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#804: DeGraff comments: "Haitian Times": Whose times? (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I congratulate Garry Pierre-Pierre and Yves Colon on their fantastic new
venture and for their courage in putting this together.  And I wish them
great success, as I look forward to reading the first issue.

As the gadfly that I am, I must raise the following question regarding the
following comments by Pierre-Pierre and Colon, again (!)  regarding the
language issue and (mis-)representation of Haiti.  I mean this as
constructive criticism, as I am sure that Pierre-Pierre and Colon and the
staff at Haitian Times will aim at providing a consistently accurate and
reliable picture of Haitians, both in Haiti and abroad:


> Haitians Go to Press ,English-language weekly hits newsstands=20
>  By ROBERTO SANTIAGO Daily News Staff Writer _____ October 27 1999


> But in choosing to publish The Haitian Times in English, Pierre-Pierre
> and Colon are making a political statement themselves.  In Haiti,
> language often delineates class distinctions: The upper classes read
> French, and the lower classes speak Creole. But rich and poor alike read
> and speak English.  "English is the language that equalizes Haitians in
> the United States and in Haiti," said Colon,

This is certainly a benevolent political statement.  But it is also a
categorically FALSE statement that begs for correctives.  There are many
good reasons why Haitian Times may benefit from using English, starting
with the fact that its `home' is in the U.S., so there is no need to appeal
to any misreprentation of Haiti's linguistic profile.  Such misrepresentation
has much negative potential for Haiti, given the current (and age-old) 
crisis regarding the role of langugae in literacy programs and education.

Contrary to what Pierre-Pierre and Colon claim, EVERYONE in Haiti speaks
Creole, including the upper classes, notwithstanding the latter's attitudes
about Creole.  And it is just not true that "rich and poor alike read and
speak English", unless "Haitian Times" refers to some future wistful Haiti.
For now though, the ONLY language that "rich and poor alike" speak is still
Haitian Creole.  This is true of Haitian times in 1999, as it was 1899, and
I suspect it will remain true in 2099 and throughout the existence of
_Haitian Times_.

As of English, it surely cannot serve as "equalizer" in Haiti given that
the majority of Haitians do NOT speak English.

Regarding English spoken by Haitians in the U.S.: It can still work as a
NON-equalizer, based on accent and degree of fluency --- it is certainly
not the case that all Haitians in the U.S. have equal fluency of English,
although this may be true of the targeted audience of _Haitian Times_.

Accent and degree of fluency work as social markers (and as social
DIVIDERS) throughout English-speaking communities, whether composed by
Haitians or not.  In fact, this is true of ALL speech communities where
social classes have socio-linguistic correlates.  One's accent and dialect
can count for and against you, as it carry more or less "linguistic
capital" in the "linguistic market" (remember "Ebonic"?).  As Nancy
Laleau's latest message suggests, "hillbilly down-home" English accent is
surely not a social `equalizer' for "Oakies and Arkies".

The idea that English could ever serve as a social equalizer is only an
illusion.  English is surely a useful tool for global communication, But,
again, let's not let linguistic issues hide the real factor at the root of
Haiti's brutal hierarchies: language is mainly a reflection of such
hierarchies, and only a secondary (if powerful) tool in maintaining and
reinforcing the status quo...  Imagine a world where Bill Gates, Donald
Trump and other Fortune-500 types al were all monolingual Creole (or
monolingual "hillbilly" speakers for that matter), and just ask yourself
whether their languages would be still be stigmatized.

The true `equalizer' is socio-economic and political power.  Much else is
reflection, illusion and distraction.  And this goes back to `old times',
doesn't it?

This said, I reiterate my congratulations to the Haitian minds pushing
_Haitian Times_ forward and wish them all the best.  And I also hope that
constructive criticisms will contribute to the upkeep of the paper's
accuracy and of its political agenda.

N ap kontinye konbit lan.

MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
degraff@MIT.EDU        http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/degraff.home.html