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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 205-206

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Book Review

Pidginisation et Créolité en littérature africaine et antillaise

Pidginisation et Créolité en littérature africaine et antillaise. Spec. issue of Palabres: revue d'études africaines 2.3 (1999): 1-145.

The title of this issue of Palabres bears careful attention. Though paired in it, "pidginization" and "Créolité" are very different creatures that normally should not cohabit.

Pidginization refers to the process of "mutual accommodation" through which certain kinds of contact language arise when there is no alternative medium of communication (for more information readers might look at Sarah G. Thompson, Contacted Languages, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1997). Créolité, on the other hand, is an ideological construct, one with a relatively short shelf-life. As Rafael Lucas's piece in this issue suggests, its appeal has already, after a mere ten years, begun to fade. Créolité, moreover, should not be confused with creolization, either the linguistic process that sometimes follows pidginization or the various forms of cultural hybridity frequently celebrated in Caribbean but also now in postmodern and postcolonial literature world wide. Finally, Créolité has little to do with writing in actual Creole languages, its birth as the banner of the manifesto Eloge de la Créolité (1989) being almost contemporary with the shift of one of its three authors, Raphaël Confiant, from Martinican Kréyol to French. Confiant had been far and away the most prolific writer in Kréyol; as Rafael Lucas complains, he has become even more prolific in French.

Lucas's critique of Eloge is far from the only brickbat thrown in the general direction of Confiant and its other two authors, Patrick Chamoiseau and Jean Bernabé. Life is tough for the French intelligentsia, including--or perhaps especially--those from its periphery, who must fight hard with no holds barred for even a bare modicum of success. Lucas shows how the authors of this manifesto, purportedly a major statement in the sequence of Légitime Défense, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, and Edouard Glissant's Discours antillais, astutely but in many ways unfortunately played the literary cards dealt to them. He does not dismiss their achievement entirely, singling out Jean Bernabé for his intellectual rigor--an assessment with which I agree: Bernabé's three-volume study of Martinican and Guadeloupean Kréyol is an academic masterwork chock-full of ideas yet to be mined (Fondal-Natal, Paris: L'Harmattan, 1983). Lucas is nonetheless concerned with the negative aspects of Eloge, and in particular how its "conceptual confusions" have complicated the cultural dialogue between Africa and the Antilles (27).

Africa is home to almost a thousand languages, but very few Creoles. Swahili is sometimes said to be a Creole, but is not, its grammar being basically Bantu. This leaves Kituba and Lingala and perhaps Sango as the prominent examples of "pidgin-creoles" based on African languages. Both Sierra Leonean Krio and Capeverdean Crioulo, respectively of English and Portuguese lexical base, have social and even literary status. Also, there is evidence the English-based pidgins of West Africa are acquiring native speakers and hence becoming creolized, and this issue of Palabres contains a short but informative piece by Bot Dieudonné Martin-Luther on [End Page 205] Cameroonian camfranglais, sometimes called Kamtok, which is increasingly rule-governed, as linguists say, and hence more and more a language in its own right. But unless "creolization" is equated with just any old shake-and-bake hybridity, the quintessentially Caribbean and one might even say narrowly Martinican fascination with it is of marginal application to Africa.

Pidginization is a different matter. Not only will varieties of English, French, Portuguese, and hello, Arabic continue to develop across Africa, but in the streets, in homes, in the media and in writing, pidgins like Kamtok or Nigerian Pidgin English (NPE in linguist shorthand) will prosper. They have resulted naturally from the complex contact situations of urban Africa, and the realities they convey cannot be dismissed by ukase. Nor...


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