National Identity Construction in Independence Day Speeches of Anglophone West Africa.

Author:Edu-Buandoh, Dora F.
Position:Critical essay


The Discursive Construction of National Identity

The concept of identity is considered as the positioning of the self in relation to others. Individuals and groups define themselves and are defined by others on the basis of certain characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, language and culture (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005; Deng, 1995) and in relation to their roles and social groups, hence the construction of personal and social identities. Social identity can be looked at from two angles: that which relates to the individual in the construction of individual identity and that which relates to the identity of the group, otherwise known as collective identity (Wodak, de Cillia, Reisgl & Liebhart, 2009).

The nation has been identified as the primary social group which individuals identify with in terms of their identity (Whannel, 1992). A nation, according to Anderson (1983), is an "imagined community" because it is purely a mental construct since no member of a nation gets to meet every other member, even in the smallest nation. Guibernau (1996) adds a relatively new dimension when he describes the nation as "a human group conscious of forming a community, sharing a common culture, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule itself (p.47). Thus, a nation is a population that considers itself as sovereign which has a culture, a territory, a past and a future. Asante (2015) in his description of Kemet, the first nation state in human history, indicates that a nation has a racial dimension made up of people of different ethnic and social communities. The discursive nature of "nation" puts an identity on the people who occupy that sovereign state. National identities are special forms of social identities that are constructed, reproduced, transformed and destructed through language and other semiotic means (de Cillia, Reisigl & Wodak, 1999).

National identity, like other forms of identity, is not static, but constructed according to context: the social field, situational setting and topic. A nation, therefore, can produce multiple identities revolving around its past, the present and the future (Wodak et al, 2009). Studies on the discursive construction of national identity have largely focused on political speeches (Coe & Neumann, 2011; Berntson, 2014), media discourse (Alameda-Hernandez, 2008; Georgalou, 2009) and commemorative speeches (de Cillia et al, 1999). These studies have revealed that different people emphasize different aspects of a nation's identity as it relates to the self or the other: the construction of the self (nation), the other (other nations) and the other within the self.

In relation to the construction of the self, de Cilia et al (1999) looked at the topics, strategies and linguistic devices that are employed to construct national sameness and difference of Austria. Using focus group discussions as an example of a semi-public discourse, they identified that the idea of a homo Austricaus, the narrative of a collective political history, the discursive construction of a common culture, collective present and a national body constitute the contents of Austria's national identity.

They distinguished four macro-strategies: constructive, perpetuation and justification, dismantling or destructive strategies and sub-strategies such as the presupposing of intra-national sameness where there was the use of the national we and the eponymic adverbial Austrian. The strategy of emphasizing national singularity was achieved through the use of the Austrian as a referent for we and the use of own to indicate that they were different from other people. The presupposition or emphasis of difference between nations was also realized through the use of terms such as foreigners, southerners and other labels. There was the use of positive self-representation as a constructive and perpetuating strategy. There was a repeated comparison between Austria and others although no specific reference was made. Their linguistic analysis focused on the lexical units, argumentation schemes and other syntactical means. There was the frequent use of the personal pronoun we with its variants and its corresponding possessive pronouns. The pronoun we was used to show national collective and had as its referent Austrians alive, those dead and even sub-national groups. The three tropes of metonymy, synecdoche and personification were employed as a constructive strategy to create sameness.

In a similar study, Berntson (2014) investigated the linguistic construction of national identities in two royal speeches by King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Mohammed VI of Morocco. He established that the Jordanian King focused on the construction of a common past and present through the use of the assimilation, inclusion and continuation strategy, and unification and cohesion strategies. This was achieved mainly through the use of the 1st person plural, spatial reference and time adverbials, and nationalistic vocabulary in general. On the other hand, the Moroccan King focused on the construction of a common political present through the use of unification and cohesion strategies which was realized linguistically through his choice of vocabulary, specifically his use of adjectives. While the Jordanian king had elements of the past in the construction of identity, the Moroccan king emphasised present events.

In the construction of the identity of the other, Coe and Neumann (2011) examined the role of foreigners in the construction of American national identity in the annual State of the Union Address of over eight decades. When foreigners are mentioned, places are usually mentioned first and people as second. When people are mentioned, the focus is more on leaders and citizens than on military troops. This is attributed to the ambivalence of the identity of military troops since they cannot be broadly classified as citizens or specifically as national symbols. In terms of their role, military troops and citizens are usually positioned as participants of the world order and leaders as dissenters because of their (leaders) role in determining the actions of nations. Citizens are also viewed as victims in need of US support with the exception of Obama who described citizens in neutral terms. In terms of the tone used in describing them, citizens are presented positively, leaders the most negatively, and troops in the most neutral terms. People or foreigners are not mentioned as exemplars worthy of emulation except for Obama who held up other nations as exemplars.

Alameda-Hernandez (2008) also studied how the Gibraltarian identity was constructed by three different newspapers after the 2002 referendum. That is, the Gibraltarian press, Spanish press and the British press. Employing Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL's) transitivity system, it was found that Gibraltar was presented using the material, verbal, mental and relational processes throughout the Gibraltar, Spanish and British press though with varying degrees of occurrence in each of the data set. The participant roles assigned in the Gibraltarian press are the actor, senser and carrier roles. In the Spanish press, the participant roles are the senser, goal, beneficiary and actor roles. Gibraltar is mostly represented as a senser, goal, sayer, receiver, target and verbiage in the British press. In relating this to identity, the author points out that Gibraltar is presented as passive because of the absence of a goal. The senser is given prominence which is realized through the use of the pronoun we to represent the people of the Gibraltar. Gibraltarian authorities are usually assigned the participant role of sayer which endows them with greater power. In the Spanish Press, when Gibraltar is presented as an actor, it is responsible for negative connotations and as beneficiaries of actions by Spain or Britain. The relational process serves as a strategy to call for a change of the status quo, and the future status of Gibraltar is also not given prominence. There is also the use of structures such as noun phrases and prepositional phrases which imply a background representation of Gibraltar. The British Press also represents Gibraltar as a passive entity. Through the use of the verbal process, Gibraltar's ordinary citizens are given a voice but they are affected by the actions of others.

The above studies show that presidents and journalists are continually actors or responsible for the construction of various forms of identities. There are different identities that are likely to be constructed based on the speaker or writer although there are bound to be confirmation of the identities as in the case of Gibraltar.

Commemorative and political speeches provide a site for the construction of various national identities. One of such commemorative speech is the Independence Day speech, which is the focus of this paper. From this background, this paper sets out to find how national identities are constructed in Independence Day commemorative speeches in Anglophone West African countries, what identities are constructed by these nations and how the national identities constructed in the speeches point to national development.

Data, Theoretical and Analytical Frameworks

The data consists of five Independence Day speeches of Anglophone West Africa: Ghana (GH), Nigeria (N), Sierra Leone (SL), The Gambia (TG) and Liberia (L). The most recent speech delivered in either 2016 or 2017 for each country was retrieved from the official government websites of the respective nations and coded for analysis. The Anglophone West African countries were selected purposively for this study because of their colonial past and for the common English language background.

The speeches were delivered by the presidents, except for Liberia where it is the practice to have a prominent person in the society...

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