The African Proverb in a Novel: A Nightmare for the Foreign Language Translator


  • Emmanuel Nkonu Central University, Accra, Ghana


This study investigates the translation difficulties pertaining to African proverbs in novels. It sets out on the premise of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which sought to prove that due to the nature of language, it is impossible to translate it correctly into another language. The translation of an African proverb in a novel into a second or foreign language tends to uphold this view due to the fact that the
languages of these novels, that is, English, French, Portuguese, etc., are mere linguistic codifications of the African experience. The situation is more complicated if it comes to the translation of proverbs in these novels. These proverbs are mostly coined from the close observation of elements of the African geo-linguistic continuum. The majority of these proverbs are comparisons of specific elements
or real situations. The study, however, finds that it is possible to go round these difficulties especially with specific techniques and procedures to render a text in another language as expounded by Steiner, Seleskovitch, Catford, Ballard, Vinay, Darbalnet and others of this school of thought. With the examples of selected African proverbs, it also finds that among these techniques, word-forword,
borrowing, equivalence and correspondence are the most appropriate to translate these proverbs while the ghosts of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf continue to haunt the translator.


Akere, F. (1978). Socio-cultural constraints and the emergence of a standard Nigerian English. Anthropological linguistics, 20(9), 407-421.

Asante, M. (1996). Nativisation of English in Ghana. Legon Journal of the Humanities, 9, 127 - 140.

Biloa, E. (2006). De la Néologie Sémantique dans les Productions Littéraires fricaines Francophones. Revue Electronique Internationale de Sciences du Langage, 103(6),

Bokamba, E.G. (1982). The Africanization of English. In B.B. Kachru (Ed.), The other tongue: English across cultures. Urbana, Il, University of Illinois Press.

Darbelnet, J. et Vinay, J-P. (1977). Stylistique comparée du français et de l’anglais. Paris, Didier.

Jibril, M. (1986). Sociolinguistic variation in Nigerian English. English World-Wide, 7(1),

Jibril, M. (1979). Regional Variation in Nigerian Spoken English. In E. Ubahakwe (ed). Varieties and Functions of English in Nigeria. Ibadan: African Universities Press.

Kachru, B B. (1992). The other Tongue: English Across Cultures. Urbana, University of Illinois Press

Lederer, M. (1994). La Traduction Aujourd’hui. Paris, Didier

Seleskovitch, D. et Lederer, M. (1989): (1984). Interpréter pour traduire, Paris, Didier

Spencer, J. (1971). The English Language in West Africa. London, Longman

Steiner, G. (1975). After Babel. Aspects of Language and Translation, London Oxford University Press.

Yankah, K. (1987). The proverb in the context of Akan rhetoric (Ghana, Africa, Oratory, Speaking, Aesthetics).

Young, P. (1971). The Language of West African Literature in English. In Spencer, J. (Ed.) The English Language in West Africa. London: Longmans.




How to Cite

Nkonu, E. (2021). The African Proverb in a Novel: A Nightmare for the Foreign Language Translator. Central Inquiry, 4(1), 17–24. Retrieved from



Full length articles