Past Event

Provincializing Language: Language and Colonialism

September 26, 2023
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
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East Gallery, Maison Française, Buell Hall

Cécile Canut, in conversation in French with Souleymane Bachir Diagne and Thomas Dodman

When they colonized Africa, Europeans imposed their ideological conception of language, grounded in the idea of language as connected to national culture. This ideology led to the imposition of linguistic imperialism. Not only did missionaries and colonial authorities impose European languages they judged superior, they also relegated “African dialects” to the bottom of an imagined hierarchy of languages. This vision, relayed by some members of the elite in African societies, has survived into the post-colonial area through the creation of “Francophone” institutions, but it has nonetheless always also been contested - and with success. In two recent books, Cécile Canut sheds light on the biases inherent in supposedly scientific studies of language over the course of the 20th century, and invites readers to “provincialize” the very notion of language.

Cécile Canut is a sociologist and filmmaker. She is a University Professor of Language Sciences at the University of Paris, and is currently a Fellow at the Institut Universitaire de France at Cerlis. 

Souleymane Bachir Diagne is Professor of French and Philosophy, and Thomas Dodman is Associate Professor of French, both at Columbia University.