Language Use And Style, As A Depiction Of African Literature (An Example Of Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman)

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Language Use And Style, As A Depiction Of African Literature (An Example Of Wole Soyinka’s Death And The King’s Horseman)


The continued domination of English language in the African world especially in the literary field has caused various doubts on what could be termed the African literature. Therefore, purpose of this research is to identify, how African writers have used language and style of writing to depict their continental identity in works of art. Researches have established that the some parts of Africa had their literatures (either oral and or written) long before some parts of Europe. Therefore, the advent of English language is not the genesis of literature in Africa. The research, having examined this paramount discourse from Wole Soyinka’ s Death and the King’s Horseman, has concluded that language use and style are still significant beacons of African Literature.



Table of Content

Chapter One


Background to the Study

Background of the Author

Purpose of Study


Scope and Delimitation


Chapter Two

Dialectal Discourses as Literary Archetypes

African Literature and its Peculiar Language

Review on Wole Soyinka and Death and the King’s Horseman

Chapter Three

Language Use and Style: A Depiction of African Literature….

Standard English and its Satirical Use in Wole Soyinka’s….

Pidgin English and its African Relativity….

African English: The Language of African Literature

Yoruba Language in Translation

Use of Proverbs




Styles of African Literature:

The Implantation of Cultural Icons and Tradition

Drums and Music


Chapter Four






The invasions of the African continent by Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries on the grounds of religious, political and economic interests have not only left the continent in the rubbles of political and economic chaos but have equally altered the original languages of the continent. Before the advent of these “superior forces” (Great Britain and France), Africa had flourished in her literature, religion, politics and other spheres of human endeavors with the plurality of its language. The African perception of life, religious believes, political ideologies, literary insights and thought patterns were best represented in these African languages as initiated by the African ancestors. This fact makes the use of language imperatively pragmatic for language user’s better understanding.

The historical antecedents of slave trade, religious evangelisms and the colonization of various African countries by Europe, exposed the continent (Africa) to the contemporary spread of English and French languages across the continent and the world in general. This was triggered by the basic necessity for communication among human beings irrespective of their cultural origins. As this need arose between Africans and the European missionaries and political “big guns”, Africans gradually and unconsciously started adopting the use of these foreign languages at the expense of their mother tongue.

Over time, the use of these foreign languages penetrated virtually all the sectors of the African world with an exceptional dominance in the fields of literature and world politics. No wonder, English language has gained global acceptance and recognition today and has become the world’s second most spoken language.

The implication of relegation of African languages by these foreign languages on the African continent is an unfortunate loss of one of the paramount ingredients of the African cultural and racial identity. In precise terms, African languages have been significantly lost to English and French languages among others.

After about five decades of political independence, social integration and cultural renaissance of various African states, the continent as a whole is yet to be librated from the linguistic influence of these foreign languages on the indigenous African languages. At this juncture, it may be safe for us to mention that the present day African continent is still under the archetypal colonialism of foreign languages. In other words, these foreign languages have bestridden the African literary world like a colossus, forcing the African writers to compress their thought patterns and ideologies within the available expressive modes of these foreign languages. Therefore, the contemporary African writer is faced with the challenge of expressing his thought patterns which are better represented in his indigenous language than in a foreign language. More so, there is the challenge of how the African writer will advocate the cultural, literary and racial identity of his immediate environment in a foreign language?


A persisting struggle in African literature in the face of the influence of foreign languages, over the past decades, has remained the deliberate use of both foreign and indigenous languages as well as styles of writing to create a significant difference between the African literature and those of other continents.

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (6th edition) defines language as “a system of communication in speech and writing that is peculiar to a particular group of people”. Style, on the other hand, means “a particular way of writing or doing things”. The importance of language to a people cannot be over-emphasized because it is a crucial element in the making of a nation. Without a common language, a nation cannot evolve; a common culture and history are dependent on language. Therefore, without the use of African languages in works of art, African literature may attract numerous critical evaluations, as there would be doubts on what is actually African. Besides, it may loose its communication with its actual audience.

In the opinions of B.F. Ibrahim and Akande F.F. (2000, 2) literature is “the private and public awareness given to both the individual and the society through the exposure of the hidden or open truth that the people seem to be ignorant of”. With these definitions in mind, we may then ask the question, what is African literature and by what yardstick is this determined? Chinweizu et al (1980, 56) responds to this, thus, “African literatures are works done for the African audience, by Africans and in African languages whether written or oral”

Having established these basic frameworks, our major task in this research, is to examine how African writers have used language and style of writing to sustain the ethos of African literature written in foreign language. For the purpose of this study, our analysis are drawn from Wole Soyinka’s Death and the king’s Horseman which is an African drama text that investigates the age-long struggle of cultural conflict between the African world view and the European ‘civilized’ way of cultural thinking.


Professor Akinwale Oluwole Soyinka, better known as Wole Soyinka, is an accomplished literary scholar, a social crusader, an ardent foe of military regimes, a foremost advocate of the African culture and perhaps, the most celebrated African writer of this age.

He was born on the 14th of July, 1934 in Ake, Abeokuta in the present day Ogun State, Nigeria. Soyinka had his primary education in St. Peter’s Primary School, Ake. He then proceeded to Government College Ibadan. In 1952, he was admitted into the then University College Ibadan now University of Ibadan where he studied English, History and Greek. He left Ibadan for Leeds University, United Kingdom in 1954 where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English.

Soyinka’s literary activities date back to his days in the then University College, Ibadan. However, in 1958, he began his heroic pilgrimage in the literary world when he published his two plays The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and The Jewel. His artistic insight reached its climax in 1975, when he published another play titled Death and the King’s Horseman, this play is widely believed among other scholars and Soyinka’s contemporaries to be his best known play and it earned him the Noble Prize for Literature in 1986. His other works include, The Trial of Brother Jero, The Road, A dance of the Forest, A Play of the Giants, The Strong Breed, Kongi’s Harvest, The Interpreters, Idanre and other Poems among others.

Soyinka is a vast personality who mystifies himself and his message in his works, leaving his readers with the questions of his true personality. Outside the literary field, Soyinka occupies a pride of place in the political history of Nigeria, informed by his activities as the mediator between the Nigerian Government and the then seceding Biafran Republic in 1967. As part of his humanist activities, Soyinka once forcefully seized a radio station in Western Nigeria and made a public broadcast titled “The Voice of the People”. In this broadcast, he verbally mobilized the masses against the irresponsible government of the then Premier of the Western region.

Soyinka has equally taken the front stage among other African writers in the advocacy of the African culture to the outside world. This, he does, through the deliberate infusion of his native language (Yoruba) and a general manipulation of English language in his works in order to accommodate his African thought patterns.


Wole Soyinka’s works have often been characterized by mythic and ritualistic phenomena in his residual attempt to peruse and expose the aesthetic visions of the African culture to the outside world. This is one of the scholar’s deliberate attempts at advocating the vibrancy of “Africanity”, thereby putting a trademark on African literature from those literatures of other continents. However, this research is not intended at seconding the mythic and ritualistic impulses of Soyinka, but a deliberate shift to examine how the use of language and style of writing in Death and the King’s Horseman have been used to advocate the racial identity of the African continent in literature.

As earlier mentioned, language is one of the most important features in an objective definition of a set of people. Considering the continent’s contact with the outside world in the years before, which led to the linguistic genocide of the African world with the introduction of foreign languages as the official languages of the continent, how then would Africa advocate her racial identity in works of art using a foreign language? Therefore, the ultimate focus of this research is to unravel how Soyinka has been able to expand the frontiers of English language, probably with the infusion of his mother tongue, proverbs, riddles, music, dance and other African traditional literary aesthetics in this his selected work; Death and the King’s Horseman.


Fundamentally, this research presents as additional information to the already existing research reports on the concept of the use of language for the depiction of African literature. However, these findings will be in particular reference to the use of language and style in African literature. The findings that will be provided at the end of this research will be of great benefit to future researchers in this field of art and the humanities in general.

Over the years, many arguments have arisen on the existence of African literature. Scholars like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Chinweizu among others have taken the lead in the crusade for the decolonization and domestication of African literature from the apron strings of Europe. Language Use This has been examined from diverse perspectives, ranging from geographical to thematic exploration of African works. Language Use Therefore, our examination of this crucial concept from the linguistic and stylistic point of views is justifiable, because it will help reaffirm the place of African literature in the world’s literature.Language Use


The concept of African literature is such a wide field of research that no researcher may ever exhaust in his life time, because of the multiplicity of subjects that can be discussed under this topic and more so, a researcher may not be able to draw analysis from all the generic forms of African literature both written and oral.

Therefore, we have limited the study of this research to the use of language and style as used by Soyinka in his deliberate attempt to depict his African racial identity. Secondly, the list of Soyinka’s publication can be said to be endless and time may not permit us a careful examination of all his works, so, our primary data of analysis shall be Death and the King’s Horseman. In this play, we shall take a careful look into the use of proverbs, riddles, Yoruba languages, music, dance and other features of African orature.

This essay is divided into four chapters, chapter one serves as a general introduction into the research, stating the background of study and the author, purpose of study, justification, scope and delimitation as well as the methodology for the research. Chapter two is the review of relevant literatures that are related to this important study. At this juncture, a review is done on the archetypal theory which we are adopting for our data analysis, the concept of African literature and scholarly discussion on Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. Data for analysis at this chapter is drawn from articles and journals. Language Use Chapter three shall focus on how language and style have been used in the play to depict African literature.  Language Use Our analysis is based on proverbs, riddles…. Language Use Chapter four comprises the summary, findings and conclusion of this research as well as the right acknowledgements of all cited authorities in this research.Language Use


This research is mainly empirical, using the archetypal approach as the framework for our data analysis. Language Use The archetype of language is given an apt attention in our analysis. Language Use Our analysis is solely drawn from Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. No interviews or questionnaires are used in this research, all analysis are restricted the mentioned text by Wole Soyinka.Language Use.

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