Political Discourse: Theories of Colonialism

Frantz Fanon on the Language of the Colonized

Randall Bass, Assistant Professor fo English, Georgetown University

from Chapter One: "The Negro and Language"

I ascribe a basic importance to the phenomenon of language. That is why I find it necessary to begin with this subject, which should provide us with one of the elements in the colored man's comprehension of the dimension of the other.

The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white man. A Negro behaves differently with a white man and with another Negro. That this self-division is a direct result of colonialist subjugation is beyond question...No one would dream of doubting that its major artery is fed from the heart of those various theories that have tried to prove that the Negro is a stage in the slow evolution of monkey into man.... To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of civilization. Since the situation is not one-way only, the statement of it should reflect the fact....

The problem that we confront in this chapter is this: The Negro of the Antilles will be proportionately whiter--that is, he will come closer to being a real human being--in direct ratio to his mastery of the French language...A man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language.

Every colonized people--in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality--finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation; that is, with the culture of the mother country. The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country's cultural standards."

Connections with Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day :

  1. How might Fanon's principles about language and the colonized be applied to the role of Stevens the Butler in Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day ?
  2. How is the colonized (or the servile) forced to take on, impersonate and imitate the language of the colonizer in a work like Ishiguro's novel?
  3. How does a colonized/servile person like Stevens enter into the language of the "Dominant"--how, despite his entry into that language, does he remain colonized?
  4. When is Stevens' use of the dominant language empowering and when is it disempowering?

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Last Modified: 18 March, 2002