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#2777: Focus on Creolists No. 13: Pradel Pompilus

From: Indiana University Creole Institute <creole@indiana.edu>

The Carrier Pidgin

Vol. 13, No. 3, Dec. 1985

Focus on Creolists No. 13: Pradel Pompilus

By Albert Valdman (Indiana University)

	During the week of October 7, 1985, a "semaine linguistique" was
held in Port-au-Prince to honor Pradel Pompilus, who was completing more
than fifty years of service in the education of young Haitians and in the
study of his native land's two national languages.  Dr. Pompilus ranks
with Robert A. Hall, Jr. as one of the deans of creolists.  Although the
political climate of Haiti did not permit him to attend the first
international conference on creole studies held at Mona, Jamaica, in 1959,
he was one of the contributors to the published proceedings (Pidginization
and Creolization of Languages, ed. Dell Hymes, CUP 1971), and he joins
John Jacob Thomas, Jules Faine, and Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain as one of the
distinguished pioneering native creole linguists.
	Pradel Pompilus was born in 1914 in the small town of Arcahaie,
located on the bay of Port-au-Prince, halfway between the capital and
Saint-Marc, the gateway to the Artibonite Valley.  Arcahaie holds an
important place in the history of Haiti.  It is there that the French
tricolor gave place to the blue and red banner (symbolizing the black
slaves and mulatto freedmen, respectively) that was to become the flag of
the newly independent state.  And it was there that Petion, the leader of
the mulatto party with strong cultural affinities with France, paid
obeisance to Dessalines, the former slave.  In a certain sense, Pradel
Pompilus' intellectual itinerary followed Petion's: a francophile with
consummate skills in the French language, he broke with the majority of
the cultivated elite to become a staunch champion of his country's creole
	The son of a local judge, Pompilus began his schooling in
Arcahaie's primary school for boys.  The intellectual promise he showed
led his parents to send him to complete his education in the capital city,
where he eventually obtained the baccalaureat  at the prestigious Petit
Seminaire College Saint-Martial.  Like many of his cultivated compatriots,
Pradel Pompilus studied law, earning a license  (B.A.) in 1936.  But at
the same time, he was asked to teach Latin and French at Saint-Martial; he
later taught lettres modernes, that is, French language and literature, at
the two main public secondary schools of Port-au-Prince, the Lycee Petion
and the Lycee Louverture.
	Between 1945-47, Pompilus studied at the Faculty of Letters and
Social Sciences of the Sorbonne (University of Paris), obtaining the
license es lettres classiques, which certified him to teach Latin and
Greek.  Upon his return to his homeland, he resumed teaching upper levels
in secondary schools while, at the same time, he joined several colleagues
in establishing a private school, the Centre d'Etudes Secondaires.  There
followed a brief stint as Under-Secretary of Education in the Magliore
cabinet (1950-51) and an eight-year tenure as Director of the Ecole
Normale Superieure where Haiti's secondary school teachers are trained.
In the 1960's, he was named professor at the State University of Haiti
with teaching responsibilities in Linguistics, Latin, and Haitian
	Pradel Pompilus' first publications were a direct outgrowth of his
pedagogical concerns.  As a teacher of French literature in Haiti, he soon
came to perceive the incongruity of limiting his young charges' literary
horizons to the masterpieces of the common francophone heritage:
Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Voltaire, Victor Hugo.  In his classes, he
introduced Haitian authors so that the artful use of Haiti's dominant
language could be placed within the context of local culture and against
the backdrop of national history.
	In 1956, he brought out a sample of texts in a small comprendium,
Pages de litterature haitienne.  This collection was later amplified and
developed into the standard anthology for Haitian literature, containing a
small set of Creole texts.  The three-volume Histoire de la litterature
Haitienne illustree par les textes was compiled in collaboration with
Raphal Berrou (Port-au-Prince: Editions Caribe-ennes, 1975-79).
	Pompilus' early childhood at Arcahaie was spent in a nearly
totally creolophone environment.  Even today it is the rare Haitian child
who, outside of what Haitians term "the Republic of Port-au-Prince", has
the opportunity to participate in genuine social communication expressed
through the medium of French.  So, as a learner and as a teacher of what
he was to later label "le francais normal," the dean of Caribbean native
linguists was keenly aware of the verbal traps into which the
Creole-dominant user of French was likely to stumble.  Thus, when he
decided to resume university studies, he decided to direct his attention
to the local variety of French.  In 1957, he returned to the Sorbonne to
prepare a doctorate.
	In Paris he studied with some of the eminent specialists of French
linguistics of the time, Charles Bruneau, R.-L. Wagner, and Georges
Gougenheim, all of whom innovated in the description and analysis of
French and all of whom were prepared to include a broad range of varieties
within the purview of the language of Racine and Voltaire.  However, it
was the founder of French structuralism, Andre Martinet, who was to have
the most profound effect on the young Haitian pedagogue.  Martinet had not
only pioneered the empirical study of French (his first major book, La
prononciation du francais contemporain, 1943 analyzed the results of a
written questionnaire administered to captive officers in a German prison
camp) but he had deep sympathies for devalorized speech forms such as
Haitian Creole (HC).  He singled out Pompilus for special attention, and
when the latter made an appointment to discuss his dissertation, he
received him, not in his Sorbonne office, or in a Latin Quarter cafe, as
Sorbonne professors are want to do, but in his suburban home.  As Pompilus
left Paris, Martinet extracted from him the promise that he would strive
to introduce modern linguistics to Haiti, a promise that was well kept.
	The results of Pompilus' sojourn in the French capital were signal
contributions to French and Creole studies:  La langue francaise en Haiti
(Paris: Institut des Hautes Etudes de l'Amerique Latin, 1961), and an
unpublished complementary thesis, Lexique du creole d'Haiti.  In its
accuracy and wealth of well-documented descriptive detail, and in the
perspicacity of its observations on the linguistic situation of Haiti, La
langue francaise in Haiti  stands as one of the best extensive
descriptions of a regional form of the language.  Pompilus innovated by
conducting the first empirical linguistic study in Haiti: he administered
Martinet's written phonological questionnaire to 160 subjects and noted
the actual pronunciation of a short sentence sample produced by 200 late
adolescent speakers.  In the foreword of the book he was the first
observer of HC to describe the linguistic setting of the incipient stage
of the language in more sophisticated terms then the binary interactions
between white master and African slave posited by his predecessors.  He
perspicaciously perceived the dual function served by the emerging speech: 
Le creole fut pendant la periode coloniale la langue commune qui a rendu
possible les rapports entre les noirs originaires de differentes tribus
africaines d'une part et les noirs et les blancs de l'autre.
	His 4,000-word glossary of HC represents the first extensive
lexicographic study of the language and antedates subsequent works by nine
	Pradel Pompilus' major contribution to creole linguistics is a
series of two pedagogically-oriented books:  Contribution a l'etude
comparee du francais et du creole: Part I, phonologie et lexique; Part II,
morphosyntaxe  (Port-au-Prince: Editions Caribbeennes, 1973, 1976) and
Manuel d'initiation a l'etude du creole  (Port-au-Prince: Impressions
magiques, 1983).  The first work's ultimate objective was the improvement
of the teaching of French and stemmed from the author's realization that
French is an alien language for all but a tiny majority of his
Le francais est pour les Haitiens une langue etrangere...  Le francais
n'est pas notre langue maternelle; la langue de notre vie pratique, pour
la plupart d'entre nous du moins, c'est le creole, idiome a la fois tres
proche et tres recule du francais.
	Since French is a foreign language, Pompilus argued, it must be
taught by the appropriate methodologies, in the case at hand, by the
application of contrastive analysis which identifies points of
interference and difficulty.  Indirectly, the enterprise produced a wealth
of observations on the structure of the vernacular, particularly at the
level of syntax.  The Manual d'Initiation...., Pompilus' first
full-fledged descriptive study of HC, was prompted by the educational
reform program.  In 1979, the Ministry of Education launched a massive
restructuring of primary education involving, among other changes, the
imparting of the literary skills in HC and the use of the vernacular as
the medium of instruction for the first four years of schooling.  It
became urgent to provide teachers formal training in the use of HC and to
equip them with a readily accessible description of the language.  Pradel
Pompilus quickly stepped into the breach.
	Pradel Pompilus ranks as the most versatile and productive of
Haitian native linguists.  A profoundly modest man, he has constantly
shied away from the limelight.  Instead, working under difficult economic
and political circumstances, he has devoted himself to pedagogy, a high
level of pedagogy to be sure.  Rather than theorize about the origin and
genesis of HC he has preferred to lead the bilingual minority of his
country--including the educational establishment and classroom primary and
secondary teachers--to understand the structure and social functions of
the vernacular.  For him, HC is more than a medium of communication; it is
the means by which the bilingual elite may join in the project for
national development.  As he puts it himself eloquently in Le probleme
linguistique haitien  (Port-au-Prince: Edition Fardin, 1985), in which he
traces his progression from a defender and illustrator of French to a
champion and analyst of HC:
[le creole] represent a mes yeux plus qu'un simple procede pedagogique,
mais un moyen d'operer la reconciliation avec nous-memes, susciter le
respect de nous-memes, gage du respect des autres...  Ce que je defends
dans ce livre, c'est, au-dela un vrai bilinguisme, l'unite et la
solidarite nationale sans quoi il n'y a pas de vrai developpement.

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