The cultural factor in the Semiotics of contemporary African Drama

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Chilala, Cheela F. K.
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This study focuses on the influence of culture on the semiotics of modern African drama. Semiotics is the science of signs, or the study of how meaning is produced. Semiotics deals with the meaning of everything that can be considered a sign, including words and actions. In other words, signs can be verbal and non-verbal; meaning can be produced both by speech and silence. This study however recognises the fact that some signs are culture-specific and that the semiotic process is largely determined by the cultural orientation of both the writer and the reader. This study will attempt to show that the reader needs to have an idea of the writer’s cultural orientation in order to conduct a meaningful semiotic reading of a text. In this study however the focus is on the relationship between culture and the semiotics of the contemporary African dramatic text. It is concerned with how cultural factors influence the semiotic aspects of the writings of African dramatists, as well as how they influence the semiotic reading of the African dramatic text. This study postulates that the dramatic text is different from the performance or theatrical text. While the former is the text of the play before it is performed, the latter is the play when it is performed. This study is concerned only with the semiotic reading of the dramatic text and not the theatrical text. Since African dramatists are influenced by African culture in their writings, it is important to take this factor into account when conducting a semiotic reading of an African dramatic text. It is possible to misunderstand or misinterpret a play text because of failure to understand the relationship between its sign-vehicles and the text’s cultural context. On the other hand, an understanding of the cultural context of the text’s sign-vehicles, either by experience or research, can help in the process of semiotic interpretation of the text. In addition, it is possible to write a play about a culture one has never experienced by studying it thoroughly and correctly employing its culture-driven sign-vehicles. The findings and conclusions of this study are based on the analysis of four contemporary African dramatic texts: The Black Mamba Two by Kabwe Kasoma of Zambia, Nothing but the Truth by South African John Kani; The Dilemma of a Ghost by Ghana’s Ama Ata Aidoo and The Black Hermit by Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Semiotics , African Drama