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#3503: DeGraff explores Grey's LINGUISTIC arguments on "Culture Vulturism" (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I'd like to objectively examine Grey's blunt and blistering criticism of
the Philadelphia `Mambo' Angela Novanyon.  It is NOT my intent to exonerate
or further accuse `Mambo' Angela. Nor do I want to evaluate Grey's
arguments about the cultural appropriateness of the Philadelphia's
`peristyle'.  My argument here is much more modest: I'd only like to focus
on the logic and empirical basis of Grey's LINGUISTIC criticism and ask
where else such logic may apply. My rationale is that we should make sure
that we don't apply any double standards and any favoritism as to who
deserves and/or who is allowed to express e-outrage about alleged cases of
"culture vulturism".

So here's what I have to add to Grey's specific comments on the LINGUISTIC
symptoms of "culture vulturism".  Note that Grey makes central use of
LINGUISTIC data in order to support one of her main arguments in her
criticism of Angela Novanyon. I thus feel that I need to comment on the
appropriateness of such linguistic criticism and on other data that are
subject to such criticism --- the latter data that are more familiar to
list readers than those related to Angela Novanyon.  All this in the spirit
of fairness.  I'll also use this opportunity to spell out a couple of
points about well-established standards of Haitian Creole orthography.  (I
even think that what we have here is one of these rare educative moments
with a rather clear example that can teach us important lessons for the

Grey writes:

> If the "Le Peristyle Haitian Sanctuary" was interested in living up to
> it's name, the wannabeMambo in charge would go to Haiti for REAL
> ceremonies, spend the time required to learn to speak Haitian Creole and
> to understand the practice of Vodou in contemporary Haiti; and then make
> and maintain strong lines of contact to the Haitian diasporan community
> in Philadelphia and other US cities.  They would be attentive to correct
> spellings and information, ...

As the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once wrote vis-a-vis "methodological

  "I often notice that our popes of methodological rigor can be quite
  latitudinarian, even loose, in their own uses of the very methods for
  which they zealously proselytize".

Similar remarks apply to Grey's latest posting and I hope that this
observation will be instructive for list readers --- linguistically,
rhetorically and otherwise.  Indeed, as a Haitian speaker and linguist, it
seems that the linguistic aspects of Grey's criticism of Mambo Angela
Novanyon also apply to Grey's own postings --- her signature line, in
particular.  The latter (which is displayed in EVERY message) contains
orthographic, syntactic and semantic lapses of the sort that she presents
as evidence for `Mambo' Angela "culture vulturism".  Take the following

> Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen

Errors abound here:

In Haitian Creole, "Mambo" should be written "manbo"   --- according to Haitian
Creole orthography. 

In Haitian Creole, "Racine" (= "roots") should be written "rasin" ---
according to Haitian Creole orthography.

In Haitian Creole, "sans" (in the sense of "without") should be written
"san" --- again, according to Haitian Creole orthography.  (Here, Grey
seems unaware that Creole orthography is distinct from French orthography:
French "sans" means "without" while Haitian Creole, in the standard
orthography, "sans" means "sense, reasoning, logic, etc...".)

As for the syntax, "... sa te la daginen" does not seem to obey any rule
that I know of.  I've asked around to check whether this would belong to
some less-known variety of Creole, to no avail.

As for the semantics, Grey has volunteered the following off-line

> "Good Mambo Roots Without End Who Was Already There, of Guinea"

Here again, Grey's criticism of Mambo Angela Novanyon would apply to Grey's
own Creole prose. Indeed one common and straightforward Creole translation
for the interpretation given above would be:

"Bon manbo Rasin san bout ki te deja la, nan Ginen"  (please, note spelling)

About `Mambo' Angela Novanyon's linguistic profile, Grey writes:

> She is in fact an opportunistic self-server and self-promoter who doesn't
> even speak Haitian Creole, ...


And about Angela's name, Grey writes:

> Her choice of name illustrates her ignorance.  "Novanyon" is Angela's 
> misspelling of the Haitian Creole words "nom vayan", which means literally 
> "valiant name", the sacred name new Houngans, Mambos, and hounsis are given 
> upon initiation.

Similar criticisms straightforwardly apply to Grey's very signature line.
As analyzed above, Grey's "choice of name [also] illustrates [Grey's]
ignorance" vis-a-vis Haitian Creole.

As it turns out, the way Grey (mis)spells it: "sans bout" IN CREOLE (and
RESPECTING CREOLE SPELLING) actually means "sense/reasoning limited".
Therefore, "Manbo X sans bout ..." would mean "Manbo X with limited
sense/reasoning ..."!

Grey did intend the meaning "roots without ends".  But Grey seems to not
realize that Haitian Creole "sans", unlike French "sans", does NOT mean
"without" (see above). Grey seems unaware of the relevant subtleties of
Creole orthography, which is definitely distinct from French orthography.
Let me repeat: In Creole, "without" is "san" (without any final "s"), NOT
"sans".  As already mentioned, Creole "sans" means "sense, reasoning,
logic, etc.".  As an illustration, Creole "san sans" means "without
sense" --- or "100 senses" (Creole "san" also means "100").

> When Angela went to the Houngan who hoodwinked her, not only were her
> ceremonies not done correctly, but she speaks so little Creole that when
> they were telling her what her "nom vayan" is, she misunderstood that her
> name was "nom vayan", which she writes "Novanyon".

Similar misunderstanding seems to have also given rise to the many errors
in the name "Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen".

To sum up, "Bon Mambo [sic] Racine [sic] Sans [sic] Bout Sa Te La Daginen
[sic]", according to her very arguments against Angela Novanyon, can also
be accused of "culture vulturism", at least on the linguistic front.  Thus
this message, which I hope will be taken as a constructive contribution to
avoid (mis-perception of) further cases of "culture vulturism".

I do hope that this message will encourage Grey and others to pay closer
attention to their OWN mis-uses of Haitian Creole standards before they
criticize analogous mis-uses by others.  This, for me, is in the spirit of
truly-constructive criticism.  It is so human and so easy for one to become
blind to one's own blindspots, but the lesson here is that we should learn
to get rid of the sort of defects we like to criticize in others.

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