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#1101: Mother tongue in education: DeGraff replies to Chamberlain

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

Re Chamberlain's post:

> However, there is the inconvenient fact that whatever is said here on this
> forum (by people who enjoy the command of two, three or four languages),
> Haitians who only speak Creole perceive that French is "better" and decide
> that this is what they want to aim for as a means of general advancement.
> They're wrong, wrong, wrong we can all say until the cows come home.  But
> how are they to be persuaded?  It seems that French must be somehow
> abolished as a language, stripped of a thousand years of prestige, history
> etc., wiped out.  [...]

This is a straw-man that distracts from the real issue.  My point was never
(I repeat, NEVER) that Haitians should abolish French, English or whatever
from their curriculum.  Note though that for the majority of Haitians (who,
by the way, still haven't been taught how to read and write!) learning
French, English, etc. is a purely academic (and utopian) proposition.  My
point is simply that Haitian Creole is the ONLY national language spoken by
ALL Haitians, and that it is a truism that one learns best in one's own
mother tongue (to read, to write, to master foreign languages, etc.). 

Can Chamberlain or others think of any decently-developing or
developed nation where the language of the state virtually excludes the
vast majority of the population and where the language spoken by the ENTIRE
population is not the primary medium of instruction?  Do Chamberlain et al
believe that Haitian Creole is inherently inferior and therefore inadequate
to fulfill educational and official duties on a par with French, which by
the way is spoken fluently by only a tiny minority of Haitians (perhaps no
more than 10%)?  If Haitian Creole is an adequate language (which I myself
believe it is), then why shouldn't it become as `official' IN PRACTICE as
it already is by law (per the article 5 of the 1987 constitution)?

> How do you tell someone they shouldn't have what you've already got
> yourself?  Some years ago, revolutionary friends of mine in the
> Anglo-Caribbean would return to their island with their foreign degrees
> to their comfortably-off middle class family homes and make speeches to
> the"masses" that it was sinful to aspire to the bright lights of America
> etc., that they should all sacrifice themselves to go without etc.  After
> the nice speech, the speaker would retire to his cool home in the hills
> (nothing fancy, but better than the shacks his audience mostly lived in).
> Let's all just be very aware of this contradiction when we talk about
> Haiti.

Let's remove Chamberlain's "revolutionary" smokescreen and locate the
"contradiction" where it truly belongs.  The educational advantage that the
average American, British, French, Finish or Norwegian citizen has his/her
Haitian counterpart is the possibility to be educated in their mother
tongue.  What goes in American, England, Norway and Finland is what should
go on in Haiti and any place else. Indeed, using children's home language
in education allows them to make the best of their initial cognitive
profile in developing further knowledge (in various domains, including
reading, writing and foreign-language instruction).  This is a truism, and
I still haven't heard any argument as to why Haitian children should be
treated differently than American, British, French and Finish children? Why
should the task  be made HARDER for the children in a country with LESS
educational resources?  Is there a pedagogical "revolution" awaiting to
happen in Haiti?

Why is it that Chamberlain et al remain so adamant to deny to the majority
of Haitians the basic privilege of education in the mother tongue?  This is
in direct violation of the 1951 UNESCO decree toward universal education:

  ``Every human being has the right to be educated in his/her own 
    mother tongue'' 

May I assume that monolingual Creolophones are also "human beings"?

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