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#4567: DeGraff thanks Valdman and asks further questions (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I very much appreciate the clarification of my colleague linguist Albert
Valdman, and I'll take the opportunity to ask him (and others) to
"explicate the intertext" of the following quote by Confiant:

> "The problem is not the orthography," he says, "it's dealing with a
> language in which you don't think abstractly."

I am particularly interested in Confiant's (and MANY others') claim that
Creole is "a language in which [Creole speakers] don't think abstractly".

This is most important given the widespread stereotype (going back three
and a half centuries) that Creoles are deficient languages ("linguistic
bikes", indeed).  That is, it is often claimed that Creoles are not up to
speed when it comes expressive adequacy, specially with respect to the
expression of complex and abstract thought.  As it turns out, this
stereotype is often promoted by those arguing that Creole languages are NOT
fully adequate for communication, education, etc.

As documented in the paper I recently advertised on this list, such
stereotypes are even promoted by linguists and by Creole speakers
themselves, including some prominent Haitian intellectuals (Jean Metellus,
Henock Trouillot, and many others).  Thus, my utter discomfort with the
bike-vs-car metaphor.

Of course, it has also occurred to me that Confiant's use of this notion
(the alleged lack of abstract expression in Creole) may be at the very core
of his writing style.  As the author of the article in the Chronical of
Higher Education writes, such deficiency may "help explain the abundance of
sexual expressions in [Confiant's] work".  Confiant himself writes: "we can
indulge in Creole, make it express things that only a woman's innards can
feel".  I see: Creole can't express abstract thought, but it does "express
things that only a woman's innards can feel".  Creole speakers have all the
luck, don't they?  Can't think abstractly, but can `express' what really
matters and where it really matters.  How sexy!

I'd like to turn to the final comment in Valdman's message that I find
perhaps problematic or (at least) unclear:

> When I stated that given the bad state of roads in Haiti, the use of a bike
> (kreyo`l) rather than a car (French) might be more efficient, I meant, for
> example, that given the poor educational infrastructure and limited
> resources in Haiti, it is more efficient to use kreyo`l as the classroom
> language.  

Is such justification needed for using Haitian Creole as a classroom
language in Haiti, given that Haitian Creole is the FIRST and ONLY language
of the vast majority of Haitians?

Is the classroom use of Japanese in Japan, Finnish in Finland, Danish in
Denmark, etc., due to "the poor educational infrastructure and limited
resources of" Japan, Finland, Denmark, etc. 

I myself had assumed that it's a natural and pedagogically-viable choice to
use children's mother tongue in the classroom.  Indeed, as the UNESCO
concluded a long time ago (in 1953):

  "Education is best carried on through the mother tongue of the pupil"

  "Every effort should be made to provide education in the mother tongue"

This is what many linguists and educators consider an "unimpeachable
truism".  I'd be curious to share Valdman's and others' thoughts on this

Again, this is a core issue for Haiti's culture and development, and this
is something that each of us can do something about, in a small, yet
meaningful, way.  We may feel powerless about much that's wrong in Haiti
(including the latest issue of vote-counting), but when it comes to
attitudes about languages and their speakers, "all politics is
local"---individual, even.

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