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The languages of the archive: revisiting the debates around African languages in the arts and in the academy

Coetzee, Carli and Goniwe, Thembinkosi (2013) 'The languages of the archive: revisiting the debates around African languages in the arts and in the academy.' Critical African Studies, 5 (2). pp. 92-102.

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Abstract

South African discourses about the past have been dominated by skin and surface. In this paper, we investigate ways of accessing history beyond the body, and beyond the classification systems of apartheid. One such an avenue, we argue, is through language, and in particular, African languages considered as archives. The paper makes a contribution to emerging debates around the uses of African languages in the academy. It revisits the longstanding discussions of language in African contexts in the light of more recent statements on the topic. The theoretical frameworks underpinning our analysis are also informed by James C. Scott's concept of the hidden transcript and especially the rupture occasioned by the hidden transcript becoming public; and Simon Gikandi's theorization of the contextual meanings brought by listeners and readers to particular texts – what he describes as a reader's ability to ‘find the referent’. The argument is illustrated by examples drawn from recent South African art works that expressly employ African language speech without English sub-titles or English descriptions as part of the work. This use of language constitutes an archive that provides ways of reclaiming histories, and in particular, embodied histories beyond apartheid.

Item Type: Articles
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa
ISSN: 21681392
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): 10.1080/21681392.2013.814473
Depositing User: Carli Coetzee
Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2013 15:36
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/16964

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