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#1205: Valdman, Switzerland & Haiti: DeGraff comments (fwd)
From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>
Valdman's reply to my earlier request seems to contain its own
contradiction --- insofar as the spirit of my ORIGINAL request is
concerned. Once this contradiction is clarified, the Swiss German
situation reported by Valdman actually supports aspects of my position,
which goes back at least to the UNESCO 1951 principle (a pedagogical
truism, really) according to which:
"Every human being has the right to be educated in his/her mother tongue"
Now, let's go back to the EXACT wording of my original question, as I last
phrased it in my 11/26 and 11/28 posts (the emphases are in my original
"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?"
"In particular, I'd like to hear about SUCCESSFUL and NATION-WIDE projects
where children are first taught to read and write "_anything_ first" in a
foreign language that they do not know."
Valdman reports that German-speaking Switzerland provides an affirmative
answer to these questions. According to Valdman, in German-speaking
"children are taught to read Standard German (which no doubt is no more
intelligible to them than is French for monolingual HC speakers) from the
Point taken. But the question is NOT whether children are taught to read a
foreign language, which, as I've said many times, is A PRIORI a desirable
option once the proper conditions exist.
Instead the question facing us Haitians is whether children can EFFICIENTLY
be taught HOW TO READ AND WRITE IN AN UNFAMILIAR FOREIGN LANGUAGE while the
language natively spoken by the ENTIRE nation is excluded in the process.
Note that this question makes the Swiss German scenario quite irrelevant!
Anyway, Valdman also reports that:
"there is a significant difference with traditional education in Haiti: the
local dialect--highly divergent from canton to canton-- is used as a
classroom medium for at least the first four years, then there is a shift
to Standard German."
The difference is not only "significant", but it's enough to exclude the
Swiss German case as a positive answer to my questions above. In fact,
Valdman's description clearly shows some of the relevant differences
between Switzerland and Haiti: the Swiss German kids ARE allowed to use
their native language "as a classroom medium", as a matter of course. This
is exactly along the lines advocated by the reforme Bernard, and this is
exactly the option that seems to provoke such resistance on this list and
Also note that Switzerland is socio-economically and linguistically quite
different than Haiti. Let's just look at the socio-linguistics. The
French input in Haiti (for the vast Creolophone majority) is NOWHERE near
the amount and fluency of German language input in Switzerland.
Furthermore, the Swiss German kids' dialects stand in a particular
structural, genetic and socio-linguistic relationship vis-a-vis German ---
for example, they can be straightforwardly considered "dialects" of German.
Such relationship seems rather different from that between Haitian Creole
and French, unlike Valdman is ready to argue that Haitian Creole is a
dialect of French. Such arguments are not unheard of, but are (to say the
Be that as it may, the Swiss German kids are in a socio-linguistic (AND
economic) situation radically different from the Haitian kids. Standard
German is and/or becomes "familiar" to the Swiss German kids in a way that
does NOT match the French situation in Haiti: in Haiti, French is and
REMAINS an unfamiliar foreign language for MOST Haitians throughout their
entire lives. This is not surprising given Haiti's history and
demographics --- and Haitians need not bear any blame or punishment for
this inevitable situation. (For those of you not familiar with Haiti,
please realize that the Haitians you meet in Port-au-Prince or Petion-Ville
hotels or via books and TV are NOT a statistically-representative sample.)
Lastly, Haitian Creole (unlike the Swiss German dialects in Switzerland) is
THE language that is natively spoken by ALL Haitians --- see my original
questions above. In Switzerland, there is NO national native language that
unites EVERY Swiss. Thus, there is no possibility for the UNIFORM use of
ONE SINGLE language as (initial) medium of instruction. Again, Valdman
knows quite well that this make Haiti very much UN-like Switzerland.
But since Valdman mentions that "there are several" countries that may
answer my request, I look forward to learning from the other cases. But
I'll please ask Valdman to carefully re-read my ORIGINAL request, which I
have reprinted above, for convenience.
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