The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #26 March / April 2017
Language Learning In The Globalization Era:
Translation, Culture And Power Relations
by Yéo N'gana
March / April 2017 | 

Although talking about such a topic can be slippery and complex, still there is a need and we cannot simply pretend not to be aware of it. Like most of my fellow countrymen, I have been raised and educated in a system whose design slightly differed from that of France, and in the books we studied, I never came across a passage pointing to the urgent need to develop national languages or a linguistics "patriotism". My school/ university friends and I would praise the French language as a chief and efficient tool of cohesion, for Côte d'Ivoire has around 60 to 62 local languages. The idyllic impression we had, would undoubtedly survive for a while but could not just be as perfect as each of us could, on our own, cast it in a long-term context. To promote a language is to, conscious or unconsciously, give it a "kind of" credit, and to an extent, revive a sense of belonging in both forbearers and heirs. I hope, through the following lines, to instigate some debate on how, as languages learners and/or languages users, we play a chief role in a language's fate. Let me begin by sorting out some of the motivations that propelled me on a new language learning stage:

Curiosity / entertainment

Language is like a kid whose genuine love no money could afford. One should emit some signs and some interest towards the new language; that means to create the vibe for the encounter. Completing what I just said, words are frail "Beings" whose principal will is to find a shelter and have some attention. Then, they reveal themselves and the marvelous scenery they veil. In a nutshell, they partner with you. The apprenticeship becomes funny. From that complicity with the language come emotions – as if invaded by an army of ants – the learner's world is painted with infinite colors as words smile at him/her.

In 1997, during a timid night marching over the city of Korhogo in northern Ivory Coast, I was seated on a long table revising my History lessons for the next school week. We lived in a vast yard where the residences were aligned face to face and formed a large rectangle. There was then a common space (called apatam) for pupils to meet and study. Next to me was a kid by the name of Nufo. I was in 4e (grade from the francophone education system, equivalent to year 8), a crucial stage because the student has to choose a new language between German and Spanish, to add to French and English already being studied. Nufo had chosen German. He seemed very happy with that choice. And the other pupils like me could feel it. He had a weird learning method purposely designed, I guess, to make us jealous of how happy he was. He would insist and read quite by singing out loud the expression "der Busen". I had no clue what it meant and I didn't care. What interested me was how he gave the German language a melody of his own with a local rhythm and flavor. I have to confess that not only did he succeed, he also made me a lover of Leuke the rabbit, a character used in his German learning book. Nufo would, when his parents had no sight of him, tell the other kids and me stories about the adventures of Leuke. We knew he was lying to us. But was that relevant? We were already his faithful public. Unfortunately, I ended up learning Spanish (I have nothing against Spanish, I do speak it today) for I moved to a school which only offered Spanish. My time listening to Nufo and his stories did give me, at that time, a reason to sprechen Deutsch and embrace its culture the way they were brought to me. Language learning is a venture. If your horse is not well fed, then you will not only waste your time blaming your language teachers, or learning programs, for nothing; but your apprenticeship process will also look like a punishment.

Duty / ambition

This is the most common case you may encounter. With globalization and the culture of internationalization that institutions and corporations adopt, language learning has become much more an obligation than a choice recently. On the one hand, if a worker wants to get a promotion, he had better understand others languages, and specifically English nowadays. Such a learner may find annoying the proper learning process, and finally ends up with a superficial knowledge on the subject. On the other hand, next to this depressive learner, lives another. A type of avatar who also has no interest in the language until a job position is made public. In the name of a long-time dream of promotion, s/he goes, unwillingly, to a language learning center to initiate what I call a "death wish" learning. This learner starts to learn only when an opportunity becomes available. I have knowledge of no software or language learning program, no method so far, no matter how efficient, capable of preparing such a person in only a month period. S/he might point to the inefficiency of this or that teacher's method. The unfortunate result may have him/her conceive himself or herself as a bad luck soul and denies his/her own God / gods. As to remember a quotation by the Roman philosopher Seneca "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity", which I am tempted to say that the American writer Zig Ziglar brought to the contemporary scene so well. Ziglar said "Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation". Language learning is an art. If so, it needs time to perfect. When one finds out the best way for oneself, then learning becomes fun and turns to be a long-time project as well.


Here is an interesting aspect of language learning that one ignores sometimes. As I stated at the beginning, language learning does not escape ideology. It can either confirm one's position on a specific aspect or it can model one's vision about that aspect. Learn a language and you will have a vision. Learn two languages and you will get two visions. Learn three, four, five languages, etc. and you will have the world at your shores. The more languages one gets to learn, the more open one tends to be. However, openness is preceded by membership and/or ownership in most cases. What foundations does one have to receive others? What culture? What language? When one engages oneself in language learning, one is preparing to encounter the world. Therefore, the language, culture and philosophy one has, constitutes, with no doubt, what those borderless travelers (language learners) relentlessly seek. Another point I deem really important to mention here is the survival project. For many African, Latin-American, Asian and European languages (the so-called minorities), this is a life and death issue. In Côte d'Ivoire, my country, we have about 62 local languages today down from approximately 92 before colonization. As one cannot think outside the language, I leave it to you to evaluate the knowledge we lose per day, per language, and you will certainly see how diversity is bowing down before a big M greedy kid (monolingual and monocultural). Ngugi wa Thiong'o, one of the most influential African contemporary writers and critics, summarized the situation very well when he said in an interview that If you know all the languages of the world and you do not your mother tongue or the language of your culture, that's enslavement. On the other hand, if you know your mother tongue or the language of your culture and you add all the languages of the world to it, this is empowerment. Ngugi is a Kenyan novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, editor, academic and social activist who spent his life fighting for the production of African Literature by Africans and in African languages. Among his well-known works, we have Decolonizing the Mind: The politics of Language in African literature first published in 1986. Author of many books including several in his mother tongue Gikuyu, he was imprisoned for that.

It is obvious then that when one ventures to think the relationship of Europe with Africa, it is hard not to perceive that a type of binarism tends to impose itself. I mean "you" and "us", "centre" and "periphery", "dominant" and "dominated, "colonizer" and "colonized", "master" and "slave", and so on. One could keep combining with only the sake of understanding the transforming relation network one witnesses. One does not need to be a specialist before feeling some of these influences in real life. After I have read The Identity Card (1983) by Jean-Marie Adiaffi, the perception of an existing linguistics ideal that my friend and I had about French language changed. And I am happy the Ivorian intellectuals perceived it, and I would like to mention two of many: Professor Kouadio Jérémie (dean of the Faculty of Languages, Literature and Civilizations – UFHB) and Professor Ettien Koffi (who prompted himself for any constructive discussion on the topic. He is professor of Linguistics at St Cloud State University, MN USA. He owns and Thank you for the great work you've have done so far.

In fact, as I mentioned above, most of the books we studied, if not inspired by the French models, were printed in France. That is okay. But reading Adiaffi, had me think twice on the potential influence that the French language had and still has upon me and upon my own language, Senufo. Subsequently, does speaking Senufo, Dioula, Agni, Bambara etc. have any global symbolic value? Very little.  For I judge The Identity Card (1983) by Adiaffi fundamental to raise the awareness on language learning act as a factor of social change, I set to translate it. But translation, for one who loves languages and reading, implies more than simply displacing or substituting some words of a language by others of another language. It requires reflections that are not simple at all.

On translation

Today's language learners are likely to be tomorrow's translators. That is, they will help perpetuate traditions and/or save some people's culture and history. In relation to the translation theories that may help think of the process, I have read an article of Professor Paul Bandia entitled Is Ethnocentrism an Obstacle to Finding a Comprehensive Translation Theory? There is a passage where he clearly shows that no theoretician is just "innocent (my own term)", and I would like to bring it herein. My comments only aim at instilling some conversation and the interpretation is all mine. Professor Bandia said:

The multidisciplinary foundation of Translation Studies (TS) appears to be on shaky ground as finding a common voice in this "babelic" approach to TS is still quite elusive. There is a tendency for each school of thought to want to tighten its grip on TS sometimes to the exclusion (or detriment) of other views. Defining one's approach by merely seeking to destroy others will certainly not take us very far. The situation is further complicated by a strong desire for cultural (nationalistic) assertion, which is rather ironic as TS by definition deals with at least two cultural systems. Given its bi-lingual and bi-cultural nature, one would expect TS to be more of a "negotiating" (or cooperative) discipline rather than one in which different ethno-cultural groups try to score points. Most books dealing with scholarly research in TS today have their ethno-cultural agenda to push. (Bandia, 1995, 488)

This caught my attention because from what he said, two essential strands may surge: an ideological etnoculturalism and a corporate etnoculturalism, even though the proper term "etnoculturalism" is already ideology implicit. The first one, the ideological ethnoculturalism, relates here to the academic ego, will of power and control. We know, and it still happens in some minds, that translation both as a profession and as a research field has always been linked to others fields of study. Of course, studies have shown that the collaboration of Translation Studies (TS) with other fields of study has been really fruitful to some extent principally in the early 1990s when "culture" (the so-called cultural turn) came to occupy a central position in the field. While some seized this openness as an opportunity to expand and root their ideas and visions, others celebrated it as an occasion to affirm themselves and reach as many people as possible. Not only are this type of ideological disputes common and resistant to time, they are also required for knowledge to surge and perpetuate. Nonetheless, in the context of ideological ethnoculturalism, the celebration revolves around the researcher's culture or his school of thought. Newly born and weak schools and cultures might be trampled. How many research works have been carried out in our Universities? So many. But how many researchers refer to them? Ideological ethnoculturalism may be so deeply rooted in a society, in an academy that local studies may tend to sentence their own findings.

The real point, I think, is that one should learn to value what one has available. Both professors and students should learn to mutually highlight their respective achievements. To give you an example, during the writing of his doctoral thesis, a friend of mine wanted to use a Brazilian thinker and another from Congo to talk about discourse formation and his advisor would impose him to use Foucault's Archeology of knowledge. If the advisor belongs to or subscribed to a school of thought, shall his advisee do the same? Absolutely not. Some advisees even feel impelled to quote their advisors to please them and/or draw the attention of the latter on their research, or to easily fit in the system. Then one sees that students begin to gradually lose self-confidence and come to partly or totally depend on their advisors. Even if there is no reason to generalize, though these situations exist and may be a direct consequence of a strong ideological etnoculturalism. This impact is more visible in "ex-colonies" and in so-called "peripheral cultures" where there seems to be a space to conquer.

With regard to corporate ethnoculturalism, it refers to the mercantile culture of the actors involved in the interaction. It highlights that such actors are moved by a business agenda, self-achievement and fame. Translation Studies cannot and do not miss that point. And translators, most of the time, closely depend on the Editing system which from one country to another can be more or less conservative. In spite of the fundamental role internet (let's say technology overall, TV) has played in reducing this gap, researchers can now promote their own works, and translators can explore new markets be they e-translation, subtitling, etc.

Wait a minute! Editors continue to control the distribution line. Their long-time relationship with academia certainly helps maintain their power. Being in control of the market, they can dictate its laws, and therefore [re]frame the rules whenever need be. So, who is that powerful Editor? What is the problem? How to cope with it? Related to the African context, the creation of Présence Africaine by Alioune Diop and Silex by Paul Dakeyo has given Africans anthologies a new breath and serve as a response to the issues just raised. African literary works in general and francophone African literature in particular, during and after the colonial Era, were edited in Europe. No need to say that writers' discourse could not be the same if they owned publishing companies. This is absolutely essential in the corporate ethnoculturalism' chain. It is a network. In the corporate ethnoculturalism, even, theories' role is to meet the needs of the institutions they belong to.

There is no doubt that in both cases, ideological and corporate etnoculturalism, when the migration flows go from North to South, it is always prejudicial for African languages, literature and cultures. So here is a tip:

Choose your own hero!

You have certainly noticed that, up-to-now, no theoretical mention has been made in compliance to Africa. One could wonder if Africans had a different agenda at that time. Those who lived in their countries, perhaps. They were busy thinking how to avoid unfortunate situations like the Rwandan calamity, the Biafra war, repeated coup d'états, constant war in Soudan, picking up chronic famine victims in Somalia, etc. At that time, the idea of globalization was also being spread in a continent where some people, due to many factors, would fight for their daily subsistence. The education system was being reshuffled. When I was a kid, I lived in a city called Korhogo generally referred to as "Région du Poro" – Poro Region in the North of Côte d'Ivoire. I guess you are asking yourself what this might mean. The substantive Poro, misleadingly associated with a mask, is the name of the whole tradition in the region. Before a young boy becomes a man, he has to undergo some rituals. He has to prove himself to worth being called man. In that practice, we have heroes; people who impacted the traditions. People who will forever remain legends for future generations. In the life of the majority of African languages about 2, 000 now, many achievements have been done through history for before the exploration of the continent. Other Africans before and after the Egyptian Era have contributed to knowledge building. The misunderstanding of the way they managed and transmitted their knowledge may have betrayed them and condemned them to status of non-existence. For instance, the social organization of Agni people in Côte d'Ivoire and Zulu in South Africa, just to mention two examples, in terms of education, philosophy, and politics seems not to suffice. I understand why many people think, although tacitly, that the intellectual production of Africa began with the contact with European explorers. That is not correct. Those of the Africans who stood up against any kind of enslavement were made public enemies, like the case of Samory Touré.

Time is ripe, perhaps, for us to all engage in a didactical project to mold, little by little, people's conception on those topics. Of course, it will not change from day to night. 500 years of enslavement will not vanish as if it was a mere dust. I salute here the efforts of my friend John Rigdon who invested himself in promoting the Haitian language, literature and culture. Before him Ngugi wa thiong'o, Thomas Mofolo, and many writers in the Northern Africa, had explored that approach in their respective living places. When one learns a language, one is, most of the time, going to be fascinated by a historical figure whose trajectory is depicted in the literature. Willingly or not, that figure will influence and condition the learner's vision of that culture and of those people.

Yéo N'gana is a Ph.D Candidate in Translation Studies (PGET/PEC-PG) at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Brazil. He is interested in Textualization Process, African Literature, and Cultural Translation.

Language Learning In The Globalization Era
Writer: Yéo N'gana
Petey: All images used are Public Domain

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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In this issue:
Main Contents
Letter From The Editor Letter From The Editor - Nom de Plume
News Brief News Brief
Mark Your Calendar Mark Your Calendar
Language Learning In The Globalization Era: Language Learning In The Globalization Era: - Translation, Culture And Power Relations
When Pigs Fly When Pigs Fly
Introducing Words R Us Introducing Words R Us
Languages in Peril Languages in Peril - The Good Language of Brazil
In Focus In Focus
At the Cinema At the Cinema - Un Sac de Billes
Language Puzzles Language Puzzles
Where Are You? Where Are You?
Book Look Book Look - Aikainen lintu nappaa madon. Sananlaskuja läheltä ja kaukaa
Basic Guide to Croatian Basic Guide to Croatian
At A Glance At A Glance

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