Globalization, Translation and
Indigenous Languages:
A Nigerian Case Study
Olumayowa Francis Ajayi
[email protected]
History of Translation in Africa
• Pre-colonial era: Oral communication; need for translators
(interpreters) to facilitate inter-communal trade. Translation between
indigenous languages.
• Colonial era: Introduction of English. 3 major languages (Yoruba, Ibo
& Hausa) + 510 others (Efurosibina, 2004). Need for translators:
colonial administrators↔ subjects.
• Post-colonial era: Globalization has sounded the death knell of
many Nigerian indigenous languages. New wave of multiculturalism
and inter-cultural communication have induced cultural and linguistic
challenges (Sager, 1997) such as decline of languages.
• Can translation mitigate this trend?
Political globalization
• Creation of a common government, seeking to advance
and regulate networks between different nation states,
often resulting in economic cooperation.
• “Growth of a European continental identity or polity over
and above national identities…” (Wilss, 1999).
• Organizational and linguistic needs of the EU have
increased significantly due to the resulting
• Cardinal principle of pluralism and equality will be
damaged if the EU were to impose a single language.
The Nigerian Experience
• ECOWAS has broadened
Nigeria’s linguistic horizon,
leading to the engagement of
translator’s on a massive
• ECOWAS’ working languages
are English, French and
• No translations in and out of
Nigerian indigenous
• If Nigeria is to see regional
cooperation as an avenue to
compete effectively in the
global economy, we may as
well kiss indigenous languages
• The adoption of European
languages as working
languages may be justified as
financial implication of
maintaining full multilingualism,
bringing on board all native
languages, will be too
• Besides, translators will be
unable to cope with the
complex web of language pairs
resulting from translating
between indigenous
• Contd.
“The more the number of diverse
languages and cultures, the more
intricate, the more complex
language planning decisions are
likely to be, especially when there
are competing and powerful
political and ethnolinguistic blocks
within the country, bent on bringing
their political and linguistic agenda
into focus.” (Efurosibina, 2004)
• “The best lingua franca
. Nigeria can ever
have is English, considering the country’s
complex nature of multilingualism and the
disadvantages of choosing one regional
language over the other. ” (Alan, 1978)
• Questions raised as to what the way
forward might be!
Compositional translation a
• Consensus opinion: English should remain
official language, though indigenous languages
should be taught in schools.
• This will ensure effective participation in global
affairs, thus contributing to global multicultural
• Snell-Hornby examines the emergence of a
‘McEnglish’ which serves as a “common
denominator for supranational communication.”
• This is also used to reflect a specific cultural
identity, e.g. texts written by post-colonialist
• Adejunmobi (1998) refers to them as
‘compositional translations’- texts which involve
African postcolonialist writing in a European
language, but which depict African native
language thinking.
• Chinua Achebe (cited in Mehrez, 1992) believes
that the African writer should endeavour to use
English which is both universal and also able to
reflect the writer’s peculiar experience, a new
English that conforms to original norms and
standards but ‘altered to suit its new
Milton and Bandia’s (2009), in Agents of
translation, examine the way in which certain
‘agents’ bring about ‘major historical, literary and
cultural transitions/changes/innovations through
• The argument here is that African writers have,
wittingly or unwittingly, become agents of
translation by virtue of the very fact that they,
through their writings, demonstrate a kind of
rejection of and fight against social and linguistic
neo-colonization through making available their
intrinsic cultural values, folktales, poetry etc in
English and other major languages of the world.
• Soyinka’s translation of Daniel Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode
ninu Igbo Irunmole into The Forest of A Thousand
Demons presents a typical case of the Yoruba culture
being brought into the global literary sphere through an
innovative and aesthetic re-expression of its folktale and
idioms in English.
• Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart is dotted with Igbo
words, phrases, folktales and proverbs, thus bringing the
oral tradition o the Igbo people into the limelight.
• Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard, however,
sprung up controversies; many considered his English
‘broken’ but attuned to Yoruba’s cultural nuances.
• …Tutuola’s is neither a “young” nor a
“broken” English, but rather a YorubaEnglish that operates with a rhythm and
internal logic all its own… [His] YorubaEnglish is also significant given that it
speaks to the blending of cultures and
languages that permeates the novel as a
whole. … [Besides] most of the text has its
grounding in traditional Yoruba tales…
• - Lauren Grantz
• By this very act of re-expressing
terms in English, the aforementioned ‘agents of
translation’ attempt to bring their native cultures
into global limelight. Milton and Bandia (2009)
sum up our argument in the following words:
• “Many minority cultures have survived the
onslaught of dominant languages through a
deliberate translation of themselves into such
global languages, which they subvert through
innovative linguistic practices to assert their
identity on the world stage.”
Some analysts disagree with the concept of compositional translation.
Adewuni (2007), for example, argues that African post-colonial writers do
not necessarily qualify be referred to as translators by virtue of the fact that
they think in their native languages and write in European languages, as
this does not constitute a part of the traditional approach to translating.
The truth is some of these indigenous languages are no longer considered
as viable in view of the fact that they are now used by a microscopic few
whose impact on the global economy is very minimal;Njanga for e.g. has
less than 30 speakers left, speakers of Holma have switched to Fulfude.
Others like Yoruba, spoken in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Sierra-Leone,
Brazil, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, by over 50 million people, will stay
around a lot longer through effective language planning at local, national
and global levels.
Besides, horizontal translating between indigenous languages should be
encouraged though doubts exist as to how sustainable this initiative might
be in view of the lackadaisical attitude of even native speakers towards their
• Globalization has fostered linguistic neocolonilization i.e. dominance of English and
other major languages over Nigerian indigenous
• Language planning at various levels of
government may help to boost the status of
some of these languages. Others considered
non-viable might lose out.
• However, if the intrinsic values of these
languages and cultures are preserved by way of
compositional translation, a lot more success will
be recorded.
Conclusion contd.
• Post-colonial African writers, through the use of
a combination of skills such as bilingualism,
poetic adroitness and linguistic re-engineering,
serve as cultural mediators, agents of
translation, keeping their local languages and
cultures alive and, of course, helping to assert
their cultures within the global socio-cultural and
political spheres.
• The concept of compositional translation has
demonstrated a shift in the continuum in the
global understanding of translation, from a
purely linguistic activity to a socio-cultural
phenomenon, one which now involves reexpressing cultural nuances in other languages.
Thanks for your attention
Merci beacoup
E se pupo

Globalization, Translation and Indigenous Languages: A