Partition and the English Language
The Master’s Tongues: Dialectics of Language
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde
This work investigates the politics of language from a post-colonial standpoint, specifically how language functions as a tool of colonial power. English is the official language in 54 Commonwealth countries, all of which were former colonies of Britain, in addition to 25 territories which are still under British governance. Each of these 79 states have mother tongues other than English, however, English is the official language in these nations. In the Anglophone world, 3 countries, Britain, America, and Australia, have English as their mother tongue, as well as the official language.
Arguably, this is continuing evidence of colonial and neo-colonial power, but it is also undeniable that English as a language has changed and evolved in each of these countries, as it became hybridized by the accents, colloquial phrases, patois, and sounds of the local mother tongues and got incorporated into the spoken and written English of that country, leading to the phenomenon of World Englishes such as Spanglish, Hinglish, Chinglish, and many such variations.
These World Englishes have become the language of counter-memories - that narrate history that combats the master narratives of history.
This anti-memorial is comprised of 79 cast iron tongues that have been allowed to rust. Iron was the metal of the Industrial Revolution and one of the major forces of Britian’s colonial power. It was used to make domestic objects as well as railroads, ammunition, and monumental buildings. Iron is also a beautiful material at every stage – when it comes out of the foundry, and when it rusts over time.
The rust continually changes the tongues in subtle ways continuously and makes the work durational. While rust can be seen as deterioration, in the case of iron, it actually makes the metal strong by creating a hard outer shell that protects the metal. The rust is symbolic of the gradual changes and local adaptations in the English language, and thus about how post-colonial appropriation of the master’s language can undermine and subvert the master’s house.
About the project videos
The Masters' Tongues: Dialectics of Language
What to learn more about Masters' Tongues project?
This work investigates the power of the English language from a post-colonial standpoint, specifically how language functioned as a tool of colonial power. English became a tool of colonization as the British empire grew. English was used by the British to create a discourse of British superiority, in relation to the inferior natives of the colonies. This discourse was validated by dubious claims of eugenics, industrialization, and rituals of civilization