This is a big theme of Little Bee. English, as in many former British colonies, is the official language of Nigeria. Little Bee points out that Nigerian English, a blend of English and African languages, is very different form the Queen's English she learns in an attempt to survive in British society. The novel asks us to consider how language and identity formation go hand in hand.
Little Bee is also concerned with writing. Sarah and Andrew are both journalists – people who make a living with words. Andrew's encounter with Little Bee and her sister lead him to lose faith in words as a way to make a real difference in the world. Conversely, Little Bee and Sarah, by the end of the novel, gain a renewed faith in the power of words to heal, both through individual conversations and through publishing accounts of hidden atrocities. The novel also argues for a change in the way we ("developed nations"), individually, in the media, and in our institutional policies and literatures, talk about asylum seekers and other immigrants.
Questions About Language and Communication
How do you feel about Sarah's almost obsessive correction of Charlie's grammar? Is grammar important? When and why?
Charlie seems to know the rules of Standard English grammar. Why might he chose not to use them?
Why does Little Bee prefer Nigerian English to the Queen's English?
Why does Andrew feel that words are no longer any good to him?
Do you think that pieces of writing have the ability to improve the world? What about fictional works, like Little Bee?