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#1121: Bilingualism: Chamberlain replies to DeGraff and Bellegarde-Smith (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

DeGraff wrote:

> 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)?

Of course I don't believe it's "inferior."  I was simply noting the 
observable fact (which Bellegarde-Smith expanded on) that 
whether we like it or not, Haitians in Haiti live in a world where
some languages are dominant for all the reasons we know.
I was wondering how this problem might be tackled, since
French and English, say, aren't going to go away.  It's probably
impossible to convince people who see those languages as
the key to "advancement" of all kinds that they should _not_
have those aspirations (not "abolish" the languages, but
simply, in effect, discourage them in favour of Creole).

> 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.

I (and I'm sure "et al.") have no such thought.  Yes of course 
Creole should be encouraged and given higher status.
But I repeat (as Poincy has pointed out), there is an 
incovenient matter of what the mass of people seem to 
want which has to be confronted.  It is indeed a legacy of
colonialism (see Bellegarde-Smith again) and the question
is -- if we are to be so bold with people who have none of 
the advantages that we all have here -- how to discourage 
and slowly remove this colonial legacy.

Because material resources in Haiti are very thin on the 
ground, difficult choices must be made.  Should, for example, 
enormous amounts of money and time be spent
systematically translating all official documents into Creole
(as the current 1987 constitution requires), or should the
people for whom this is being done be taught to read
_anything_ first?  And should money and efforts not go
first to feeding children so they don't fall asleep in school?  
Or to build schools that they can attend in the first place?

It's a matter of urgent priorities in Haiti, which isn't Iceland 
or Norway, where one would have "un embarras de choix."
If you teach hungry kids in Creole, they are going to aspire
to the "foreign" languages and countries and one might
say a Creole education would be largely wasted (since they
probably wouldn't be interested in passing on such 
education).  If you feed the kids first and build them schools
to learn in and train teachers to teach them well, _then_ they
wouldn't be so interested in rejecting Creole, and _then_
the richness of Creole language culture could flourish.

And again, I insist, it's the likes of us relatively privileged
who are trying to tell them how to run their lives and getting
the priorities upside down.  And some of this arises in some
cases with people who have left Haiti and who may feel 
guilt and nostalgia about that and about their privileged
class position, so they insist on the pro-Creole position
as if to personally compensate.

If the priorities -- food and good schools first -- are not
attended to, then we just go round and round in circles.
Hungry people want to escape.  People with enough to 
eat will, with any luck, happily stick around and help 
build their own linguistic (and other) culture.

The example of Grenada 1979-83 is interesting.
The leftwing government (ousted by itself and then by
US invasion a week afterwards) had a policy of strong 
encouragement of local culture and laguage.  Even with
the same "giant sucking sound" as in Haiti (emigration
to the US and in Grenada's case the UK), people were
very happy to go along with this (though here again, it 
was  imposed by a "brown" middle class elite with foreign
educations).  Everyone on the island could already read 
and no-one went hungry in any serious way.  The result 
was a notable resurgence in national culture and pride, 
which is surely what the Creolists are aiming at in Haiti.  
But the foundations have to be built first.

So why spend all that effort translating official documents 
into Creole when the money and effort should go _first_ 
to more important things, like food and teachers
and schools and good health.  "Creole first" looks very 
much like an upper-class fantasy (and there are similar 
examples in other countries, not just to do with
language).  The Creole translation option tends to be 
chosen of course because it's easy, whereas sorting out
the food etc. problems are very difficult.

(Sorry about the Poincy-style length, folks...)

        Greg Chamberlain