chapter  5
Relexification
Pages 29

Originally employed by Loreto Todd (1982:298) in her description of a writing process used by Gabriel Okara in The Voice, the term ‘relexification’ was adopted by Chantal Zabus (2007:111) to describe the process that is at work “when the West African writer attempts to simulate the character of African speech in a europhone text”. Through a series of case studies of Anglophone and Francophone texts, Zabus traces four stages in relexification: the “ancestor to relexification” (ibid.:120), exemplified by Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard, which is replete with calques from Yoruba and generally viewed to be the result of the author’s inadequate grasp of the English language; the more intentional language manipulation by Okara and Kourouma in The Voice and Les Soleils des indépendances, which includes “morpho-syntactic” (ibid.:112) variations (in the case of The Voice) and “lexico-semantic” (ibid.) variations such as neologisms and semantic shifts (in the case of both texts); Nigerian Igbo novels by writers such as Achebe in which the “ethno-text” (ibid.:148), composed of “discursive elements ranging from rules of address, riddles, praise-names and dirges to the use of proverbs” (ibid.) is “grafted onto the European-language narrative” (ibid.); the fragmentation of the ethno-text and a shift away from relexified words and towards “cinematic image” (ibid.:170). Zabus (ibid.:164) views these stages as progressive, stating for example that “as a memento of dead, dying or surviving remains, the ethno-text is bound to disappear from West African fiction”. Drawing primarily on the careers of Sembène and Ngũgĩ, Zabus (ibid.:207) argues that relexification can be viewed as a mid-point in the general progression that is being followed by African writing as it moves from “europhone writing” to “new forms of African-language writing or other genre”. Zabus (ibid.:191) argues that “the move away from relexification in the francophone novel” can also be observed in the work of Kourouma; in an earlier edition of her book, Zabus expanded on this statement as follows:

In Kourouma’s second novel, Monnè, outrages et défis, the twin methods of cushioning and contextualising clearly outweigh relexification, which had played a larger role in Les Soleils des indépendances. This shift of priorities is readily observable in the titles, since ‘soleils’ ... is relexified from tèlé or rather, télè lù in its plural form, and Monnè ... is cushioned with its two French tags denoting flagrant insults and defiance. (1991:171)

While Zabus’ comparison of the titles of Kourouma’s first two novels is valid in terms of the final published versions,1 the remainder of her argument is rather misleading. Even a brief analysis of the first twenty pages of the second novel is sufficient to reveal the presence of at least six different quasi-invisible traces of Malinké, two of which are based around the same relexifications as those found in Les Soleils des indépendances.