writing in the language of the dominant

I went to the keynote for the Global Conversations conference, sponsored by the UC Irvine International Center for Writing and Translation, this morning. It was given by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, whose books I have always meant to read but never have. The theme of the conference is how to address marginalized languages, and his keynote made a number of points that I thought were interesting.

Firstly, he had to address the issue of the rich body of literature, especially postcolonial literature, that is written in the langugage of the colonizers. It’s not just a colonial issue, so the appropriate binary here is dominant/marginalized. The overarching point was that writing in the language of the dominant impoverishes the local — it enables the access to the world stage but disables the home culture by taking away new cultural products. “Visibility in the dominant becomes invisibility in the marginalized,” he said. What then, is the place of conversation between different marginalized communities? While not outright calling for an activism or solidarity movement, he posed a goal of the conference as to kickstart the interactions that might initiate.

A second smaller point had to do with paralleling the language of technology transfer from industrialized to developing nations to more general knowledge and cultural production. While it’s true that strategies for preservation and revitalization can be transferred, the “working together” is what’s really interesting. Can different marginalized linguistic communities work together without losing something?