Vernacular Palaver (review)
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Vernacular Palaver. By Moradewun Adejunmobi. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters Ltd, 2004. x + 224 pp. ISBN 1-85359-772-2 cloth; ISBN 1-85359-772-4 paper.

Starting her book with a succinct analysis of the etymology of the word "palaver," Moradewun Adejunmobi says that the term palaver in West African Pidgin English or Creole languages connotes "contentious discussion" (vii). She intends her Vernacular Palaver to "be a contribution to an often contentious discussion about vernacular in postcolonial world" (vii). But she approaches the debate over language from the angle of literary and cultural studies (viii) and sets out to shift attention to "the use of non-native languages from the construction of new sites of belonging" (54), for she sees that the debate has "foregrounded the function of language with regard to the specific ethnicity of historic mother tongue speakers over the fundamental operation of language in the formation of affiliations, ethnic or otherwise" (54).

Vernacular Palaver throughout its five chapters consequently explores the "general features and language practices" (176) of these new sites of belonging, emphatically highlighting how they are realized by means of non-native languages. Its cardinal, probing question recurring in various forms throughout its analysis can be said to be: "what kinds of fields of interaction and spaces of belonging are now being constituted through recourse" to non-native languages? (169). Her analysis designates European languages (the former colonizers' languages) together with lingua francas, most notably Pidgin English, Creole French, Arabic, and Kiswahili, as languages of wider communication, while mother tongues communicate effectively only within territorially circumscribed units and networks unless they are learnt and used outside their own particular domains. She uses the term "vernacular" to describe language "in its function as a mother tongue" (2) and describes the language of wider communication as "a non-native language, a secondary language enabling those who have acquired this language to form networks that do not rely on residence in the same location and or communication in a shared mother tongue" (166). The language of wider communication is apparently Adejunmobi's own invented terminology as her own tool to explore her own perspective on the palaver over language and identity. [End Page 213]

Chapter one begins with how the 1882 Ordinance in the case of southern Nigeria brought about the shifting ground about vernacular literacy between Nigerians, the colonial administration, and the missionaries. Her apt references to renowned Nigerian politicians and historians here attest to her analytical power over her ardently extensive research for the entire book. Apparently full well aware of the general knowledge of this history, she shifts her emphasis to how English, like French in its own colonial territory, turns out most poignantly to be an indispensable linguistic instrument of wider communication particularly for the nationalist movement engaged in its multifarious forms for self-determination. This movement was fundamentally concerned with the emergence of a multi-ethnic nation-state rather than with an individual ethnolinguistic group and its cultural distinctiveness. Thus, privileging the creation of a multi-ethnic and multilingual postcolonial nation-state over individual ethnolinguistic units, the politicians and the English-language creative writers, both as nationalists, employed the English language as the lingua franca for wider communication across multi-ethnic and multilingual units. This approach, Adejunmobi argues, should be recognized as a pragmatic necessity that demonstrated the various nationalists' sagacious interest in cultural and political solidarity instead of being viewed as an index of their complicity with the colonial hegemony; it was indeed an ironic instrument the various nationalists wielded most poignantly. Thus, English like French ought to be viewed as a language of wider communication rather than as a colonizer's language.

It is how the colonizer's language, particularly English and French, facilitated the formulation of political and cultural affiliations which reformulated "the spatial coordinates of belonging and the character of belonging" (91) that underlies chapters 2 and 3. The emergence of "Africa" together with its Africanness as "a space of cultural coherence and common political destiny" (61) was constructed upon the political and creative writing in European and non-native languages, her analysis highlights with copious and eloquent elaboration. It is in the context of...