguals with global perspectives (141). Smitherman argues that this is a better strategic position than the current monolingual policy and practice encouraged by No Child Left Behind. “While the twenty-first-century world is moving in a common direction of multilingualism, the U.S. remains stagnated in a backward monolingualism” (144).

Regardless of the continued linguistic push-pull relationship White and African America have with African American Language it has stood the test of time for over 400 years and it is here to stay.