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#4021: DeGraff on "regional differences" in Creole (fwd)

From: valdman <valdman@taloa.unice.fr>

Northern HC

To add to Michel DeGraff's rectification of Grey's inaccurate statements
about Northern HC:

There exists a structural description of that variety produced by a a
native speaker, Gérard Etienne (1974) LE créole du Nord d'Haiti: Etude des
niveaux de structure (Doctoral dissertation, U. of Strasbourg).

Concerning the morphophonemic changes (in this case, specifically, sandhi
phenomena = changes in pronunciation at word boundaries), Etienne notes
nasalization before the post-posed pronouns "nou" and the short form of
"mwen", "m"; I list these pronunciations in the IPN spelling between slant

do a m /dwanm/ 'my back'
kou a nou /kwannou/ (where /ou/ is nasalized)

For a somewhat dated discussion of these phenomena based on Etienne's data
(the book appeared in 1978!), see (A. Valdman, Le créole: structure, statut
et origine.  Paris: Klincksiech, 1978), pp. 79-95 (Sandhi externe).

Clearly, we would need to upadate these observations by real empirical
work.  Today, that means, a study based on the observations of native
speakers whose social background and education level are clearly specified,
with a computerized text and the oral data  available on CD-ROM so that the
analyst's observations can be verified by the reader/hearer.  Dominique
Fattier's thesis (mentioned by DeGraff) is one such study but (1) it is
very costly in  its current published form; (2) there is not yet an an
index permitting convenient location of forms and some sample recordings.
Hopefully, some French publisher or other institution will take steps to
make this valuable epoch-marking work more generally available.

To add to the lengthy but illuminating discussion (mostly triggered by Bob
Corbett's clearly framed queries and Michel DeGraff's informed responses).

We need to distinguish between TRANSCRIPTION, which is simply the attempt
to render actually occurring speech,and ORTHOGRAPHY (SPELLING) which
involves some degree of abstraction from actual speech samples.  Devising
an orthography necessarily requires some degree of standardization and
abstraction, i.e. the reduction of the natural variability of speech.  The
pionneering "scriptors" of HC, the primarily religious-affiliated people
who attempted to provide monolingual speakers with material to read (Carrié
Paultre, Roger Désir, Father Ceuppens and all the good Belgian Flemish
people at Bon Nouvèl, Pauris Jean-Baptiste, etc.) and writers like
Franketienne and Emile-Celestin Mégie opted for the folk (monolingual) HC,
so they wrote  "diri", "ze", "sè", even though as bilingual they may have
said "duri" (du riz), "zeu" (des oeufs), seù (soeur).  Also, they chose a
less constraining model of standardization, akin to English where one may
write "I do not know" or " I don't know", "I am" or "I'm" instead of the
French one where all variants must be subsumed by a single form: un petit
/pEti/ chat vs. un petit
/pEtit/ ami, mes /me/ chats vs. mes/mez/amis.  So the IPN spelling permits
"mwen frape li", "m frape li", "m frape l".  However it does require
writing the full forms of most words: although  people usually say /on
bagay/, one writes "yon bagay", people usually say "m gon chat" but one
writes "m gen yon chat" (or "mwen genyen yon chat").

As DeGraff reminds us, any standardized orthography cannot be "phonetic",
it must be "morphophonemic".  The scriptors of HC, who write texts that
have a functional purpose (religious materials, school books, etc.) need
not only learn the simple sound to letter correspondences, but also some
rules for the invariant representation of words of the language that show
various types of variation (dialectal, sociolectal, stylistic, free
variation). People  who wish to write HC correctly should conform to these
rules as well.

To end with the Northern HC forms, the "correct" spelling of the forms cited
are:  manje a m, manje kin am, do a m, kou a nou, despite the automatic
variation caused by the contact between the individual words.

A final historical perspective on the HC orthography.  There has existed a
systematic morphonemically based orthography for a French-lexifier since
Auguste de Saint-Quentin's 1872 description of Cayenne (French Guyana)
Creole.  Saint-Quentin, a French judge--not a linguist!-- felt strongly
that as a language in its own right that  creole deserved its own
orthography rather than one representing the language unsystematically by
modelling its spelling on that of French. It's unfortunate that the good
pastor McConnell didn't have tht book available, else the first spelling
battle that raged in the 1940's would have been avoided.  The
Faublas-Pressoir spelling (the only truly Haitian one) that was the Haitian
elite's counterproposal to the McConnell-Laubach spelling, differed very
litle from Saint-Quentin. That's the spelling that Yves Dejean defended
strongly in his Indiana University doctoral disserttion:"Comment écrire le
créole d'Haïti".  In a sense it's too bad that the Cartesian linguists from
the University of Paris V (René Descartes) and IPN associates who crafted
the officialized IPN spelling chose to replace the representation of [e] as
"é" by (they claimed), the more "scientific "symbol : "e".  Had they kept
the Faublas-Pressoir "é" ("difé, manjé", the Corbett list would have been
spared all the less than enlightening discussion about "closed" (sic!)
"e"---by the way , in French or any other language, close e (French e
fermé) is [e] as in café.  The phenomenon wrongly referred to as "closed e"
in some postings  is referred to as  "mute e"  (French e muet).  It is not
in fact a "E" vowel belonging to the same set as the final vowels of "thé"
or "père" but a more abstract feature pronounced as zero, the vowel of
"oeuf" or  "deux". Note that the /E/ of "petit" is usually dropped (/pti/)
but it if is pronounced it is a vowel that fluctuates between that of
"oeuf" and "deux".  Fortunately, even in the HC of bilingual speakers there
is no mute e.

 In any case, as Dejean concluded despite his staunch defense of the
Faublas-Pressoir system, after the Haitian government officialized the
spelling and it had been adopted by all scriptors, there is no sense in
arguing about the relatively trivial issue of sound to letter
correspondences.  The focus should be on other  important ones: the use of
apostrophes and dashes, the representation of phrases and compounds words,
etc.  Of course, efforts should mostly be on imparting literacy to the

Finally, let me stress that, except for the officialized IPN orthography,
the various proposals for the spelling of HC were not made by linguists but
by what I call "scriptors", people who had some functional reason to
produce texts in HC.  McConnell, Faublas-Pressoir, and the pionneering
scriptors I listed above, were not engaging in idle intellectual pursuits
but eminently practical ones.  Linguistic criteria are probably not the
most important one in the choice of orthogaphy, although it cannot be
denied that a clear understanding of the structure of the language is

Lest some readers misconstrue my comments about the history of the IPN
orthography as voicing an opposition to its generalized use, let me state
that I agree with Dejean's position.  Indeed, for want of a better one, we
adapted it to represent  Louisiana Creole in the first dictionary for that
creole (A Dictionary of Louisiana Creole).


At 7:37 PM -0700 5/31/00, Robert Corbett wrote:
>From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>
>I was hoping not get bogged down in yet another debate on Creole, but it
>looks like no one else besides Serge Michel was going to point inaccuracies
>in Grey's report on Northern `Creole'.  In fact, Grey's report seems
>riddled with blatant inaccuracies.  Since people in this forum seem truly
>interested in the true nature of the real Creole, I must keep looking over
>the shoulder of our self-declared "phonetically correct" mambo of the
>"pure" and "real" vodou...
>NB: I am NOT a native speaker of the Northern Creole dialect, so I'd very
>appreciate any corrections, comments and/or refinements from the
>appropriate speakers.  I think there are a few on this list.
>Grey writes:
>> Of course we all know that Cap Haitian Creole is different, too - I was
>> surprised, really, just how different!  When I went to Cap Haitian the
>> time I could scarcely understand what people were saying to me!
>> Manje pam --------->  manjam
>> Sa ki pou mwen ------->  Sa ki nam
>> Pa ou  --------->  Ki na ou
>> etc.
>Grey's spelling gives a false representation of where the words begin and
>> Manje pam --------->  manjam
>"manje pam" is really "Manje pa m" (three words, not two)
>To wit:
>Manje pa m  `food for me'          (literally)
>Manje pa w  `food for you'            "
>Manje pa l  `food for him/her/it'     "
>So "manje pa m" is indeed three words. Remember: The orthography is
>MORPHO-phonemic, the "morpho" has to do with "morphology", which has to do
>with an approximation of the structure of words, specially word boundaries.
>Similarly, "manjam" is really "manje a m" (three words, not one)
>To wit:
>manje a m  `food for me'          (literally)
>manje a w  `food for you'            "
>manje a y  `food for him/her/it'     "
>As of:
>> Pa ou  --------->  Ki na ou
>"ki na ou" is really "kin a ou".
>"... kin a ..." is the Northern equivalent of "... pa ..."; the "a" in "kin
>a" is etymologically related to the French preposition "a`" as in French
>"ca, c'est a` moi" (= Creole "sa a se pa m" or "sa se kin a m").
>In fact, some Northerners also say: "kin pa m la" (as variant of "kin a m
>la") with both "kin" and "pa".  This variant clearly shows that the
>relevant morphemes are "... kin a ...", and not "... ki na ...".
>Well ... except perhaps in Grey's "phonetically correct" Creole (as spoken
>by the mambo of the "real" and "pure" Vodou).
>                                 -michel.
>MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
>degraff@MIT.EDU        http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/degraff.home.html