Andrea Hollington

Andrea Hollington

Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Andrea Hollington is a researcher with a background in African Studies. Her research interests include anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics, social semiotics, ethnomusicology, post- and decolonial studies, epistemologies, youth language practices and studies on repertoires and identity. She has investigated cultural, linguistic and musical practices in Africa and the African Diaspora and studied African-Caribbean relations. Her research areas include Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Jamaica. In her multifaceted and multi-sited research she is also interested in creativity and agency in communicative practices.

Talk Information:

Language, knowledge production and decoloniality: perspectives from East Africa
June 30, 2023 | 9:00 AM

As a social practice, a means of communication and a cultural expression, language can be involved in processes of knowledge production in multiple ways. Studying underlying cultural concepts of epistemology in various East African societies, it becomes obvious that linguistic practices are crucially involved in the production, negotiation and transmission of knowledge. In this talk, I will discuss three different examples of how language features in cultural knowledge production and decolonial practices. Firstly, I will show how the Amharic concept of sämənna wärq (‘wax and gold’) works not only as an important rhetorical device in communication and verbal art but also as an allegory for social realities in Ethiopian culture (Levine 1965, Mattausch 2006). Secondly, I will discuss the Kiswahili notion of utu (‘humanity’) by looking at cultural linguistic practices and grammatical structure. Hereby, I seek to illustrate how utu, which from a philosophical perspective can be regarded as southern epistemology and form of knowledge of humanity and the world (Kresse 2007, 2018), is deeply inscribed in language and culture of the Swahili people and offers a Kiswahili view on language, culture and knowledge. Finally, I will turn to youth language practices in Uganda to shed light on how youth use linguistic manipulation as a means of epistemic disobedience (Mignolo 2011) and decolonial practice. These three examples will fuel a discussion of East African (or more generally: southern) perspectives on the intersection of language, culture, epistemology and decoloniality.


Kresse, Kai. 2007. Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam, and the Intellectual Practice on the Swahili Coast. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute.

Kresse, Kai. 2018. Swahili Muslim Publics and Postcolonial Experience in Coastal Kenya. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Levine, Donald N. 1965. Wax and Gold. Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mattausch, Birgit. 2006. Die Kunst der Ambiguität. Indirekte Kommunikation im historischen Äthiopien und den Gäbrä-Hanna-Anekdoten. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2011. Epistemic disobedience and the decolonial option: a manifesto. Transmodernity 1,2. 44-66.