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#3791: DeGraff ends his comments re linguistic surrealism without ends (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

Alas, the mis-understanding regarding the linguistics of Haitian Creole is
far deeper than I thought, and I am afraid time has come for me to retire
on this one --- I am sure Bob will be relieved.

For example, Poincy stills persists in confusing "language" and "literacy",
even after his valiant, but erroneous, word-by-word (mis-)analysis of a
passage from one of my previous messages.  Here's the original passage on
literacy that Poincy mis-interprets:

  "Note that Grey's situation is different from that of the millions of
  totally illiterate Haitians who unfortunately have no access to any means
  whatsoever to acquire literacy in Haitian Creole (or in ANY language).  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  their Creole bibles (in some outdated orthography!)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.  [...] "

Based on his mis-reading of the above, Poincy concludes:

> Folks, if that does not mean learning what else does it mean?
> Definitely, not praying God. We have all the key words to prove it:
> "practice", "fledgling", "literacy" and "skills".  "Literacy" is the
> object. "Fledgling" is the novice state in possessing the object.
> "Practice" is the exercise to master the means of acquisition. "Skills"
> is the means of possessing the object. That surely talks of illiterate
> people trying hard to LEARN A LANGUAGE

[Emphasis added]

In a previous message, I made the following distinction between "language"
and "literacy", which Poincy seems to be unable to appreciate:

  " ... learning to read and write (aka "literacy") is of a totally
  different nature than learning to speak one's native language (aka
  "language learning"). ..."

Let me expand, since Poincy's may be a widespread misconception.  Every
healthy (Haitian) child successfully learns their mother tongue.  Language
learning is like an "instinct" which spontaneously develops in any normal
child in his natural environment, long before the school years.  Unlike
language learning, literacy does require explicit, formal instruction ---
unfortunately the latter is still inadequate through much of Haiti.  Still,
the fact is that, although every healthy child develops language, not every
child will go on to develop literacy, as we know too well. There is no
`instinct' for reading and writing.  Literacy and language learning are
really two fundamentally different processes.  (Take my wor for it, or
consult the relevant studies.)

Actually, if Poincy is right in equating learning literacy with learning a
language, then the MAJORITY of Haitian Creole speakers (the illiterate
majority) still need to "learn a language"!  And many of them will go on
until their death without ever having "learn[t] a language". So in Haiti we
have a majority of language-less people.  How bizarre!

(Of course, an extension of this bizarre logic has been applied in the
political arena.  In fact, Haitian fascists have `seriously' used the
language=literacy equation to argue that our masses must remain politically
voiceless until they "learn a language"...)

Regarding Haitian Creole pronunciation and spelling, Poincy also still
persists in evaluating the language and its official orthography based on
French standards: 

> The linguists' argument would be: since the closed " e " IN FRENCH does
> not exist in Ayitian, therefore to distinguish " e' " from the " e` " and
> facilitate the task for the COMMONERS the accent above " e' " is dropped.
> LIFE BECOMES EASY. We should not talk of the non-existence of the sound
> in Ayitian, but rather of the POOR EDUCATION of the people. Their
> resolution lies in the fact that UNEDUCATED OR IMPROPERLY EDUCATED
> AYITIANS have a hard time to pronounce the closed " e " for what it
> sounds like IN FRENCH and render the sound of " e' " instead.  For all 
> " e' " sound are written " e ". "

[Emphases added]

So Poincy argues that some (specifically un-French) phonological features
of Haitian Creole are due to the "poor education of the people", with our
official orthography catering to the "laziness" of the "commoners"!  (This
too is a widespread view on Haitian Creole. Well, French speakers too are
"lazy" Latin speakers, ain't they?  Both French and Haitian Creole have
evolved through processes of language contact and language creation and

I had specifically chosen the "dlo" vs. "d'l'eau" example to show the
illogic of Poincy's argumentation (as quoted above).  The
"dlo"-vs-"d'l'eau" is a simple case study that clearly shows how
linguistically inadequate it would be to devise Haitian Creole orthography
based on French structures.

Obviously this didn't convince Poincy, and I seem to irremediably lack the
sort of pedagogical finesse that would work with my favorite
linguistics-101 student.  Oh well...  But those who are interested should
please note that ALL the questions --- I repeat, ALL THE QUESTIONS ---
raised by Poincy so far (including the above on literacy-vs-language and on
accents in Haitian spelling) have already been addressed in print, some 20
years or so ago. The references I've cited previously contain ample
documentation and bibliographical pointers.  No need to re-invent the wheel.

So, at this stage, I readily admit that the available bibliography can do a
MUCH better job than I ever could if my favorite linguistics-101 student
would care to do his homework...  Here I am reminded of this (sad) joke
about this Haitian man bragging about passing his Baccalaureat. When asked
what subject he did the best in, he replied: "Dikte, monche`!"
(="Dictation, of course!").

In a similar vein, I am stunned by Grey's latest assertion:

> "Mambo" IS phonetically correct.  Anbago is phonetically correct.  Mambo
> and anbago do not have the same pronunciation in the relevant parts of
> the words.

As far as I can tell, the first syllables in both "manbo" and "anbago" have
a nasalized vowel which is represented by "an" in the official orthography.
Even the anglicized variant correctly pointed out by Morse would, in the
official Creole orthography, require the "an" vowel: "manmbo" --- the "an"
is the nasalized counterpart of "n" and the following "m" is the consonant.
In the official orthography, an "a" without "n" (as in "mambo") produces
the same non-nasalized vowel in "dam" as in "be`l ti dam" (= English
"pretty young lady") which is definitely not the vowel we get in the first
syllable of the anglicized "manmbo".  Of course, if one decides to
speak/write English/French, then "mambo" is the conventional spelling. But
please, let's not `colonize' (`terrorize'?)  Creole spelling.  (Poincy:
Thanks for the "terrorize" metaphor.  Quite adequate here for rhetorical

For now, Grey's comment above on "Mambo [being] phonetically correct" in
Haitian Creole adds one more strand to this forum's linguistic surrealism
without ends.  Her assertion flatly contradicts the "phonetic" reality of
Haitian Creole. Grey's statement must be related to some higher form of
Creole knowledge, puerhaps via access to some transcendental Creole
"phonetic correct[ness]" that is beyond the grasp of Haitian Creole
speakers.  Of course, I'd be grateful to share Grey's sources. And I do
promise to try and do my homework as soon as such "phonetically correct"
bibliography is made accessible to the list.

While awaiting such bibliography, I must borrow phrases from both Corbett
and from Poincy: It does seem to me that this `debate' has reached a rare
level of "phenomenal miscommunication"; so I'll personally "throw in the
towel".  My task is to try and be a linguist scholar, so I'll stick to that
(and to available facts).  I don't think I'll be a good literary critique
on magical surrealism.  In describing his journey through Haiti, Gold
called our country "The Best Nightmare on Earth".  I think this description
has found its match in this forum.

This reminds of a promise that Grey made to us a while back ago:

> We will give you the real, true Vodou, we will take you right into the
> heart of the Vodou and safely back out again!

I do want to be taken "safely" to this "real, true" Creole that Grey has
access to.  I feel much pain at not being "phonetically correct" enough to
dwell any longer in this heart of the pure Creole...

Thanks in advance,

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