Daffodils and Snow: Whose Language Matters? Part 2. Considering Issues of Affect and Emotion within Decolonial Work

Carol Ann Dixon, Riadh Ghemmour and Maica Gugolati

In December 2020 three members of the Decolonial Dialogues co-editorial team published a jointly authored blog featuring a three-way discussion about language teaching, learning, communication and knowledge production framed around the question “Whose language matters?” The issues and ideas examined in this text initially developed in response to a provocation posted via the site’s Twitter feed, which encouraged reflection on how certain historically dominant, imperialist languages (English, French, Spanish, Dutch, etc.), and other hegemonic modes of communication, re-inscribe established power hierarchies. The resulting reflections were articulated in reference to the decolonial praxis and scholar-activism of luminaries such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Gayatri Spivak, Stuart Hall and Bagele Chilisa. 

Words and symbols signifying “peace,” expressed in a multiplicity of languages and modes of communication.

In the second part of this narrative we continue the conversation and our linguistic analysis to consider the importance of affect, emotion and care when undertaking decolonial work – both within and beyond the academy. As before, the observations and insights noted throughout this continuation piece are informed by each contributor’s lived and learnt experiences of speaking African Indigenous languages, creating singing-sign language, and foregrounding the importance of Jamaican Patois poetics within formal teaching and learning approaches for language education, as well as the expressive arts. The evaluative critique commences with thoughts on how the (im-)position of imperialist languages as the primary ones for engaging in academic discourse can impact on affective/emotional expressions of cultural identity and linguistic heritage, articulated by cultural geographer Carol Ann Dixon (CD), Indigenous Kabyle education scholar Riadh Ghemmour (RG) and social and visual anthropologist Maica Gugolati (MG).

An important addition to this narrative is the inclusion of Krik? Krak! (or “Crick? Crack!”) as a call-and-response device, linking together storytellers and active audiences. Historically, Krik? Krak! is a long-standing and integral aspect of community orature popular throughout the Black Caribbean diaspora, and also associated with griot-storytelling from West Africa. Typically, a narrator calls out “Krik?” to request a responsive “Krak!” from the audience as a prelude to telling a story, fable or ancient legend. This is followed by a back-and-forth of additional calls and responses, enabling the orature to be enjoyed as an immersive and collective form of creative expression.

“We tell the stories so that the young ones 

will know what came before them.

They ask Krik? We say Krak!

Our stories are kept in our hearts.”

Extract from Sal Scalora’s poem ,“White Darkness/Black Dreamings”
In,  Krik? Krak!, by Edwidge Danticat (Soho Press, New York, 2004)

Within the context of this narrative, Krik? Krak! phrasing has been included at the beginning and end of our comments to support this continuing narrative about linguistic diversity, and to invite our readers to respond to our call.

The importance of emotion

“Patois? /- Patwah! A fi wi language! 

CD: Whether writing or articulating thoughts aloud, the three of us are all communicating in English as an alternative language to our parental tongue. I am very interested in hearing your respective perspectives on the affective/emotional impacts of feeling obliged (forced, even?) to use this language in order to pursue scholarship, and achieve greater international visibility, recognition and a wider readership within the academy. For instance, whenever I am documenting issues of ‘race,’ racism and anti-racism in relation to the cultural geographies of museums, galleries and the arts, there is always a sense of filtering out a lot of the emotive aspects of what I wish to convey simply because of having to conform to the narrative conventions and stylistic norms of academic English. The only occasions when I do not feel these restrictions are when expressing myself in poetic verse. In such instances I experience a greater sense of freedom and fluidity. It is as if the poetry gives me ‘license’ to articulate my true voice – in flow. Invariably, the decision to incorporate poetic interludes within my scholarly writing often results in the inclusion of phraseology and vocabulary taken directly from Jamaican Patois. Multilingual friends and colleagues from the francophone African and Caribbean diaspora in Europe – for whom French is a second or additional language – have also recounted similar conflicted experiences and tensions as regards downplaying the emotional aspects of producing their scholarly research in favour of more formal articulations in French.

Singin’ it an’ dancin’ it…/- A yaad, an’ abraad!”

ⴰⵣⵓⵍ

RG: I agree with you, Carol. If we take the example of research in social sciences, for decades, the language(s) used (and I refer here to hegemonic ones) to report findings should convey knowledge that must be ‘objective’, troubling researcher-research subjective interdependence which could be expressed through language. In my view, research and language cannot be emotionless. Although I am comfortable in speaking, writing and connecting with the English language in its all diverse oral and textual manifestations, I feel more deeply, and emotionally connected to my native language: Le Kabyle, through the poetics of Indigeous Kabyle singer and poet Idir, or the oral history of Indigenous Kabyle elderly. For me, it is sometimes challenging to navigate such tensions; pursuing my scholarship in English without neglecting the significant value and richness of Tamazight languages and cultures which nurture my Indigeneity and uphold relationality with my land, and ancestors. Indeed, decolonial endeavours need to be celebrating all languages and dismantle the linguistic hierarchies, as for academic conventions, there should be an inclusion of multiple modes of communication to disseminate knowledge in poetic, oral, musical, art-based, or kinesthetic ways. 

ⴼⴻⵍⴰⵡⴻⵏ

“Deaf… 

MG: Deaf culture is a linguistic minority beyond auditory reception. In its daily life there is a permanent obligation to adapt to the “able” world; the practice of sign-singing (introduced in Part 1) pushes the limits of the hegemonic ideology of hearing, where the music becomes visual, tactile (Best 2016) and kinetic  (Schmitt and and Schetrit 2013). This artistic practice wills to reappropriate the sense of language and musical expression and creation, challenging the concept of deafness as a lack of ability (dis-ability) of hearing. The music in sign-signing and in Dip-Hop (Deaf Hip-Hop) is experienced in the body and expressed by the body. This last one as if it was a giant timphanus, feels while expanding a sonor sense of spatiality through the hand gestures (Brétéche 2013). The body of the artist expands or encloses creating a music expression. The intensity of the music is provided by facial expression, different dynamisms of the body, the repetition of the gestuality and its emotional interpretation. In neuroscience the emotional connection linked with music is explained as a phenomenological experience (Zatorre and Haltea 2005) where the vibrations tickle the auditory cortex of the brain which is linked to the emotional processing of the brain (Sasha et al 2016). The sign-singing artistic music practice enhances an expressive and emotional interaction that allows a specific way of inhabiting the body (Schmitt 2012). Laëty Tual, artist of sign-signing from France tells us that there is a similar emotional revendication between the people of the deaf culture and the music genres of Rap and Hip Hop. She describes the state of suffering and rage towards the constant lack of “hearing” “otherness”. Sign-singing creates a new musical aesthetic that aims to break down the barriers between hearing and deaf people towards music consumption and production. It offers a new art form of revendication and creation of music made by and for deaf culture that contrasts the hegemonic imposition of adaptation and translation in order to reach the normalized auditive world.

[Pour la version en français ici dessous]

… and loud!”

Creative expression

“Patois? / …Patwah! A fi wi language! 

CD: Considering the Barthesian concept of “the studium and the punctum” (Barthes 1982: 25-27), I find that when I’m listening to Jamaican Patois – especially the recorded, spoken word narratives and lyrical storytelling of celebrated wordsmiths, such as folklorist, writer, performer and heritage scholar Louise Bennett-Coverley (1919-2006), world famous ‘dub poet’ Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Rastafarian singer-songwriter Jah9  – many performances trigger the aural equivalent of the “punctum effect,” and evoke poignant memories of past conversations with my grandparents during trips ‘back home’ – i.e. my visits to my ancestral home in the Caribbean, as a Black Briton with Jamaican heritage. It is for these reasons that the vernacular orature itself – aside from the rhetorical structure and multisensory force of the performed content – has the power to move me to tears. Although your listening experiences will be different to my own, the following recorded commentaries and recitations by the afore-mentioned artists should serve as useful examples of how Jamaican Patois has been elevated and decolonised from its colonialist designation as a “dialect” (or “pidgin” form of English) and now holds accepted status as one of the island’s principal languages:

  • Louise Bennett-Coverley (aka ‘Miss Lou’) discussing “Fi Wi Language (Jamaican Patwah)” [n/d]: https://youtu.be/W58MtDzanqA  [Duration: c.7 mins.]
  • Jah9 – Edited compilation of tracks from the reggae artist’s studio album, “Note to Self” (2020): https://youtu.be/X26RdCgvYFE [Duration: c.14 minutes].

Irrespective of whether one is listening to Miss Lou’s politically aesthetic poetry and cultural commentary from decades ago (particularly the pivotal, post-war era of the 1950s and early ‘60s, that saw the island’s transition to independence), or engaging with more recent lyricism articulated by contemporary performers like Jah9, the power and potential of Patois (or, phonetically, ‘Patwah’) to convey the authentic expression of Jamaicans’ collective cultural identity – intergenerationally on the island, and spatio-temporally throughout the diaspora worldwide – is quite compelling. See, for example, the following extracts from the poems Colonization in Reverse” (1966) by Louise Bennett-Coverley, and Jah9’s lyrics for the song “Okay (Note to Self)” (2020) – both addressing geopolitical themes related to our connectedness and interdependencies as a global community.

It is precisely because Jamaican Patois literature and spoken word orature shares many similarities with African storytelling – both in form and content – that I feel deeply connected to my transatlantic ancestral roots every time I converse, sing or recite poetry in my parental tongue. For someone who self-defines as an African diasporan, these linguistic linkages help me draw on the cultural and spiritual heritage, fortitude and resilience of my forebears as the route to achieving and maintaining ontological security. As Caribbean literature scholar and poet Morgan Dalphinis notes: “Oral literature in Africa is a means by which items of historical value are stored” (Dalphinis, 1985: 15). This traditional characteristic of stories representing the archival repositories of collective memories and the conduits through which precious cultural knowledge is transferred is exemplified throughout the continent in contexts as diverse as the Hausa praise songs performed in the Chadic languages of the Niger region, the Akan dirges of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, and the Izibongo Zulu praise poems of Southern Africa (Ibid.).

Singin’ it an’ dancin’ it… / …A yaad, an’ abraad!

“Deaf… 

MG: Language is a system of signs used by a community; these signs have to be understood by all members in order to allow communication among them (Shaumyan 2006). Moreover, language is a social and cultural phenomenon; it reflects a particular vision of the world shared by each cultura group (Dubisson 1993). Sing-singing art practice in music proposes literally a new “vision” of musical creation. For this section Laëty Tual, sign-signing artist, gives an explanation in three languages: French (her native language), sign-language and subtitles in English, the origins of her experience as sign-singer and the details of the creative steps of sign-singing that creates a visual-performative and sonic new form of art (Schmitt 2012).

Laëty Tual and her experience for Decolonial Dialogues (6 min):

The sign-sign art practice offers a way of reappropriation of musical language (Schmitt 2012); the music is created through a body creation and expression. The music aurality is transformed by the sensibility of an embodied choreography, sign language and visuality (Brétéché 2019). It appropriates the aurality of music becoming a new aesthetic space where sound becomes visual and felt. With sign-sining Music becomes Vusic (a creation of Visual and Music), where the creative relation is visually oriented with an embodied relationship with music. Along with Laëty Tual and her projects here, there are other artists that use Vusic as their creative practice. Some of them here: the French and English deaf collective VISCORE, Wawa Dip-Hop artist from the USA, and Sean Forbes, from whom the Krik? Krak! motto for this text is derived: “Deaf and Loud” – which, in turn, was inspired by the civil rights slogan: “Black and Proud”, James Brown’s song “Say it loud, I am black and proud,” and the LGBTQI+ adaptation: “Gay and Proud” (Best 2016).

[Pour la version en français ici dessous]

…and loud!”

Acknowledging feelings within research

CD: Contemplating the value of language diversity and linguistic heritage in the wake of all the challenges of 2020 has certainly given us all greater impetus to reflect deeply on the fundamental motivations driving our pursuit of decolonial work. The will to bring about substantial, progressive and sustainable positive changes is urgent and existential. Moreover, the factors that drive engagement with decolonial research, scholar-activism and the implementation of inclusive pedagogies must be seen as inseparable from the emotions and aspirations that compel us to strive for a life free from racism, marginalisation and social exclusion for everyone. It is absolutely right, therefore, to heed these powerful words articulated by Eber Hampton about the perilous pretense of pursuing ‘emotion-free’ research:

“Feeling is connected to our intellect and we ignore, hide from, disguise, and suppress that feeling at our peril and at the peril of those around us. Emotionless, passionless, abstract, intellectual research is a goddam lie, it does not exist. It is a lie to ourselves and a lie to other people. Humans – feeling, living, breathing, thinking humans – do research. When we try to cut ourselves off at the neck and pretend an objectivity that does not exist in the human world, we become dangerous, to ourselves first, and then to the people around us.” (Hampton, 1995: 52).

Source: Hampton, Eber. 1995. ‘Memory comes before knowledge,’ Canadian Journal of Native Education, 21(supplement), pp. 46-54.

RG: Hampton’s quote is poignant, I cannot envisage research without the influence of researchers’ intersectionality and emotions in shaping the process as I mentioned it earlier. This reminds me of a stimulating dialogue which I attended on 04 January 2021 organised by Dr Muna Abdi, with a focus on the scholarship of Brazilian critical pedagogue, Paulo Freire. A few contributors, who were mostly from the UK, critiqued the language which Freire used in his work, describing it as being fluid and poetic, resulting in confusion at times. However, a correspondent with Latin American heritage specified that such confusion might be the result of translation as the original work of the scholar was written in Brazilian Portuguese which tends to be poetic and metaphoric by nature. Such aspects clearly seem to have shaped how Freire wrote his books which, by the way, are often grounded in a pedagogy of love and care. Do you see the possibility of the influence of his language on his scholarship and way of thinking and writing? 

MG:  Yes, indeed. Furthermore, what is very ironic is the general tendency from most institutions to easily underpay (when we are lucky) a researcher or an artist, since there is the habit that it is specifically because of their strong passion that they will in any case keep working and creating even under unfavorable conditions. Following this provocation, it is very paradoxical to require, in name of a scientific reliability to be emotionless in research, since it is the holding motor of creation. As an anthropologist whose domain’s roots are embedded into colonial history that followed the pretentious and fictional claim to be historically positivistically scientific, fortunately nowadays feminist geographers, postcolonial thinkers and contemporary phenomenological anthropologists (among others), offer to contradict this historical staus quo. Personally, it is through the recognition and discovery of subjectivity, personality and feelings that fieldwork and academic practice can keep qualitatively high standards while maintaining respect to the other and the researcher himself. Accepting and affirming that an academic or a researcher has emotions that can affect their research, humanizes back the labor quality and enriches qualitative investigation and relations.  

Conclusion

Co-authoring this text using a range of languages has been an insightful and revelatory experience – not least because it is the first time contributors to the Decolonial Dialogues shared space have actively articulated the value of multilingualism and plurivocality as a vital aspect of, and way to broaden the decolonial spectrum. We conclude, arguing that building and maintaining a hierarchy of languages would keep colonising decolonisation. Therefore, it is essential to critically reflect on how the choice and representation of language(s) is capital for identities of minoritised communities, providing well-known tools of acquisition, affirmation and creativity.

Continuing the conversation

This web space was first established out of our shared appreciation and respect for the research methodologies, critical insights and decolonial activism of Indigenous Maori scholar Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith. As co-editors, we regularly refer to Linda’s ground-breaking work as a foundation for catalysing new decolonial dialogues with fellow educators, scholar-activists, artists, and other creative producers around the world. If you would like to contribute to this discussion (or comment about other postings on the site), please feel free to “Leave a Reply” in the feedback section at the end of each post (see below).

In addition, our forthcoming online seminar on 25 February 2021 provides further opportunities to engage in reciprocal dialogues with us. The session will feature a guest presentation – “Decolonisation without Decolonising” – by internationally renowned sociologist Dr Leon Moosavi (Director of the University of Liverpool in Singapore). Tickets are currently available at this link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/decolonial-dialoguesreen-online-event-decolonisation-without-decolonising-tickets-135502426405 (Please note: Readers viewing this blog post after the live event has taken place (25 February 2021) will be able to view a recording online via the News feed and Creativity section of this site from early March 2021, onwards.)

References

Best, Katelyn. 2016. “We Still Have a Dream:”The Deaf Hip Hop Movement and the Struggle Against the Socio-Cultural Marginalization of Deaf People.” Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture; Music and Protest, pp. 60-86. 

Brétéché, Sylvain. 2019. “Vusical Music? The deaf experience. Vusicality and sign-singin. Published for the 14th International Symposium on CMMR, Marseille France 2019 https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02489053/document

Brétéché, Sylvain. 2013 “L’écoute incorporé et l’émergence du sensible de la corpauralité à l’écoute musical sourde” https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02489111

Chilisa, Bagele. 2012. Indigenous Research Methodologies. SAGE Publications. 

Dalphinis, Morgan. 1985. ‘The African presence,’ Wasafiri, Vol. 1, No. :2, pp. 15-17.

Dubuisson. 1993. “Signer ou le sort d’une culture [Signing or the Fate of a Culture]. Nouvelles pratiques sociales,6(1), 57-68.

Hampton, Eber. 1995. ‘Memory comes before knowledge: Research may improve if researchers remember their motives.’ Canadian Journal of Native Education, 21(supplement), pp. 46-54.

Sachs, Matthew E. Ellis, Robert J. Schlaug, Gottfried. Loui, Psyche. June 2016. “Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music”, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 11, Issue 6, June 2016, pp. 884–891. 

Schetrit, Olivier. Schmitt, Pierre. 2013. “Théâtre en langue des signes, théâtre de l’altérité? Sourds, entendants et interculturalité autour de l’International Visual Theatre”, Voix Plurielles, Vol 10. N 2. 

Schmitt, Pierre. 2012.  “De la musique et des sourds. Approche ethnographique du rapport à la musique de jeunes sourds européens” in  Musik – Kontext – Wissenschaft. Musiques, contextes, et savoirs : Perspectives interdisciplinaires sur la musique, Talia Bachir-Loopuyt, Sara Iglesias, Anna Langenbruch, Gesa zur Nieden (ed.), Peter Lang.

Shaumyan. 2006. Signs, Mind and reality: A Theory of language as the Folk Model of the World. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company

Thiongʼo, Ngũgĩ wa. 1994. ‘Kamau Brathwaite: The Voice of African Presence.’ World Literature Today, Vol. 68 (4), pp. 677-682.

Zatorre, Robert. Halpern, Andrea. July 2005. “Mental Concerts: Musical Imagery Minireview and Auditory Cortex” Neuron, Vol. 47, 9–12

Web links 

Jah9 (Janine Elizabeth Cunningham) artist’s web space and online bio – https://www.jah9.com/bio

Jamaica Information Service biography of Louise Bennett-Coverley (1919-2006) – https://jis.gov.jm/information/famous-jamaicans/louise-bennett-coverley/

Laëty Tual personal website: https://www.laetysignmouv.com

Linton Kwesi Johnson’s website (LKJ Records) – https://lintonkwesijohnson.com/

Sean Forbes personal website: https://www.deafandloud.com

Viscore collective, information: https://videonaute.fr/videos/watch/9028bfbe-cd16-4504-903c-4e38dcef56f8

Wawa artist personal website: https://www.diphopwawa.com/music

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