'Monolingualism is the carbon monoxide of culture'- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Said dominance of some languages is destroying cultures.

In Summary

• Ngugi wa Thiong'o accepted the prestigious Catalonia International Prize in Gikuyu.

• He spoke out in favour of writers adopting their own tongue instead of colonial languages nearly six decades ago and now writes exclusively in Gikuyu.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o poses with his new book.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o poses with his new book.
Image: Moses Mwangi

Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is well known for his promotion of the use of mother tongue languages, but he caused a bit of a stir recently when he gave an acceptance speech for an international award in his preferred Gikuyu language.

He spoke out in favour of writers adopting their own tongue instead of colonial languages nearly six decades ago and now writes exclusively in Gikuyu.

“I’m really a believer in the equality of languages and I believe that every language even if spoken by five people has a right to be,” Ngugi told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

 

He added that "the challenge we have is how people from one language community can have conversations with members of another language community” without there being the assumption that there is a dominant language.

He also said that the dominance of some languages is destroying cultures and hindering communication.

“Monolingualism is the carbon monoxide of culture and multilingualism is the oxygen of culture.”