[lg policy] Duke U: A New Course in Creole Prepares Students to Aid Haiti's Recovery

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 28 16:10:47 UTC 2010

A New Course in Creole Prepares Students to Aid Haiti's Recovery

By Mary Helen Miller

Within two weeks of the earthquake in Haiti, a new for-credit course
at Duke University called "Haitian Creole for the Haitian Recovery"
held its first session. Deborah C. Jenson, a professor of Romance
studies and a specialist in Creole, developed the course. It is
designed to help undergraduates, as well as health-care practitioners
and engineers, who want to be involved in relief and rebuilding
efforts learn enough of the language and culture to communicate
effectively in Haiti. Because she is on leave this semester, Ms.
Jenson found two graduate students to teach the course.

Q. Why take this course?

A. It is focused partly on orientation in Haiti. What will happen when
you get to the airport? How will you really get around in Haiti? What
are the different parts of the city of Port-au-Prince? Which are the
major institutions—which used to be there at least? And what are the
other cities that were devastated by the earthquake?

We are really going to be involving students' own disciplinary
backgrounds in the course as we go. For instance, we have a student in
engineering; we have a student in forestry; we have various
health-care professionals and students; we have students who do
history or political theory. We're going to be helping them all engage
in their own areas of potential participation in the recovery, develop
very targeted vocabulary lists, be able to present themselves
professionally in Creole, so that they will really be ready to get
there and converse and, hopefully, start working with people.

Q. How did you conceive of the course, and how did you put it together
so quickly?

A. After the earthquake, I had a meeting of students from the Haitian
Student Alliance and students from the two most recent Creole classes.
We thought that it would be great to use our humanities knowledge to
try to bring more linguistic preparation and cultural sensitivity to
Duke's relief involvements, which we knew were going to be
substantial. We did it really quickly, with the help of a very
dedicated staff person in Romance studies who helped me to get a
course processed after the semester had begun, which is pretty hard to
do. The provost was supportive, and we got support from a number of

Q. You have about 20 undergraduates and about 11 auditors, including
premedical and medical students, global-health students, doctors, and
a public-health professional. What are their roles in recovery

A. Some of them have very concrete projects. There is one person who
is doing a prosthetics drive. There is someone else who is engaged
with an initiative to help HIV-positive orphans in Haiti. Others just
feel that they really want to be involved in a way that reaches out to
the other culture ... to be able to communicate with people on their
own terms.

Q. What texts are you using?

A. We are using a medical Creole textbook, called Haitian Creole for
Health Care. We are also using various materials on Haitian-English
medical phraseology by Bryant Freeman, a professor from the University
of Kansas. He has made his audio materials publicly available, which
allowed us to quickly develop a whole audio basis for the course.

Q. Is a background in French helpful?

A. I would say that it sort of helps and hurts equally. Creole is
really extremely different from French. It's true that most of its
vocabulary derives from French, but much of that vocabulary comes from
centuries back, and it has all been transformed in pronunciation and
spelling. ... So in the end, it's a pretty complex language, and
French helps in some ways. It certainly helps to engage with the
literature of Haiti, which is partly Francophone and partly

Q. Do you think that this course, or one like it, will be continued to
be offered at Duke?

A. I actually think it's quite likely because the recovery in Haiti is
likely to be something that goes on for years, and involve many
Americans and many Haitian Americans.

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