Language in Ahmadou Kourouma´s "Allah n’est pas obligé"

Intercultural Dialogue in Literary Aesthetics

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2011 23 Pages

Didactics - French - Literature, Works



There can be no literary text without the use of language. This is why O. W. Holmes insists that:

Language is a solemn thing. It grows out of life – out of its agonies and ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a temple in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined.

The message is immobile without language. Language is the vehicle that transports the message. In fact in terms of comparison, the expression of the message which is the language is far more superior to the message itself. We could then be talking of the “le fond et le for me”, that is the message and its expression. If the message is not taxied to the consumer by the producer through the use of language, there could be no communication whether written or oral. This is perhaps why Trench stresses that:

Language is the amber in which a thousand precious thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. It has arrested ten thousand lightning flashes of genius which, unless thus fixed and arrested, might have been as bright, but would have also been quickly passing and perishing as lightning.

For compactness, aesthetics and mastery of the text, the artist must put figures of speech in the first place of language. This is more so, because outside their use, the literary work would be hardly different from psychological, sociological, historical or anthropological documents.

Again, it is not enough to use language in the expression of the message, but one must show one’s peculiar and unique skills in doing so. In this way, we can talk of the artist’s style. This has been defined (Adewoye, 1988:30) as the:

Verbal dressing or coating of one’s thought, ideas and feelings in a method that is peculiar or unique to a particular author.

Ahmadou Kourouma as a literary guru must have been aware of the above facts. Therefore, in Allah n’est pas oblige, right from the setting, plot, theme, characterization, point of view, dialogue to the denouement he never missed the opportunity of putting a little bit of himself.


Mohammadou Kane (Gourdeau,1973:136) commenting on Ahmadou Kourouma’s style noted that:

On n’a jamais donné dans notre littérature une image aussi juste de l’âme africaine.

In our literature, no one has ever given such a just image of the African soul.

Such a remark recaptures best the singular courage of Ahmadou Kourouma in mapping out a path for the African readers, most of whom were ignorant and could not express themselves in the standard French language. Despite the fact that Ahmadou Kourouma studied in France and passed his exams using the standard French language, his quest to stand in solidarity with the local Africans whom he calls “… les nègres noirs africains indigènes”(ANO,10, made him to distance himself from the first school of Francophone African writers like Leopold Senghor, Tchicaya U Tansi, Camara Laye, and Cheikh Hamidou Kane (les inconditionels) who competed favorably with the French writers in turning out their literary works in the standard French language. Ahmadou Kourouma equally took a distance from the second – school Francophone African Writers who took the motto: “Retour au source”. This group went to the extreme: il faut écrire la littérature africaine plutôt en langue africaine. Many writers in every African tongue are today writing using vernacular as the literary medium. No Francophone African writer as at now is openly canvassing for this. This is because, according to Noureini Tidjani – Serpos(Fatunde 2001:July 28) a Francophone critic and poet:

The basic problem in the language question is that most of the exponents of the immediate use of an African language as a medium of literary creativity are not creators, and so, are not fully aware of the implications of literary creativity.

Ahmadou Kourouma comfortably settled down with the third school of Francophone African writers like Aimé Cesaire, Ferdinand Oyono, Mongo Beti, Sembène Ousmane and Labou Tansi. Their contention is that, though the French language is the basic and official language of communication, there is still need for the African to have a mastery of his native tongue.

There is an aesthetic vision of the African language among this group, namely that the African tongue also enriches the French language in the encounter between the two languages. In this way, it becomes a symbiosis, a way as it were of showing the equality and mutual linguistic dignity of both tongues. Mohammadou Kane(Gourdeau1973:136) praises Ahmadou Kourouma for this:

La richesse thématique de l’œuvre est exalté par un style qui résulte de la rencontre du français et du malinké,… langue de l’auteur; expression au premier abord déroutante mais dont on admire tres vite l’efficacité lyrique et polémique.

The thematic wealth of the work is enriched by a style which results from the meeting of French and malinké language of the author; an expression at first misleading, but which one very quickly admires its lyrical and polemic efficacy.

This approach may at first sight appear like a linguistic revolt or rebellion since it distorts and massacres the French vocabulary and grammar. The goal of Ahmadou Kourouma and his colleagues is to prove that the French language cannot open up the African Weltanschauung (World view). The truth is simply that the structure of the French language fails to describe and express the African thought. This is exactly what the Canadians, the Swiss and the Belgians observed that made them invent Canadian French, Swiss French, and Belgian French. Elsewhere in European Studies I have advocated this intercultural dialogue in German Studies (Germanistik and Interkulturelle Germanistik) as a way out in the poor performance of the dissemination of German language, literature and culture. Even in English, we have the Queens English, the American English and the African pidgin English. Africans can as well have African French. Each writer faced with the realities of myriads of African misery: Colonialism, slavery, neo – colonialism, civil and religious wars, cannot afford the luxury of l’Art pour l’Art. Ahmadou Kourouma has to use the French language to mobilize his people for a way forward. He needed to bear a genuine testimony to the situation of his people, but he could not achieve this mobilization of his uneducated people adequately faced with the dilemma of using a foreign language. In the words of Tunde Fatunde( 2001: Lecture Notes):

Les romans africains, C’est un témoignage historique des écrivains africains; un témoignage d’une situation d’esclavage, du colonialisme et du néo – colonialisme.

The African novels are a historic witnessing of African writers; a testimony of a situation of slavery, colonialism and neo colonialism.

It is also an intellectual responsibility by these authors who must write in foreign language and on foreign soil for their people, majority of whom could not express themselves in the said language. And since according to Kester Echenim (2000:131):

The essential function of literature is to promote a situation of dialogue between the producer and the consumer of the text – a dialogue that is predicated on the existence of the fundamental functions of literature that are both aesthetic and didactic[…]

how could these African engagé elites sell their ideas of solidarity and mobilization best to their people? The answer is simple: Invade the French language with the appropriate African linguistic literary medium, and by so doing de – structure the former making it pliable to the speakers of African languages, as a means of literary discourse. Ahmadou Kourouma writes in Malinké language using the necessary linguistic channels to get across his message and his literary particularities and then transliterates it into French. Mohammadou Kane(Gourdeau 1973:141) says exactly this:

L’essentiel du roman se situe dans cette sorte de confrontation du passé et du présent, de parallèle entre une société traditionnelle harmonieuse, fortement hiérarchisée, où l’homme trouvait sa place dans un ensemble cosmique et cohérent, et la société africaine moderne où l’homme se dessèche, ou un semblant d’ordre est substitué à l’harmonie d’autrefois.



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LMU Munich – Fakultaet fuer Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften
language ahmadou kourouma´s allah intercultural dialogue literary aesthetics



Title: Language in Ahmadou Kourouma´s "Allah n’est pas obligé"