Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-1-2019


The history between France and Africa has been peppered with numerous irregularities and crimes. Senegalese filmmaker Sembene Ousmane’s film Camp de Thiaroye (1988) returned to this painful story of the Thiaroye tragedy. That film chronicles the criminal massacre by the French of returning Senegalese soldiers. The latter, having sacrificed themselves for France during WWII, demanded treatment and compensation equal to their French counterparts. Interestingly, one of the significant details of this film is the multitude of languages and “patois” that the various African soldiers speak. At the same time, the lingua-franca, a kind of “pidgin” called Français-tirailleur, is simultaneously a demeaning “baby-talk” used by the French to speak to the African soldiers and serves, once co-opted by the infantrymen, as a weapon of resistance. Indeed, it is my argument that with the complex politics of language in the film, Sembene turns French against itself, thereby signaling the crimes of the colonial power and their lingering legacy. Complicating matters, Francophone African literature and films are not only noteworthy for their use of various vernacular and/or local versions of French but as the meeting place of various local “African” languages that also interact in complex ways with the language of colonialism, modifying it and absorbing it equally. This is one of those aspects that Sembène significantly highlights in Camp de Thiaroye where language becomes an instrument of anti-colonial struggle. By their alleged misuse of the French language, African soldiers manifest their rejection of this language which is for them a symbol of oppression.


Language, Colonization, Deconstruction, Fluctuation, Myth, Power.


Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

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Department Name

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Committee Member (Chair)

Pim Higginson

Second Committee Member

Stephen Bishop

Third Committee Member

Walter Putnam