Afriphone Literature as a Prototypical form of African Literature: Insights from Prototype Theory

Adams Bodomo


What is the most prototypical form of African literature? Shouldn’t we be using African languages to produce African literary texts, shouldn’t we produce more Afriphone African literature compared to Europhone African literature or Afro-Europhone literature? This issue underlies the reality that the vast majority of African writers presumably think in one language and express themselves (speak, enchant, or write) in another. This problematic, crystalized in major debates between Ngugi wa Thiongo and others, on the one hand, and Chinua Achebe and others, on the other hand, has resulted in great challenges as to how we can define or even conceptualize the discipline of African literature. Is it literature written by Africans in African languages for Africans or is it literature written by anybody including non-Africans in non-African languages? Or is it somewhere in-between these two extremes? The paper discusses several positions on this major question in African literature before advancing a novel proposal based on insights and evidence from proto-type theory within Linguistics and the Cognitive Sciences. This proposal leads to a somewhat provocative conclusion about the gradation of African literatures, where African language literatures or Afrophone literatures, comprise the core, proto-typical category in a 21st Century African literature constellation, whereas foreign language and diasporic literatures such as Afro-European literatures, Afro-American literatures, and Afro-Chinese literatures are the hybrid and thus more recessive, peripheral types of African literature.

Keywords: Afriphone literature, African language literature, African literature, proto-type theory, linguistics, cognitive Science

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