“La Langue de nos maîtres”: Linguistic hierarchies, dialect, and canon decolonization during and after the Présence Africaine Congress of 1956

Dunstan, S. C. (2021) “La Langue de nos maîtres”: Linguistic hierarchies, dialect, and canon decolonization during and after the Présence Africaine Congress of 1956. Journal of Modern History, 93(4), pp. 861-895. (doi: 10.1086/717129)

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Abstract

Very little attention has been paid to the role of language in the Présence Africaine debates over British and French decolonization in the 1950s and early 1960s. My article fleshes out this history by exploring how key intellectuals connected to the journal and publishing house understood the relationship between race, decolonization, and language. First, I sketch out the historical context for these debates and explain the raison d’être of Présence Africaine as a journal and publishing house, focusing particularly on the interventions its editors sought to make. Then I connect these contexts to a discussion of the contributions of key intellectuals to the 1956 Présence Africaine Congress of Black Writers and Artists. While most of the participants in the 1956 congress agreed that language as a fundamental building block and conveyor of culture would be crucial to this project, they were far from reaching a consensus on how or why that would be the case. Their discussions went beyond choosing between particular languages to parsing out arguments for deploying language as a tool for managing the legacies of Western civilization and the status of particular cultures within understandings of modernity and human psychology. Questions of dialect and accent as indicators of race, for example, were analyzed alongside discussions about the nature of authentic language use and the power structures embedded in the configurations of different languages. These debates were refracted through the parallel question of how the canon of Western thought was (and continues to be) constituted.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Dunstan, Dr Sarah
Authors: Dunstan, S. C.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Journal of Modern History
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
ISSN:0022-2801
ISSN (Online):1537-5358
Published Online:01 December 2021

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