[lg policy] Kreyol: Another Perspective on Orphanhood

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jul 13 14:22:12 EDT 2018

 Kreyol: Another Perspective on Orphanhood

Photo by: Feed the Children

By David S. Willig

The author of “Kreyol, The Orphan That Wouldn’t Go Away
Dr. Reynard Altema, raises some excellent points about the status of French
and the local vernacular in Haiti.

Looking at the issue from the outside can give an added perspective to the
thesis that a language policy is something that can favor the well-being
and development of a country.

Indeed, it is hard to argue that education does not play a significant role
in such development. Education depends on language as the medium of
transmission for knowledge.

Likewise, the rule of law supports development, and the law, whether
communicated orally by elders or written down in law books, also depends on
language as the vehicle of transmission, but also the vessel for
preservation to know what the law is, whether written or oral.

It is wrong to consider disdain toward Kreyol as an “inferior” means
of communication
if a prominent university instructor is writing a mathematics textbook in
that language.

At the same time, it probably does no good to denigrate the use of the
French language as “wallowing in the muck of a vile patois, spoken by
ruffians and slaves.” After all, English, now the most widely-used language
around the world is also the product of a subjugated people, formed from
Norman French, a common root for Kreyol, according to the theory developed
by the brilliant Haitian diplomat and linguist, Jules Faine, in his seminal
work, Philologie Créole.

Perhaps there is some merit to the belief that being fluent in French is a
worthy distinction. Such a belief, of course, ought not to be founded on
the basis that only a superior intellect can accomplish such a feat.
Rather, it should be founded on the idea that French can open up
possibilities for Haiti, and for Haitians, that Kreyol alone will not do.

French and Kreyol go hand in hand, whether that Kreyol arose in Haiti,
Mauritius, Louisiana or the French West Indies. Haiti is not the only
country where more than one language is spoken. Consider the challenges
faced by the denizens of the Netherlands Antilles.

The vernacular of Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire is Papiamento, a creole
language based largely on Portuguese and Spanish. Their formal language of
instruction, Dutch, does not have with Papiamento the relationship that
French has to Kreyol. Yet, the Dutch Antilleans take great pride in using
their vernacular as a jumping-off point to learn Spanish and Portuguese,
two languages with wider application.

The realpolitik, pragmatic solution of teaching French, and teaching in
French, even from, indeed especially from, a Kreyolophone viewpoint should
be encouraged. French still has a place in the world, and some argue that
place is actually growing.

For example, young people in Africa are increasingly opting for fluency and
education in “official languages” of the continent, which include French,
English, Portuguese and even Spanish in the case of Equatorial Guinea. Many
tribal and ethnic languages are in danger of disappearing, some without a
trace in the case of unwritten languages.

Haitians will not have to make that cultural sacrifice to get along in the
world of the 21st century. A friend of this author once joyfully announced,
“Kreyol is cool.” And it is; it is comfortable, and redolent of family and
friends. Unlike the “Bamileke” languages of Cameroon, Kreyol provides a
direct link to French, as well as a connection to worldwide Créolophonie.

*David S. Willig is a Miami-based attorney qualified in Florida and in
France (Bar of Paris)*


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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