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Safely Decolonizing the Mind

In: English and Literature

Submitted By lailatt
Words 1374
Pages 6
Laila Takkash
Dr. Badawi
ENG 103

Safely Decolonizing the Mind

The spread of different influences through new communication technology has caused some people to refer to our generation as generation X. A generation that grew up in the midst of a communication revolution, we must learn to accept and integrate outside influences. I believe it is easy for a person who grew up in a time very different than ours to criticize what we have become. Ngugi Wa Thiongo in Decolonizing the Mind examines the long lasting effects colonization has had on his local culture. He describes the undermining of native languages in neo-colonial states, the purpose of it, and the effect it has on a child's developing mind. His argument is clearly logical as well as valid and his points precise and sensible, but what is valid is not always true. He sometimes lacks objectivity and evidential or concrete facts; this weakens his argument making it seem like opinion not support by reality or research. By completely disregarding the importance of modern influences, as well as historical ones, on languages his solution to the problem becomes futile. It is true that preserving a language and preserving a culture are connected. Language develops with the culture; it changes to suit their experiences, habits, values, and concepts. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Decolonizing the Mind explains this relationship: “language as culture is the collective memory bank of a people’s experience in history.” Wa Thiong’o makes a good argument when discussing the effect of colonialism on his culture. The introduction of another more popular language signified with a powerful country and popular culture, leads to the slow vanishing of many minority languages, but it does not have to be through colonization. The Economist article, A World Empire by Other Means, discussed the spread of English through colonialism and globalization in many countries: “the all-engulfing advance of English threatens to damage or destroy much local culture. This is sometimes lamented even in England itself, for though the language that now sweeps the world is called English, the culture carried with it is American,” American because of the popular culture that English now represents. The kind of educational system needed to safely decolonize the mind, in an age of globalization, is one that produces at least bilingual students that are knowledgeable and proud of their ethnicity. Globalization affects us by making a language such as English a must so one can get ahead, although it seems unfair it is the reality. Wa Thiong’o himself gives the example of his friend who was brilliant at all subjects but English and ended up being a turn boy in a bus company. When analyzing the reasons he only considers one possible cause, which is colonial education, when in reality there could've been many factors at play. Learning from information only available in a minority language is impractical because the availability of sources in a field becomes scarce at a certain level of specialization. Wa Thiong’o explains the language of “real life” as the language a community has adapted to “create wealth”. To do business and therefore “create wealth”, we need to be able to communicate in the language of “real life” be it English or any other more popular language. In New Guinea smaller regions that speak different languages eventually left them for more connective, and convenient ones. According to an article in the sociolinguistics journal “The existence of a unified education system, the growth of corporate and private enterprise, and extensions of systems of travel have fostered the need for and use of various lingua francas.” Lingua francas, also known as a language of wider communication, is a second language used for routine communication between those who speak different native languages. According to the Islam in Africa Organization website, even the Swahili language is a lingua franca—a mixture of Bantu and Arabic. The educational system that Wa Thiong’o was educated in was unfair, primitive, and destructive. One can not assume that it is impossible to grow up naturally if you are taught to speak more than one language as a child. What separates us as cognitive animals is that we have the power to think and make decisions. We can choose how to preserve the world around us, and it is better to be exposed to a wide variety of options before one chooses their path. To confine ourselves to one culture is to deny ourselves the right to choose. New changes like globalization affect the conditions surrounding us, and we must adjust accordingly. The degree of acculturation and ethnic identification determines the effects on the psychology of multicultural individuals, yet these two conditions vary tremendously form one culture to the next and from one individual to the next. A person with a strong ethnic identity when exposed to strong acculturation levels will develop a bilingual stable personality. Therefore the essence of the problem lays in the degree of ethnic identity. Once it is established one can pursue their life without confusion or separation from either culture. Wa Thiong’o proposes a system of education in which the child is exposed exclusively to his or her own culture, and refers to the complexes produced by an educational system like the one he attended. The system he is proposing spreads ethnocentrism in the long run; that is seeing the world only from the perspective of your culture and value system. Wa Thiong’o himself seems to be ethnocentric in that he is examining the erosion of languages subjectively from where he is in the world. An objective thinking mind knows that change is a fact of life “nothing is constant except change.” One can not deny that there are problems in the way children are being educated all over the world. To solve these problems we need to think of the child’s well being at present and in the future. What is best is to know your own culture enough to be proud of it, and at the same time have the linguistic ability to exchange ideas in a new global age. Knowing one’s own culture is very important to be stable in reality, a study done at the University of Ottawa, and published by The Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, suggests that ethnolinguistic vitality is important in contact with other cultures because it implies group differences and linguistic self-confidence. I believe I am privileged to grow up in a world that is so diverse yet connected. The spread of English and my fluency in it has helped me learn not only about the American and European culture, but also other countries that communicate in English without losing my own identity. The internet, and mass media is mostly English, it would be ignorance to deprive myself of so much information by limiting myself to one language. I believe it doesn’t matter what language we speak as long as we have the ability to communicate, and exchange ideas to as many people possible, and in the most convenient way. There are many benefits to learning a global language like English or French. Wa Thiong’o didn’t mention a language’s ability to unite. It is stated in The Economist that English in a country like India “binds a nation of 800 tongues and dialects together, and connects it to the outside world” In conclusion I believe it is a great advantage to be fluent in more than one language and be exposed to more than one way of thinking and viewing the world. It would be extremely inconsiderate to teach children that there is only one way of doing things. I believe growing up in such a closed environment can lead to culture clashes and other psychological issues.

Works Cited
“A world Empire by Other Means” Economist. Vol 361, issue 8253, 2001. Academic Search Elite. Online. September 1, 2002.
Landwer, Lynn. “Indicators of Ethnolinguistic Vitality” Notes on Sociolinguistics. July 30, 2001. SIL. 8 March 8, 2004.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Decolonizing the mind. London: James Curry, 1986
Noles, Kimberly, and Clement, Richard. “ Communicating Across Cultures: Social Determinants and Acculturative Consequences” The Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science. 1996. Canadian Psychological Association.March 8, 2004.
Islam in Africa Organization. Islam in Kenya. March 10, 2004.


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