[lg policy] Discussion and comments: Medium of Instruction for Creole Languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 25 14:14:46 UTC 2010

Medium of Instruction for Creole Languages

A few weeks ago, I posted a discussion on the use of Creole as a
medium of instruction, with special reference to Haiti. My post
identified several interrelated issues concerning first and second
language acquisition, theories on creole genesis, genetic linguistics,
and cultural and political considerations. Several comments were sent
to me directly, while others were posted various blogs and websites.
For the benefit of readers of The LINGUIST List, I have summarized
below some of these reactions, with a few comments of my own.

First, many thanks to Jeff Siegel for pointing out three recent
volumes dealing with the use of creoles in education:

Migge, B., I. Léglise and A. Bartens (eds). 2010. Creoles in
Education: An Appraisal of Current Programs and Projects.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Nero, S. (ed). 2006. Dialects, Englishes, Creoles, and Education.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Siegel, J. 2010. Second Dialect Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

The excellent volume edited by Migge et al. (2010) contains
descriptions of several attempts at integrating Creole languages in
the education systems of various countries, and distinguishes three
main types of programs: instrumental, accommodation, and
awareness-raising programs. Although the contributions therein do not
deal specifically with the Haitian situation, they do nonetheless shed
some light on some of the challenges which were faced by the Haitian
educational system in implementing the new laws and recommendations of
the 1980s and 1990s.

Concerning point (1) in the original post, an interesting analysis was
provided on another website, arguing that if Catalan or Canadian
children are capable of acquiring native-like proficiency in 2 or more
languages, surely Haitian children have the same ability, provided the
education system is reformed in such a way as to make it more
effective. As I suggested in my original post, the Haitian government
has already proposed and partially implemented the use of Creole in
the first few years of schooling, which despite some opposition from
teachers and parents, has dramatically improved literacy rates over
the past 20 years (according to Haitian government sources). As a
consequence, higher literacy rate may actually facilitate the
acquisition of other languages, including French (which remains one of
two official languages in Haiti).

Concerning point (4) in the discussion post, one reader argued against
the notion that Haitian parents and educators want their children to
learn French, citing psychiatric and psychoanalytical studies
suggesting that ‘stigmatized groups often internalize the
stigmatization they suffer from’. This of course is reminiscent of
studies on minority languages and language shift, including Lambert’s
(1967) study on Montreal French, or Dorian’s groundbreaking work on
the shift from Gaelic to English in the Scottish Highlands. First,
strictly speaking, these studies are not really comparable to the
Haitian case, since Creole speakers are an overwhelming majority in
Haiti, and there is no danger of a shift to French, given that there
is no sizeable French-speaking community there. Haitian is alive and
well, and will surely remain the L1 of most Haitians for generations
to come. Second, the argument that Haitian parents’ judgments are
somehow clouded by internal stigmatization may be an
oversimplification of the issue. One could equally argue that Haitian
parents want their children to be fluent in both Creole and French
(not either/or) because of the many educational and economic
opportunities afforded by knowledge of both official languages.

Given the partial success of the introduction of Creole in Haitian
schools, one should perhaps encourage efforts to make greater use of
the vernacular in schools, while at the same time avoiding a top-down
approach that would impose Creole across the board without heeding the
legitimate opinions and concerns of parents and educators. Despite
shortcomings and resistance to the implementation of Haitian Creole as
a medium of instruction, literacy rates have increased dramatically
since the 1980s, and adopting a moderate, sensible model of bilingual
education in Haiti will no doubt ultimately yield positive results,
and allow Haitians to attain greater proficiency in both official
languages, as I suspect is the ultimate goal of the educational reform
of the 1980s and 1990s.


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