Defying the Global Language: Perspectives in Ethnic Studies By Cheryl Toman



“An enriching and thought-provoking volume that brings into dialog seven essays, all thoroughly researched, convincing and well written. Its subtitle, Perspectives in Ethnic Studies, underscores its innovative nature and the dialogical dimension that emerge from these observations that fully complement each other … A first book-length discussion on the topic, it combines various areas in which global linguistic ensembles are being defied. Defying the Global Language thus inscribes itself in a redefined area of multiethnic approaches beyond the field and the scope of traditional ethnic studies.” – Metka Zupancic, Professor of French and Modern Languages, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa

“Through writing, we must make our diversity the new norm of a French cultural mosaic, much like Guillaume Apollinaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, or Noureddine Aba did. I find all of these cultural aspects discussed in Defying the Global Language.” – Patrice Aba, author of Approche de proches en croche (2011)

This collection of essays continues a conversation initiated by renowned intellectuals and writers worldwide and cross-culturally who have claimed ownership of what were previously considered colonial or vehicular languages. To cite just one example, Chinua Achebe in “The African Writer and the English Language” described African Anglophone literature as being written in ‘new English’—a language “still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings.” Achebe, similarly to many of his contemporaries, implies that this new Africanized English is not to be considered substandard but rather an authentic and even dominant language.

Not only does each essay here add to this conversation, but the overall collection shows the evolution of this intellectual debate through its analyses of similar perspectives in various cultural contexts as seen by several of Achebe’s peers such as Ahmadou Kourouma (Cote-d’Ivoire), Marilyn Chin (Chinese American), Jean Pliya (Benin), V.S. Naipaul (Indo-Caribbean), Patrick Chamoiseau (Martinique) and Gayl Jones (African American) to name a few. These diverse perspectives challenge the notion of a global language and highlight the realities of life and language in the Global South or even for those considered to be minorities in the world’s most powerful nations.

The essays use as their reference significant works of written and oral literature, theater, and media. The theories presented in these essays are some of the most important within the field of ethnic studies today and include perspectives from linguistic and literary theory as well as from feminist and disability theories. All essays look at notions of race, gender, class, and ethnicity and how these are expressed—or not—by language.

The essays demonstrate the latest trends in ethnic studies without dismissing the original theories that shaped the field. The introduction provides a brief overview of ethnic studies research in the United States and abroad and an explanation as to why such perspectives are best for understanding these essays collectively.

Like Achebe, creative minds worldwide have taken ownership of so-called global languages while refusing to accept that local or national languages are inferior or substandard simply because their speakers do not carry the same weight politically and economically. The official language of a nation is often a global language—English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, or Russian, among other languages—and is usually a legacy of colonialism, imperialism, or occupation. An awareness of local and national languages, however, is critical if one wishes to understand how citizens of the Global South appropriate global languages imposed upon them, making them their own despite globalization or other political and economic realities.

Patriarchy is included here as an example of a global language and it is important to recognize it as such. This collection therefore launches a further investigation into how patriarchy is embedded within the lexicon, morphology, and syntax of global languages and how such linguistic realities are perceived and manipulated by women and non-Westerners in particular.

Despite the reticence of some American ethnic studies programs to officially include the study of race, ethnicity, and gender from an international perspective, recent trends in ethnic studies research show that this is exactly what is happening in the field and for good reason—cross-border commonalities often challenge notions of “nation” and “state.” This collection aims to encourage more cross-linguistic and cross-cultural analyses of literature and supports new avenues of inquiry in ethnic studies.

Instead of merely acknowledging how global languages ultimately affect culture and society, Defying the Global Language is the first study of its kind to concentrate on how speakers of indigenous and/or local languages significantly appropriate a dominant language as their own as a means of decolonizing communication and reinforcing cross-border commonalities on all levels of political and economic power.. To date, there is no single work that is a cross-linguistic study of literature; all existing studies tend to focus on literature written in the same language because scholars, too, often fail to do defy a global language in research. The studies are thus bound instead by the common use of critical approaches in ethnic studies.

The book includes translations of rare oral poetry from the Grassfields region of Cameroon, published for the first time in any language.

Defying the Global Language is an important book for those in the fields of comparative literature, ethnic studies, linguistics (especially sociolinguistics), women’s and gender studies, African and African American studies, Asian studies, French and Francophone studies, Caribbean studies, English, disability studies, cultural studies, Middle Eastern studies, and postcolonial studies.