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. How then have African language literatures been shaped by that debate? How have they fared since then?

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

  1. What ethical choices do we need to make when translating and analyzing an African-language text into another language (e.g., English)? What opportunities/challenges might the process of translation from African languages present for interpretation of those texts?
  2. What challenges do analyzing special religious texts pose? For example, what precautions should or should not be taken in translating sacred texts, such as, the Ifa literary corpus, which highly educated priests of Yoruba traditional religion have argued that only priests of Ifa should be entitled to translate and analyze?
  3. What are the best practices in responding to an African text in a language one does not speak?
  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, Ngugi wa Thiong’o etc.) to diversify our engagements with African and world literatures?
  5. How has the use of African languages changed over time—from antiquity to the present—in the context of nation-building, migrations, and democratic representation?
  6. How do African languages help or hinder the expression of minority identities (e.g., queerness)?
  7. 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.)?
  8. How do texts in African languages engage with universalism and cosmopolitan ethics?
  9. What is the role of endangered languages in African cultural production in the wake of colonialism and globalization?
  10. How have emergent African languages (e.g., creoles and pidgins) changed literary output and perspectives?
  11. How are non-African texts translated in African languages and how is a text translated from one African language to another?
  12. What role have literary prizes played in the development of African language literatures?

Please send your abstracts electronically to the special issue editor Evan Mwangi (evan-mwangi@northwestern.edu) and Serena Talento (serena.talento@uni-bayreuth.de)

by April 30, 2022, using the subject heading “JALA African Languages Issue.” Papers for accepted abstracts will be due by September 30, 2022. Essays should be between 7,000 and 8,000 words; should be in Word documents, using MLA 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 Evan Mwangi (evan-mwangi@northwestern.edu) and Serena Talento (serena.talento@uni-bayreuth.de)