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#3697: DeGraff examine Poincy's pro-"scientific" arguments re Creole (fwd)
From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>
There is a rather humongous number of empirical and theoretical fallacies
in Poincy's arguments. Time is finite, so I'll only address the most
> Despite seemingly sound arguments they would present to justify their
> choice of spelling, to me their decisions are more frivolous than
In principle, I'd be more than happy to examine Poincy's "scientific"
proposal toward an alternative orthography. But I'd like to assume that
Poincy would enlist convincing linguistic facts and argumentation to
support his claims. Thus far and most unfortunately, none has been
provided. This is not surprising since, as far as I can tell, Poincy's
general line of argumentation indicates no knowledge of linguistics
> I was bewildered, when DeGraff mentioned in one of his posts that Ayitian
> market women are trying hard to learn the language while in the
> market. That shows a lack of understanding or knowledge of the Ayitian
> reality. Simply, it is not the reality.
For the sake of accuracy, I'll just quote part of my message that Poincy
seems to have totally mis-interpreted.
"I often keep in mind the memories of poor Haitian market women sweating
over their Creole bibles (in some outdated orthography!) trying very hard
to practice their fledgling literacy skills."
I hope that Poincy will now be able to make the relevant distinction
between "literacy" and "language". Indeed learning to read and write (aka
"literacy") is of a totally different nature than learning to speak one's
native language (aka "language learning"). The "linguistics 101" reference
I'll provide at the end of this message should also help in clearing up
such gross, if too common, misunderstanding.
> Furthermore, the mere fact that most Ayitian vocabularies are rooted
> both phonetically and orthographically in French; any arbitrary
> deviation would make the result bias, unscientific therefore frivolous.
Given this argument, then my question to Poincy with respect to his
proposal is this: How would he "scientifically" write Haitian Creole "dlo"
(= English "water"). Poincy would surely argue that Haitian Creole "dlo"
is "rooted both phonetically and orthographically" in French "de l'eau"?
Therefore, I'd guess that he would prefer to see Haitian Creole "dlo"
written as "d'l'eau" or in some similar way.
Such an approach, which reflects a common (if mis-guided) perspective,
would make Haitian Creole writing as similar as possible to French spelling
--- this is similar to Grey's pseudo-Creole spellings "mambo" (instead of
"manbo"), "nom vayan" (instead of "non vayan"), etc. So here there's much
similarity between Poincy's position and Grey's orthographic practice.
Such position has even received a name in the linguistic literature:
"etymology-based orthography". In opposition, the standard orthography is
often referred to as a "morpho-phonemic orthography", the basic principle
of which I've described previously.
Let's go back to "dlo" vs. "d'l'eau". Creole "dlo" (in the morpho-phonemic
STANDARD orthography) unambiguously represents ONE word (which is the
counterpart of English "water") whereas the spelling "d'l'eau" or "de
l'eau" clearly suggests the presence of three words: "de" (or "d'), "le"
(or "l") and "eau". Such French-based spelling obviously contradicts basic
"scientific" facts about Creole "reality". When Haitian speakers say and
write "dlo", they mean exactly ONE word, unlike the French speaker who says
and writes "de l'eau". On these grounds, the spelling "d'l'eau" (or "de
l'eau"") for Haitian Creole "dlo" would be "scientifically" inappropriate
if one is striving for an orthography that closely and consistently
represents the linguistic "reality" of the language, which was the goal of
those who worked on the Creole official morpho-phonemic orthography.
In fact, the French-derived etymological orthography --- favored by Poincy
and Grey on this list and many others elsewhere --- would turn Creole into
a caricature of French. In this respect, which (and who) is closer to the
linguistic "reality" of Haitian Creole speakers? Those who (would prefer
to) write or "d'l'eau" (or "mambo") following French spelling or those who
write "dlo (and "manbo") following Haitian Creole morpho-phonemic
> This is what these linguists have done. Let's look at "Mambo" and
> "Manbo". Whatever the ethnic origin of the word is, its reproduction in
> Ayitian has a phonetic reflection of how "am" or "an" sound in French.
This is simply wrong. The "am" and "an" has no "phonetic reflection"
whatsoever. Both "am" and "an" in, say, French "mambo" and "mandat"
respectively, represent the SAME sound (what linguists call "phoneme").
Given that Haitian Creole orthography tries to represent similar sounds by
similar letters, then the "am"-vs-"an" distinction in French spelling has
no status in Haitian Creole. Again, I'll recommend my linguistic-101
favorite student to read the references I've already mentioned several
times on Haitian Creole orthography.
> They completely dismiss the fact that an improper education process was
> in place. I would sincerely appreciate any scientific clarification from
> any linguist on this aspect. That would help others to understand why
> they have to follow standard forms of spelling rather than pounding on
> one's head for his/her choice of spelling.
I'll just recall that, although I do support Haiti's official orthography
for reasons already discussed, I did not start "pounding on [any]one's head
for his/her choice of spelling". The debate started when Grey herself
started "pounding on [Mambo Angela's] head for [her] choice of spelling".
My point was simply this: If any standards are to be followed by ALL
(including Mambo Angela) then these should be Haiti's official standards,
not the ones dictated by Grey since Grey herself has (apparently) so little
knowledge about Haitian Creole. I think this is a straightforward argument.
> Having said this, I am asking Mr. DeGraff to reopen his linguistic 101
> that he closed before the term so he can teach us about the phonetic
> twist the icons of Ayitian used to move it forward.
Unfortunately, I just can't teach "linguistic 101" --- or anything else ---
over Corbett-list, specially not to such unteachable students who refuse to
do their homeworks and read their textbooks. (And I suspect that Corbett
wouldn't be too happy with a Corbett-list linguistic-101 either.) The only
I can do now is recommend (again!) some basic readings (and a more
attentive reading of previous messages). I've already mentioned a few
basic texts on Haitian orthography, which actually address the very
questions raised by Poincy. (If only this linguistic-101 student cared to
do his assigned reading...). So this time, I'll limit the reading list to
just one (already recommended) book, which I hope those who are really
interested in language-related issues will read. And I am sorry that I
will not be able to entertain any questions from students who don't do
their homework and readings.
Seriously: This is really a linguistic-101 text. I've just (successfully)
used it in my undergraduate "Introduction to Linguistics" at MIT.
AUTHOR: Pinker, Steven
TITLE: The language instinct
PUB. INFO: New York, NY : W. Morrow and Co., c1994.
MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307