S. J. Timothy-Asobele
During this year 2019 Nigerian International Book Fair held at Jelili Omotola Hall former Multi-Purpose Hall, at The University of Lagos, Akoka Yaba, Lagos from 5 – 10th May, 1 stumbled on a book on sale at University of Ibadan Press Stand titled: Bilingualism: An Inaugural Lecture delivered on Foundation Day, November 17th, 1948 by Paul, Christophersen and published for the University of College, Ibadan, by METHUEN & Co. Ltd. London. Bilingualism: Who is a bilingual?
The only definition that is possible is a person who knows two languages with approximately the same degree of perfection as unilingual speakers of those languages.1 Can we say Amos Tutuola is a bilingual? Amos Tutuola was born in 1920 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. He first entered his home village school at the age of twelve and in 1934 he entered the Lagos High School. At the death of his father in 1939 Tutuola was forced to end his formal education. In 1942 he joined the Royal Air Force as a blacksmith.2
Despite a somewhat abbreviated formal education, Tutuola originally wrote all of his novels in English.3 The success of his stories prompted him to translate a number of his works into his native language, Yoruba thus demonstrating his bilingual status.4 The next question is how perfect is Amos Tutuola mastery of the English Language, which he learnt for only seven years can it be said to be perfect enough for him to use it correctly for literary creative writing.5?
Professor Paul Christophersen on page 14 of his Inaugural Lecture averred: “And I believe that English, which is already, in slightly different forms, the language of many nations, can be used, alongside with the vernacular languages, to express also the spirit of Nigeria”.6 I believe it is that spirit of Nigeria that is embedded in Amos Tutuola’s use of English Language in his book The Palm Wine Drunkard (1952) which he later translated into Yoruba with the titled: Omemu (Omuti) Ni Ilu Awon Oku (1966-1968), Kola Ogunmola adapted the work for Yoruba Travelling Theatre Troupe into a play with the title: Lanke Omu/Omuti.7 We can join Prof. Paul Christophersen to believe that like Americans modified American English, Nigerian was going to have their own English just as the Americans have theirs. As if having Amos Tutuola in mind in 1948, he averred that “some few specially gifted individuals may be able to assimilate their speech so completely to that of Englishman that no difference is noticeable; but the majority of Nigerians may safely model their language on standard English: The result will be just different enough to give Nigerian English a special flavour”.8
In the Indian Sub-Continent a strange form of English is used – philologists even argued that it ought to be claimed as a separate language. The sounds are Indian, not English… and although the words are mostly English, their meanings and rules by which they are combined are often quite Un-English. Prof. Christophersen quoted two instances: “No sooner I came at his, he assaulted me”, which means in Standard English: “No sooner I got to his place (or house) than he assaulted me”. Another is “Open the horse” means “Untie the horse”. Continuing in his advocacy of a natural bilingualism for Nigeria Prof. Christophersen concluded:
“Individual citizens may, if they wish, concentrate on English and make that their best language, but both English and the Vernacular will live side by side within the country. English will thereby in the course of time become part of the Nigerian tradition and will acquire a special Nigerian flavour. It will serve as a medium of communication between Nigerians of different tribes, it will serve for all Nigerians as a window on the outside world (arme miraculeuse according the Martinicain Poet, Aimé Césaire), and it may, and we hope it will, serve as a vehicle for a LITERATURE through which Nigeria will voice her individuality and make her contribution to a world civilization.9 What a prophetic stance in 1948?m The need to correct Language In our Inaugural Lecture delivered at University of Lagos on Wednesday, 20th June, 2007 titled: “Misunderstanding too often leads to War: Translators and Interpreters as peace-makers, I stressed the need to correct language, citing the quotable quote from the 6th Century Chinese Philosopher Confucius who, asked what he would do first if obliged to administer a country? Confucius answered:
“It would certainly be to correct language”. When his listeners expressed surprise, he elucidated. “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant, if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone, if this remains undone, morals and arts deteriorate, if morals and arts deteriorate, justice will go astray; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything”.10 We all know that for arts and literature to flourish, language is the most important nutrient and ingredient. Amos Tutuola: The Bilingual (English Yoruba) and the Translator
Many Critics and Essayists have written on the narrative craft and the use of English Language by Amos Tutuola in his works, especially, The Palm Wine Drunkard and his dead Palm Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town. In far away l’University Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis, Senegal (Sanar), in an M A degree Thesis in English titled: “Narrative Craft and Use of Language in Amos Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghost and The Palm Wine Drunkard in Sunusanar site writes:
“Tutuola’s language in the Palm Wine Drunkard … has received a barrage of criticism mainly from African Critics. Some of them are Soyinka, Oyekan Owomoyela, Achebe and Okigbo, Who as Afolayan observes “for nationalistic reasons or pre-conceived linguistic ideas consider it as deserving no place in Nigeria’s use of English, particularly for creative writing. Tutuola domesticates the English Language by making literal translations to convey his Yoruba thought and mythology. In so doing he violates several rules of Standard English. The same word is, therefore seen strolling with daring ease from a grammatical category to a semantic category; changing content and of function, just to make the message flow.
In other words he nominalises traditional adjectives and vice-versa. He also switches transitive forms to intransitive and intransitive to transitive. For these reasons Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Okigbo consider Tutuola’s writing as too idiosyncratic for creative writing, since it does not reflect the level of learning (Tutuola seven years of formal education) and cultivation many of them have laboured to achieve.11 We shall shortly come to this aspect of Tutuola’s style.
In contrast, European and American critics such Bernth Lindfors; Dusautoy, Peter, Herdeck; & Donald, Pringle; Alan, Robertwren; Collins Harold; as Gerald Moore; Ulli Beier; Dylan Thomas praised The Palm Wine Drunkard as “a brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching novel, nothing is too prodigious too trivial to put down in this fall and devilish story.”12
This way pointing at its astroblackness, afrosurrealist, ethno-gothic, black magic realism, black fantastic and exoteric nature of Tutuola writing. As for Geoffrey Parrinder, “Tutuola’s English is not polished or sophisticated, but it captures the way English was spoken in Nigeria by ordinary people.”13 A pointed allusion to Prof. Paul Christophersen position in his 1948 Foundation Day Inaugural Lecture at University College Ibadan on November 14, 1948. Northrop Frye called Tutuola Drunkard naïve romance, in which the heroes move in a world of suspended natural laws, where prodigies of courage and enchanted weapons, talking animals and talisman of miraculous power violate no rule of probabilities once the postulate of romance are established.
Being excerpts of a paper delivered by Prof. Timothy-Asobele of the Department of European languages and Integration Studies, University of Lagos, at the 2019 Book Convention held at Freedom Park Lagos.