Monday, April 30, 2007

Must Read: Zadie Smith on Liberia

The celebrated UK novelist Zadie Smith has just filed a long, colorful dispatch from Liberia for the UK Guardian newspaper. Smith is best known for her spectacular debut, White Teeth.

I have only two small issues with her newest piece:

1. She says that "Charles Taylor is Innocent" billboards have been posted "across Monrovia". But to my knowledge there is only one of these in existence, and even that one has been defaced with acid.

2. Encountering Liberian English for the first time, she states in a rather patronizing fashion that it's "difficult to understand". I would only point out that Liberian English is a language with all the complexity of any other language on Earth, and that it's not difficult for Liberians to understand.

9 Comments:

Blogger Té la mà Maria said...

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4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few other relevant and irrelevant inaccuracies:
the Legislature is currently reviewing the Firestone concession agreement that was signed in 2005 during the transitional government days (the Mittal deal just got renegotiated with more favorable terms for the government);
the pigs living off garbage next to the Mamba Point Hotel are fat fuckers; and
food at la Pointe is overpriced rubbish ...

10:22 AM  
Blogger josh said...

anonymous, you crack me up.

10:46 AM  
Blogger ILHAME said...

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10:46 AM  
Blogger ILHAME said...

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10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And another thing, Zadie tells us that Tolbert got disembowled in his bed by Doe. I don't think this is correct.

See http://www.liberiapastandpresent.org/WilliamTolbert.htm

"Another irony is that President William Tolbert, Jr., was assassinated in the Presidential Palace, ‘the Executive Mansion’, a place he shunned at night. Tolbert preferred to sleep at his home in (former) Bensonville, renamed Bentol by him, at a distance of 25 miles from Monrovia. Persistent rumors in Liberia tell that Tolbert’s superstition was at the base of his decision to spend the night in Bentol. It was said that evidence of ritual ceremonies had been found in the Mansion after President Tubman’s death and Tolbert was convinced that it would bring him bad luck if he would spend the night in that building. At least history has proved him right in this respect."

And another thing while I'm at it. Why is it journalists never go visit Monrovia central prison when they're here? White teeth? More like a yellow chicken...

8:46 PM  
Blogger james said...

Patronizing her language comment may have been, but it is also true. You can think of the English language as a wide field of related languages. A few English dialects spread and were adapted to local conditions. All of them are human languages, and therefore as sophisticated as any other. But the closer your pronunciation and vocabulary is to Standard English, the more widely understood you are.
I speak "American Midwest," which is fairly close to Standard (and thanks to American media is more widely heard than Standard these days). In consequence I can understand/be understood by Liberians (albeit with some effort) and Koreans (likewise with some effort). The "distance" between what I speak and what they speak is not as great as their mutual "distance." I'm thinking of particular individuals here, one from Korea and one from Liberia: I doubt that they'd be able to understand each other at all. I can communicate with both, and no doubt Zadie could too.
It isn't a matter of sophistication of the language: you can philosophize or romance in any language. It is a matter of the range of the language: the larger the range you can be understood in, the better.

8:36 PM  
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