Interpellation and otherness

Not only does colonialism embrace physical coercion, but also a set of beliefs to support it. It interpellates the colonial subjects by incorporating them in a system of representation by which the individual subjects come to internalise dominant values of the privileged part of society and think about their place in it in a particular disempowering way, which favours the colonisers. Interpellation, a term developed by Althusser, describes the way/s in which dominant ideas are made one’s own and how society determined views are expressed “spontaneously” by the colonised subjects. As colonial discourse also work through gratification (Althusser, Foucault), it makes the individual’s sense of worthiness depend on their representation of their assigned role with regards to the coloniser’s. We must bear in mind that discourses don’t reflect pre-given reality, but constitute and produce it.


In colonised locations, natives are usually required to work on the coloniser’s behalf, thus the language of the metropolis must be learned by them. Teaching English in India was argued as necessary in order for the natives to take English opinions (Macaulay). The result is the so-called mimic-men (V.S. Naipaul): they learn English, doesn’t look English and aren’t accepted as such. They are anglicised natives. They are expected by the metropolis to identify themselves with the middle-class bourgeoisie of the coloniser rather than with the indigenous masses (Franz Fanon), and although it may seem to expected to happen that way during the first stages, this fact is usually reverted later on, once native intellectuals they gain perspective. It is the next step, when native intellectuals can be regarded as a threat for the metropolis and when they can rewrite history from a post-colonial point of view.


The construction of otherness is significant for national representation, as identity is always defined in relation to something else. Borders are designed by people, and so are nations. They are fabrications, not natural phenomena. The myth of the nation serves the purpose of making people think of themselves as part of a greater collective, a sense of belonging that national symbols help to create. The invention and confection of history is central to the creation of nations and to colonialism. In reality there are so many versions of history as there are narrators.

Language and colonialism

The history of Europe, together with historiographical documents produced here, has been shaped by colonial interests. These colonial interests are the result of the ideology of imperialism, which assumes the right to settle, exploit the resources and attempt to rule the native inhabitants, mostly to fit Europe’s interests -and then to try and brush the consequences under the carpet by shunning the immigrants-.


It was after the World War II that Britain lost interest in settlement, although the indigenous populations kept on being ruled by a European minority of small colonial elites, once the natives were dispossessed. India and Pakistan gained their independence from western rule in 1947, while the African colonies did in the 1960s. The process of recovering sovereignty and freedom from foreign rule is known as decolonisation, and was prompted to a large extent -in the case of the former British colonies- by the loss of power suffered by Britain after the disastrous WWII. After that, they pursued control without settlement.

The loose cultural and political denomination Commonwealth, which supposedly grouped together a number of countries with a common history of colonialism, and shared -imposed- history and language, is very well described by Shirley Chew: “a paradox sits at the heart of the Commonwealth -described as a free association of equal and mutually cooperating nations, it is drawn together by a shared history of colonial exploitation and dependence.”


Furthermore, colonisation is perpetuated in the mind of people and in the tissue of society by the idea of the “lower rank” of the colonised, systematically implanted by the coloniser. Once they persuade a generation to internalise their imposed values, these assumptions get easily passed on to the next generation. Thus, language proves to be the most effective of weapons for the never-ending process of colonisation, as “it carries culture, values by which we perceive our place in the world” (Ngugi Wa Thiong’o). It does not passively reflect reality, but it builds its own. We can better see it in Brian Friel’s play “Translations”; in an Irish village there is a school were all the characters in the play share a common space and exchange their views. However, they are not allowed to speak Irish in this school. Some are even convinced that the old language is a barrier to progress, while others just want to learn English in order to flee to the USA. Two English men arrive with a mission; one is an arrogant and distant cartographer, the other, a worker of the toponymic department and an ortographer who seems friendly and is interested in learning the native language. Their mission is to Anglicise the place-names -and also to cunningly “redistribute” the land. The topographical names hide traditional stories which would be utterly lost after the original names are replaced and standardised.

Colonized brains: ignorance and the victor’s version of history

A positive aspect of the social networks is the fact that we take a glimpse into other cultures and places throughout the world and talk to people with a different background. It is indeed very enriching, and it provokes some awkward situations as well! For instance, a young fellow from India, Vivek Singh, asked me about the history of his country before the East India Company poked its nose in there. It made me feel embarrassed to acknowledge my ignorance, as I explained to him how in the western countries – as stated by Walter Benjamin: “History is told by the victors”- we are only taught history when/only as much as it involves western people, and western versions of it only. I feel we have a huge gap in our knowledge, no wonder we may behave as hillbillies when we encounter cultures and behaviours different to ours.

Gramsci Foucault

I resorted to Ravi Kumar (, who sent me some bibliography on colonial and post-colonial contexts in translation. I tried to fill the gaps by researching a bit and trying to reflect in order to answer Vivek Singh’s question: why were the colonial incursions in America and India so different?

We could say that time was an important factor, as more than one century separates both invasions. The way they happen was also particular to each of them; the Spaniards assumed to role of “gods” and took over, plundering, raping and erasing entire cultures with their microbes and swords alike. The British disguised it as commercial intentions only, while they publicised it as a “christianising enterprise” in their homeland. Their intentions were not as bare faced as that of the Spaniards’ because Indian society was very much developed, organized and sophisticated already, so they could not get away so easily.


They landed at Surat in 1612 with the permission of prince Khurram, who allowed them to trade there. A hundred years after that, in 1712, empires within India crumble, there are uprisings and invasions from Persia and Afghanistan. The East India Company take advantage of the invasions effected by other countries and the vacuum of power by the death of Aurangzeb (1707) to impose their own idea of an empire, displaying their own private army and plan to take direct control over the land in order to increase their profits. In the battle of Plassey (1757) they fight against the forces of the Nawab Surajudduallah of Bengal, backed by France -out of their own self-interest, I guess-. The Indian side fails, due to Surajudduallah’s General Mir Jafar’s treachery, who was made the new ruler of Bengal by the British as a reward for betraying his own fellow citizens -that sounds familiar throughout history, doesn’t it?-.

The Indians started to build alliances in order to better fight the British. In 1764, Mughal emperor Shah Allam II allied with Mir Qasim -Mir Jaffar’s son, who had turned against the British rule- and Shujaudduallah -ruler of Awadh- to expel the Brits. It results in another failure, in the battle of Buxar (1764); they were allowed to rule their areas but forced to acknowledge the East India Company as administrator.

The company started becoming a political force and its ambitions to gain control of India started to be obvious. For the next year they exerted their power through a combination of diplomacy and sheer force. By 1840 India was under its rule. The company exploited Indian resources, started introducing Christianity -which they were advised not to do during the first stages of their sojourn-, and developed an increasingly aloof, arrogant and racist attitude. They also introduced their language, a fact which is one of the basic and most common weapons used by colonialism. Indian craftsmen became ruined, as the Europeans living in India introduced cheaper products from British factories -a phenomenon which is also familiar nowadays, but the other way round, impulsed as well by the Europeans’ outsourcing-. The British established a kind of “apartheid” which resulted in the higher rank posts being reserved for their own kind. They also introduced the Doctrine of Lapse, allowing themselves to annex any land whose ruler died or which did not have a male heir -of course they practised gender apartheid as well-. India became an important site to exploit for Britain, thus Queen Victoria became the official ruler.

Pidgins and Creoles

Pidgins started their major development in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a consequence of European imperialism.

Pidginization is the process of simplification and hybridization of two or more languages that have come into contact. Should there be only two, there would exist a relation of dominance of one over the other, based mainly on power.

Usually, pidgin serves a limited and specific purpose such as trade. The mechanism of its creation is a progressive hybridization of words from a language ordered according to the syntax of the oher. Grammar gets simplified so as to facilitate communication and acquisition of pidgin by its users, who keep using their native language.

pidgin colored bumper sticker

Although not every pidgin becomes a creole, some pidgins are used for centuries and eventually evolve through means of a process known as creolization: the language which was previously used for purposeful communication is acquired now as a mother tongue by the new generation and have to meet the demand for all kinds of communicative needs and purposes, expanding and becoming more complex in its grammatical structure and its phonology. It may even become an official language as it happened in Papua New Guinea. Some pidgins, after undergoing the process of creolization have gained a status of language in their own right. Kishwahili, Hawaiian Creole English, or Haitian Creole -with five million speakers- are some of them.