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#3724: DeGraff replies to Antoine on "youn", dialectal variation, etc (fwd)
From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>
Antoine can relax with respect to his query:
> Could someone PLEASE explain to me why the spelling of "yon" (English
> word "one") came to be "officially" adopted in Haiti as "youn".
As far as I know, there is no such `officialization'. Unless there's been
some recent development that I am still unaware of, the only thing that's
been `officialized' is the orthography, per the 1979/1980 laws. As it
turns out, this orthography is flexible enough to capture the variations
(or `allomorphy' using linguistic jargon) in "yon", "yonn", "on", "you",
"youn", etc, and other such attested pronunciation variations among
EXISTING Haitian Creole dialects. By "existing dialects", I mean the
Haitian Creole varieties spoken by Haitian native speakers across the
country. In fact, much work has been done to document the characteristics
of EXISTING Haitian Creole dialects. There's a recent monumental thesis on
the topic by Dominique Fattier; see http://www.septentrion.com/ for
ordering information --- do a search on keyword "Fattier".
As of "yon", "youn", etc, it must also be noted that there are some
environments in which can only say "yon" (and its variants or `allomorphs')
and other where one can only say "youn" (and its variants or `allomorphs').
For example, if I ask you in Creole: "What did you buy at the store?". You
may reply: "A shirt" = "Yon chemiz" (or "On chemiz", "You chemiz", etc.,
depending on your dialect). But, if you speak something like my dialect,
you would certainly NOT say "Youn chemiz" (or "Yonn chemiz"). But if were
to ask you: "Did you buy any shirt?" You could reply: "Yes I bought one" =
"M achte youn wi" or "M achte yonn wi". But if you speak a dialect similar
to mine, you'd probably NOT reply "M achte yon" or "M achte you" or "M
So, you see, "yon" (and its variants) and "youn" (and its variants) are ALL
needed to represent the "observed reality" of Haitian Creole. Banning
either from the `standard' language would do violence to native Haitians'
"observed reality" as they experience it everyday (see for example Guy
Antoine's intuitions on the uses of "yon", "youn", etc.).
I am still curious as to how my favorite linguistic-101 student would write
"yon", "youn", etc., in his "scientific" French-based spelling for Haitian
Creole. How would Poincy systematically deal with such attested
"deviations" from French, given that such "deviations" are "arbitrary",
"frivolous" and "unscientific"? But I must say though that I feel some
trepidation here: What if my favorite linguistics-101 student were to
e-mail us a 1,000-page "scientific" treatise on the topic?
NB: A larger note on (actual and fictitious) variation in Haitian Creole.
I'd like to be cautious here and assume that the Creole data on
Corbett-land do not (automatically) qualify as evidence for "existing
dialects". For example, the Corbett-land "mambo"-ic `Creole' does not look
like any bona fide Haitian Creole dialect that I know. Dialectal variation
in Haiti does not run without ends. For example, I still haven't found any
native speaker who agrees with the syntax of the Haitian `proverb' "Se bon
ki ra". And I myself am still puzzled at this construction. (Can any
other Creole speaker comment on the acceptability of this construction?)
Luckily the linguistic reality of Haiti can still be objectively observed,
notwithstanding the linguistic magical surrealism that can be observed on
Didn't someone call Haiti "The Magic Island"?
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