Achebe and English

  • “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use.” Chinua Achebe.

Writer and critic Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) is here commenting on the fate of his writing in a “world language” such as English, rather than in a language native to Nigeria, where he was born. Achebe explained that he wrote in English in order to present “African experience in a world-wide language” and also to create a new English with the ability to “carry the weight of my African experience.”

The statement is also a reminder to those who use English as a native language that their pride in its seeming universality must share space with respect for the expressive and creative uses inevitably coming down the road. The line above is from Achebe’s Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) and can be found in an essay anthologized as “The African Writer and the English Language” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick Williams and Laura Christman (Columbia UP). (Originally posted March 22, 2013)