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561: Savain replies on Creole: Allen adds (fwd)

From: Jeff ALLEN <jeff@elda.fr>
>From: "Roger E. Savain" <resavain@konpitek.com>
>With all due respect to professor Allen and many other highly qualified and
>competent linguists, it does not seam appropriate to undermine the validity
>and importance of the official January 1980 IPN/Haitian Ministry of National
>Education orthography of Haitian Kreyol. 

Roger (and Emmanuel and others), my objective is not at all to undermine the
IPN orthography, but to demonstrate why decisions were possibly made (from
linguistic and literacy perspectives) in what we now have as this orthography.
The issue has been why the decision was made to only have one accent mark (the
grave accent) for Haitian Kreyol.
I am fully supportive of the IPN orthography and am very glad that there has
been a standard orthography for Haitian Kreyol for nearly 20 years. 

My comments over the last few days on the Haiti Mailing lists have not been to
criticize the IPN orthography, but rather to indicate where there is a
convergence of linguistic, sociolinguistic and historical issues that were
certainly considered in not just the IPN orthography for Haitian Creole, but
also for orthographies for other creole languages and non-creole languages.   

>The reason for not using the
>"accent aigu" on the  e  is because in Haitian Kreyol, the  e is always

Not completely.  The decision on whether or not to have the aigu and grave
accents is not just for the "e". It is globally related to all of the phonemes
and graphemes in the language, including the "e", the "o", and even the "a". 
The team at the Universite Paris 5 (Univ Rene Descartes) was the group that
originally worked on the IPN orthography, proposing it in 1975 if my memory
does not fail me.  It was then adopted, and I think slightly modified (I
believe that Albert Valdman could provide more detailed information on this
issue) before  officialization in Haiti.   From both linguistic and literacy
perspectives, it is more efficient to retain a single accent mark and not
introduce a second accent mark, when this is possible.

In Kreyol, there is a phonemic distinction between back mid-closed o and
mid-open o.
And there is the phonemic distinction between front mid-closed e and mid-open
As this is a 2-way (simple binary) distinction that is high-low (or
if you wish), then there is only the need for a single accent, not two.  This
type of one indicator for a binary distinction is used in all kinds of fields,
not just language (when a 3-way or multiple way distinction is necessary, then
2 or more indicators are needed).    Jon Amastae, in his book review of the
Dictionary of St. Lucian French Creole (the book review appeared in "Language"
in 1994 -- I have a copy of it at home in my archives), made some very valid
critiques about the compiler of the dictionary of St. Lucian French Creole
having made the decision to use a aigu accented "e" and a grave accented "o",
especially considering that the grave accented "e" had been used in previous
versions of the orthography for the language, in orthography standardization
workshops in  1981 and 1982, and in literacy materials.  It is best to keep
number of accent marks to a minimum and thus not confuse the people who will
need to learn the written language.   I have simply been emphasizing in these
messages that economically speaking (linguistically and literacy-wise) it
was a
wise choice to decide on the following for Haitian Kreyol:

o = mid-closed o
o` = mid-open  o

e = mid-closed e
e` = mid-open e

>It is known that among the French based Kreyol languages there are
>differences, but each language is written according to its own rules. 

It is very important to state what kind of rules you are referring to. The
of the differences between the French creoles are "lexical", this meaning that
words -- whether they be grammatical markers like "ap" and "te", or functional
words like "an" and "nan", or content words like verbs and nouns -- have
different forms between the different French creoles of the Caribbean.  In
Haitian Kreyol we say "nou pa manje zoranj yo" (you plural/we have not eaten
the oranges) while in Martinique we say "lezot pa manje se zoranj" for (you
plural have not eaten the oranges). The syntactic differences between these
creoles languages are very slight.  The lexical differences are very high. 
However, the phonetic and phonemic differences are almost insignificant
these different French creoles (in the Caribbean).  I claim that it is
to establish a phonemic sequencing (not just phonetic) of the following
utterance for Creole speakers from any of the French Creole-speaking
islands of
the Caribbean :

/mwe~ pa te manje pe~ sa a/

because the phonetic differences would be so slight that they would be nearly
unperceived.  Sure, there are a few differences between j/dj  and k/tch for
other words in these languages, but this is really insignificant.   The small
level of phonetic and phonemic difference between the various French creoles
allowed my team at Carnegie Mellon University to build a speech recognizer for
Haitian Creole and other French creole languages based on recordings made by
Haitians, Martinicans, Guadeloupeans, and Reunionese.  Many of our results
been discussed in detail in:

ALLEN, Jeffrey and Christopher HOGAN.  1999. Le 'r' et le 'w' en créole
haïtien: 1, 2 ou 3 phonemes?   Paper presented at the 9è Colloque du Comite
International des Etudes Créoles.  Held at the Université de Provence,
Aix-en-Provence, France, 24 - 29 juin 1999.

ALLEN, Jeffrey and Christopher HOGAN. 1998.  Evaluating Haitian Creole
orthographies from a non-literacy-based perspective.  Paper presented at the
annual meeting of the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, New York
9-10 January 1998. 

ESKENAZI, Maxine, HOGAN, Christopher, ALLEN, Jeffrey, and Robert FREDERKING.
1998. Issues in database design: recording and processing speech from new
populations  (poster session). In Proceedings of the First International
Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation, 28-30 May 1998, Granada,
Spain. Vol. 2, pp. 1289-1293.

HOGAN, Christopher and Jeffrey ALLEN.  Phonemic and Orthographic realizations
of ?r? and ?w? in Haitian Creole.  Paper presented at the International
Conference of the Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS) 99, San Francisco, 1-7 August,

LENZO, Kevin, HOGAN, Christopher, and Jeffrey ALLEN. 1998.  Rapid-Deployment
Text-to-Speech in the DIPLOMAT System.  Poster presented at the International
Conference on Spoken Language Processing.  30 November - 4 December 1998,
Sydney, Australia.

If we were able to build such a speech recognizer that can understand the
speech of different creole speakers (and it actually did quite well on my
spoken Creole, although the system was 100% trained on native-speaker data),
this demonstates how close phonologically the different French creoles really
are.  Computer systems are only as intelligent as the programming and the
and if the data is phonemically consistent for the different Creoles, then the
system is capable of understanding creole speakers coming from the different

>From this experience of 2 years of data collection and system develop, we
developed and demonstrated this Haitian Creole (though also valid for other
Creole speakers and non-native speakers of Creole) voice recognition system
well as the speech synthesis and automatic translation systems) at many speech
and machine translation conferences.  I unfortunately was not able to present
it at the Creole conference at Aix-en-Provence in June 1999 because 1) I no
longer have a powerful enough computer (issue of RAM memory) to run it, and 2)
since I left Carnegie Mellon Univ (CMU) in Dec 1998, I am no longer an
representative of the institution, so I didn't have legal rights to accessing
and demonstating the system that I had developed (I am however now working on
getting a non-disclosure agreement worked out between CMU and me so that I can
demonstrate the system for CMU in the future at other conferences).

As others and I discovered in our research and development efforts for that
project, the main differences between the French creoles are not
phonetic/phonemic at the acoustic level (because we were able to build a
cross-Creole language recognition system) but rather that there is a
significant different on how these phonemic differences are written
in the orthography of each given language.   These orthographic differences
based on current sociolinguistic issues (Haiti has been independent from
since 1804 with 95+% of the population monolingual in Kreyol with anywhere
15-50% of the population being literate in either French or Kreyol vs. the
in Martinique where the majority of the population is bilingual and all
children are education in the French system).  The varying factors from these
different sociolinguistic contexts end up with decisions for Creole language
orthographies based on multiple paradigms, especially with regard to the
official language(s) in the country.  One cannot simply say that a Creole
orthography is based only on the sounds in a given Creole.  Much thought is
placed upon the other languages (especially official and national languages)
spoken in the country, and how the spelling system of the other languages
interplay with the spelling system of the Creole languages to be put into
writing.   This was the case with Haitian Kreyol for many decades.  I have a
whole pile of books in my office at home that trace the different
of Haitian Kreyol since the beginning of the 1900s, some more phonetically
based, others more etymologically based.

Developing an orthography for any given language is not an isolated issue, but
rather something that is quite complex.   What happens in today's world is
we try to establish and standardize/normalize the orthography/spelling system
and the lexical forms of the written words in a period of 10-20 years whereas
for some of the current international languages this took several centuries
(earliest text for French is the Serments of Strasbourg of 832 AD. -- Francois
1er declared French as the national language in 1539, Academie Francaise
established in 1634, etc.).  And also, there is the notion that the language
variety being described and provided with a written orthography is in
opposition (and in collaboration) to/with many other international languages,
their written systems, etc. These kinds of issues are often considered
when deciding on any type of written system.

   >It is
>not fair to mislead uninformed readers in order to impose an opinion. The
>usage of any language must conform to its up-to-date rules. 

Yes and no.  It depends on who you are and what are determined as rules.  For
decades, if not a century or more, French people were always told that the
participle agreement for verbs with avoir only happened when the direct object
comes before the verb and auxiliary, and that the agreement is obligatory, as

Les photos que j'ai prises.

However, I have been conducting a study on this for several years and have
noticed that the generation of French speakers age 50+ use the agreement
all of the time.  The younger generation of under age 30 fluctuate in their
of the agreement with "avoir" past participles about 50%/50%    The two most
common past participles on which the agreement/non-agreement fluctuates are
"pris" (verb prendre) and "fait" (verb faire).   I have even been informed
in the new edition of Le Bon Usage by M. Grevisse that this "rule" has been
changed to take into account this phenomenon of the 20th century of the
lack of
past participle agreement on Avoir verbs.   It is now considered to be
according to the books, but many parents still frown on the younger generation
speakers not indicating the agreement in their spoken utterances.

>All other references are part of historical research. 

Not quite.  How do you we expect a native Kreyol speaker to write the English
word "Washington" in Kreyol?  It all depends on how they pronounce it.   In my
database of 1.3 million Kreyol words, we have 15+ attestations of how to spell
this word.  Also, how should one spell the name "Klinton" in Kreyol?  How
it is
spelled is determined by how it is pronounced, and how it is pronounced is
often determined by where the person lives (in the US or elsewhere), among
other things.  These are issues of current events and how to put an
into practice when it is confronted with foreign words (whether they be from
French, from English, or from another language).

>Otherwise there will be complete
>So, let's keep ourselves informed. Haitian language and religion are the two
>legs upon which Haiti can enter into the 21th century with some dignity.

I do not doubt this at all.  The issue however is that two different competing
orthographic spelling systems are used by governmental/educational (IPN) and
religious (Faublas-Pressoir) circles.  It is necessary to get all of commonly
used everyday documents into one standardized orthography and move on from

What I have been trying to demonstrate is that there are many examples of
exceptions and that once people have been trained in the writing system for an
extended period of time, they can in fact understand things written according
to a different spelling system.  But having competing spelling systems in the
documents used in different domains of one's life is a potentially confusing
point right now for many Haitians.

The ultimate goal is to have a written language that is usable, readable,
writable and as close to the spoken language as possible. With these, we can
hope that the transition from oral language acquisition to written language
learning is as easy as possible for those who have the opportunity to do it.

I very much appreciate the discussion on this topic.  I am certainly not a
ethnologist nor a sociologist, so there are points that I have probably missed
that others can fill in with their experience and expertise.   

So, Roger and Emmanuel, I very much share your concerns and certainly do not
want you to think that I am opposing you.  I agree that the choice of the aigu
accent in Haitian Kreyol is not necessary.  My explanations have been "why
is so" from the theoretical and practical perspectives.   I've decided to
intervene in the discussion on specific linguistic issues in clarifying some
points regarding phonetics and phonemics as these terms within the area of
orthography design and practice are often interchanged when they should not

Na we` anko` !


Jeff ALLEN - Technical Manager/Directeur Technique
European Language Resources Association (ELRA)  &
European Language resources - Distribution Agency (ELDA) 
(Agence Europe'enne de Distribution des Ressources Linguistiques)
55, rue Brillat-Savarin
75013   Paris   FRANCE
Tel: (+33) - Fax: (+33)