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#4059: DeGraff on the linguistic reality of Northern Creole (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

The statement that there is regional variation in Haitian Creole (HC) is
quite banal.  This is a non-issue really: ALL languages exhibit
variation. What's more interesting and useful is CORRECTLY reporting the
data that establish the range of such variations.  I have already mentioned
Fattier's monumental 6-volume atlas on HC regional dialects.  This atlas
reliably documents an intricate and fascinating range of variations among an
impressive array of HC dialects.

Let's now look at one aspect of variation in the North, related to the more
construction "sa se pa mwen" (="that is mine") that one may often hear in,
say, Port-au-Prince.  Instead, of "pa mwen", Northerners often say "kin a
mwen" --- please note spelling.  The latter follows the following
productive and well-documented pattern:

kin a m(wen) `my or mine'
kin a w(ou)  `your or yours'
kin a y      `his'

There's also "kin an mwen", etc. with a nasalized "an" instead of
non-nasalized "a".  Also remember that "kin pa m(wen)" --- as a variant of
"kin a m(wen)" --- clearly shows that other possible transcriptions
(e.g. "ki na mwen") are inaccurate.  There IS a word "ki" in HC (as in "Ki
moun ki vini?"  = "Who came?"), but this "ki" is not relevant to "kin a
mwen".  Ditto regarding "na".  There's is no WORD "na" in "kin a mwen".

Word segmentation (that is, the analysis of fluent speech into the
underlying words the speaker has in mind) is a well-known challenge for
NON-fluent speakers of any language (including Haitian Creole).  No matter
how good one's ear and no matter how long one's exposure to a foreign
language, it is often quite tricky to accurately segment fluent speech from
a foreign language into the appropriate native words, specially if one does
NOT have intimate native-like knowledge of the syntax and lexicon.

That one cannot correctly segment speech in a foreign language is simply
due to the listener's limited capacity to correctly segment speech in a
foreign relatively-unfamiliar language.  We've also seen other examples of
mis-segmentation on this list.  For example, there is the now-familiar
`Creole' word "Daginen".  Contrast the puzzlingly mysterious "Daginen"
(allegedly for "of Guinea") with the perfectly acceptable and grammatically
well-formed "nan Ginen".  "Daginen", like "ki na mwen", illustrates

A more general observation: In fact, similar examples of mis-segmentation
of Creole speech are even found in linguistic articles by well-known
creolists and in the writings of poorly-trained native writers who have
trouble matching phonemes and words with sequence of letters.  Actually we
also find examples of mis-segmentation in the course of language change,
often (but not always) in situations of language contact and word
borrowing.  Here too we have non-native speakers struggling with foreign
speech, and the results are well-documented.  This is what historical
linguists call "re-analysis".  See for example English "an apron" from "a
napron" from French "un napperon" --- at some point in history, some
English speakers were unable to correctly analyze "a napron" and they
started producing "an apron".  Also see the current spread of the phrase "a
(whole) nother" via the re-analysis of "an other" into "a nother".

The linguistic limitations of non-native speakers are well recognized
throughout the world for any language, be it Chinese, English, HC, etc.  I
don't see why Haitian Creole should be an exception to the well-know rule
that it is rather difficult for adult non-native speakers to obtain
native-like fluency in any language.  So no one should be surprised if what
a NON-fluent NON-native Creole speaker hears does not match the reality of
the NATIVE speaker.  There's no reason why Haitian Creole should be an
exception to this generalization.  The surprising fact is that such
NON-fluent NON-native Creole speakers often claim linguistic "correctness"
contra the available evidence disconfirming such "correctness".

I hope that the morale of this story is clear, and I think this is an
important lesson for our search of `truth' in the midst of widespread
self-promotion of `expertise' in all aspects of Haitian culture, religion,
politics, linguistics, anthropology, psychology, ethics, etc.  Not everyone
is nearly as knowledgeable about all things Haitian as they so forcefully
claim to be.  What I hope to have shown here is that linguistic correctness
in Haitian Creole is not as easily attainable as one may wish.

Much `critical thinking' is needed to digest this list's overflow of
information/propaganda/lies/deception/etc.  When in doubt, just remain
skeptical, until you find adequate evidence.  As a teacher, I am always
hopeful that truth always wins over falsehood --- immediately or

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