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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Relativism, universalism, and the language of African literature
Author:Mazrui, AlaminISNI
Periodical:Research in African Literatures
Geographic term:Africa
Subjects:ethnic literature
Abstract:The presumed opposition between linguistic relativism and linguistic universalism has long been at the centre of the debate about the use of language in African literature. Universalists (N. Chomsky) contend that all languages are equally capable of expressing sophisticated and creative thought. Relativists (E. Sapir and B.L. Whorf) argue that each language is encoded with a particular mode of thought, a metaphysics that affects the speaker's experience at the level of perception. They regard the use of African languages as indispensable in the quest for an authentically African literature. This paper deals with the question of whether the African experience lends greater credibility to one hypothesis or the other. It shows that neither the psycholinguistic evidence nor the African sociopolitical experience support the deterministic positions that are characteristic of both relativism and universalism. At both levels of analysis, the two hypotheses actually complement each other. In any language, the particular and the universal work together in harmony with each other, and any language can be a weapon of either colonization or liberation. Bibliogr.