JALA: Handling and Mishandling African-Language Texts

The Journal of African Literature Association invites essays for a special issue on literature and film in African languages. Building on the premise that the African continent and its islands and diasporas have been multilingual since antiquity and have produced remarkable literatures and films in African languages, this special issue seeks to explore the ways African linguistic diversity has been deployed in cultural production for aesthetic cultivation, cultural perception/projection, public engagement, and other ends. We are also interested in the ethics of studying African-language texts from privileged positions in the academy, especially where the views and political position of the researcher conflict with those of members of the linguistic community on sensitive practices and identities. The question of language has been central to African literatures at least since the debate at the Makerere Conference in 1962. We are particularly interested in responses to the controversies that have erupted around African-language texts and translations from and into African languages since the 21st century.

Submissions are invited on readings of African-language texts and on topics that include but are not limited to answering the following questions:

  1. Given the controversies that have sometimes erupted over the translation of certain African-language texts into European languages, what ethical and ideological principles should guide translation and analysis of an African-language text into another language (e.g., English)? What have been the consequences of choices made thus far, in for example emphasizing otherness and difference? To what extent have otherness and difference been collapsed under homogenizing and flattening translation choices in a number of well known translations? What opportunities/challenges might the process of translation from African languages present for interpretation of those texts?
  2. What challenges does the process of translating and analyzing religious pose? For example, what precautions should or should not be taken in translating sacred texts, such as, the Ifá sacred and literary corpus, which highly educated priests of Yoruba traditional religion have argued that only priests of Ifá should be entitled to translate and analyze?
  3. What principles should ideally inform translation of and responses to an African text in a language one does not speak? On what grounds would one set of principles be preferred to a different principles and practices? In what circumstances would a critical engagement with texts in an African language that one does not speak be permissible or not permissible for scholars in universities?
  4. How can we use theories of African languages by African thinkers (e.g., Boubacar Boris Diop, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Penina Muhando, Kwesi Wiredu, Gerda Mansour, Neville Alexander, Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o etc.) to diversify our engagements with African and world literatures?
  5. To what extent do these theories and debates about African language adequately account for or fail to account for the African-language texts that circulate mainly in the digital sphere or only as performances, but not as written texts? How should we rethink the arguments put forward about African-language print texts in light of the opportunities that have opened up for African-language texts in the digital sphere, as well as new opportunities for African-language performances that occur live or on digital platforms?
  6. How has the use of African languages changed over time, especially in the context of nation-building, migrations across and out of the continent, as well as that of democratic representation?
  7. How should we assess the role of African languages and African-language texts for the expression of minority identities (e.g., queerness)? How should we assess the deployment of African languages or African-language texts to either help or hinder the expression of such minority identities?
  8. In what ways do texts in African languages respond to emerging themes in world literatures (e.g., environmental crisis, technological and digital rights, non-binary sexualities, migrant identities, reading debates, etc.)? What does the presence or absence of these themes in African-language texts suggest about the position of African-language texts with respect to the pressing debates of the current era?
  9. How and to what extent have texts in African languages engaged with universalism and cosmopolitan ethics?
  10. What are the prospects for endangered languages in African cultural production in the wake of globalization, neoliberalism, and other political/economic formations that have become more pronounced during the 21st century?
  11. How have emergent African languages (e.g., creoles and pidgins) changed literary output and perspectives? What might recourse to these languages portend for the development of African-language literatures?
  12. What do the current trends in translating texts from one African language to another suggest about future developments for African-language literatures?
  13. To what extent have literary prizes been able to shift the position of African-authored texts in African-languages relative to African-authored texts in non-European languages, and the development of African language literatures? What kinds of recognition and awards would fundamentally alter the dynamics between African-language and European-language texts?

Please send your abstracts electronically to the special issue editor Moradewun Adejunmobi (madejunmobi@ucdavis.edu) and Serena Talento (serena.talento@uni-bayreuth.de)

by March 30, 2023, using the subject heading “JALA African Languages Issue.” Papers for accepted abstracts will be due by November 30, 2023. Essays should be between 7,000 and 8,000 words; should be in Word documents, using MLA 8th edition format for layout and citation. For purposes of blind reviewing, complete papers are to be submitted in two forms: (i) a full version with author’s details, and (ii) a completely anonymized version.

Address questions about the special issue to Moradewun Adejunmobi (madejunmobi@ucdavis.edu) and Serena Talento (serena.talento@uni-bayreuth.de)