Friday, April 1, 2016

Mark Sanders's "Learning Zulu"

Mark Sanders is professor of comparative literature at New York University. His books include Complicities: The Intellectual and Apartheid and Ambiguities of Witnessing: Law and Literature in the Time of a Truth Commission.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, Learning Zulu: A Secret History of Language in South Africa, and reported the following:
Although most of what the reader finds on page 99 is background information about the trial of Jacob Zuma, now the president of South Africa, for rape in 2006, there is also the more enigmatic sentence: “The play on ukuluma is insistent.” Why insistent, the reader might ask? And for whom? Most immediately, it refers to the predatory older men known in Zulu as omalume abalumayo (uncles that bite), and to the honorific of Malume (maternal uncle). To be insistent, however, wouldn’t there have to be more than a single example of wordplay? The reader is asked to recall the puns, mentioned elsewhere, that came to the author as he was learning Zulu: ukukhuluma (to speak) plays on ukuluma (to bite), and the idea that to speak is to bite one’s tongue (ulimi), meaning that a price is being exacted for learning the language (ulimi), any language perhaps, and that doing so must involve an alleviation of guilt if it is to succeed at all. At the rape trial, at which Jacob Zuma testified in Zulu, which is his mother tongue, although guilt and punishment are in play at another level, it is the process of learning the Zulu language that allows the author to catch a glimpse of some of the more covert forces at work in the courtroom.
Learn more about Learning Zulu at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue