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#3887: DeGraff applauds Lamour's observations regarding "bon" (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

Lamour adds lots of relevant data to the discussion, and I am dutifully
taking notes.  Before addressing some specifics in Lamour's latest message,
let me use the opportunity for a bit of pep talk.  I take Lamour's messages
as wonderful examples of Creole speakers can elucidate grammatical
structures and rules in Haitian Creole (HC).  As Lamour's comments show,
this is no easy task, and this task cannot be done in a casual manner, lest
we oversimplify the linguistic reality of the language.

Lamour's comments also show that being able to produce patterns in one's
native language is a substantial advantage in trying to analyze the
language.  I do hope that more Haitian speakers would engage in this sort
of exercise, not just on the Corbett list, but as part of life-long
engagements with HC linguistics.  We do need more native-speaker linguists
in order to fully elucidate the fascinating structure of HC, and more
active participation like Lamour's would surely raise the quality of work
being done in the field of Creole linguistics.  Unfortunately, the number
of Haitian linguists doing work on HC syntax is still too low.

As it turns out, it has long been fashionable for (post-)colonial and
modern linguists to consider Creoles as abnormally-simple languages with
exceptionally-reduced structure, etc.  The sort of data being presented
here by native speakers like Lamour shows how misguided the `Creole as
simple language' hypothesis can be, and (trust me!) this is only the top of
the iceberg.  But so far, the "need for illusion" vis-a-vis Creoles as
"abnormally simple" languages has remained very deep.  (I am now writing on
how this need is historically rooted in the (post-)colonial past of Creole
studies.)  So, again, I thank Lamour for his elegant illustration of what
it takes to better understand the complex structure of HC.

OK, let me now stop the pep talk and get back to the status of "bon" as
adjective or noun.  Recall that the question I raised in a previous message
was whether "bon" BY ITSELF can function as a noun. This seems to me to be
one of the most relevant factors for understanding the syntax of "bon" in
"bon ra" and "se bon ki ra".

There is no doubt that the use of certain accompanying elements can build a
nominal structure out of "bon".  Take for example:

"Men bannann yo.  Genyen ki bon, genyen ki move.  Mete bon yo sou tab la;
mete move yo nan fatra"

(= "Here are the plantains.  There are some that are good; there are some
that are bad.  Put the good on the table; put the bad in the garbage.")

In "Mete BON YO sou tab la", "bon yo" does function as a nominal structure,
with the help of "yo" as an article.  This is somewhat like English "the"
in the (in?)famous title "The good, the bad, the ugly".  "Good", "bad" and
"ugly" are all adjectives that when flanked with "the" behave apparently
like nouns.

But the question remains: Can HC "bon" ON ITS OWN function PRODUCTIVELY as
a noun?  The larger question is: Can ALL adjectives become nouns?  Would
Lamour and other native speakers accept the following as grammatical: "Mwen
renmen bon" (in the sense of "I like that which is good")?  (Compare with
"Mwen renmen sa ki bon" or "Mwen renmen bonbon".)

Interestingly, most of the examples given by Lamour show "bon" with another
element ("tout").  It looks like "tout" --- like "yo" in "bon yo" and "the"
in "the good, the bad, the ugly" --- can create a nominal structure out of
an adjective.  See Lamour's examples 2, 4 and 6 below.

> the adjective "bon" seems to behave like a noun in utterances such as
> 1. "bon pa dire" ...
> 2. "tout moun konnen ou s'on (se yon) bon" ...
> 3. "se bon ki fe` bonbon" ...
> 4. "tout bon nan men me`t yo" ...
> 5. "bon pa rete ate`" ...
> 6. "tout bon mare nan pye tab lakay me`t yo" ...

As of examples 1, 3 and 5, they seem (to me, at least) to have the same
unusual (`proverb-like'?) flavor as "bon ra" and "se bon ki ra".  In other
words, I suspect that 1, 3 and 5 do not reflect patterns that are
productive in the language.  But, of course, this is an empirical question
to be investigated.

For now, Lamour is right in pointing out that there's a variety of
adjectives that do double as nouns (or vice-versa).  These include:
"mechan", "malad", etc.  But, again, one crucial question is this: Can ALL
adjectives double as nouns the same way that "malad" can?

So here too, we must ask why we CAN say: 

"Lopital la chaje ak malad" (= "the hospital is filled with the sick"),

but we (or rather I) CAN'T say 

"Lavi a chaje ak bon" (= "Life is filled with the good"). 

Again, contrast with 

"Lavi a chaje ak sa ki bon" (= "Life is filled with that which is good"). 

The latter example sounds fine to my ears, unlike its counterpart "Lavi a
chaje ak bon".  Why should this contrast obtain if "bon" could behave as a
noun as claimed by Lamour?

How about the adjective "ra" itself?  Can it function as noun?

Contrast say:

"Ra bon"   (= "Rare is good) which sounds unacceptable to me


"Mango a bon"  (="The mango is good")  which sounds fine to me.

"Mango a" can function as a noun and as a subject, but "ra" doesn't seem to
be able to do that.

Also contrast:

"Ra toujou bon" (= "Rare is always good")  --- not so good for me ---


"Sa ki ra toujou bon (= "That which is rare is always good") --- perfect!

And of course, we have a similar contrast with "ra" in object position:

"Mwen renmen ra" (= "I like rare") --- which is unacceptable for me  ---


"Mwen renmen sa ki ra" (= "I like that which is rare") which is fine for me.

Using Lamour's very test, we also get the following contrast:

"Lajan ra kounyen an" (= "Money is rare now")  --- acceptable with "ra" as


"Lajan se ra kounyen an" and "Lajan se yon ra kounyen an"  --- both
are unacceptable with "ra" as noun! 

If the adjectives "bon" and "ra" could freely behave like nouns, then the
sort of contrasts above would become mysterious.  I am curious though: Can
Lamour say: "Mwen renmen bon", "Lajan se (yon) ra kounyen an" with "bon"
and "ra" in typical object positions?

In any case, the following observation still seems to obtain: HC has a
class of (prototypical?) adjectives that can't be `switched' to the class
of nouns.  If in one's mental grammar, "bon" is not acceptable as a noun
(to wit, the unacceptability of "Mwen renmen bon"), then "bon" may neither
be able to function as subject (as in "bon ra"), nor as the `clefted'
phrase in (as in "se bon ki ra").

One general and key point is worth noting here: Language (ANY language,
including HC) functions as a complex system with different modules
interacting in delicately systematic fashion to produce very subtle
patterns.  As this exchange cleary shows (I hope!), it pays to closely
examine all sorts of interactions among different sets of linguistic data.
To repeat the point I started with: Native speakers (of any language) have
a natural advantage in analyzing their native language, and this advantage
is reinforced once native speakers also understand the methods of
linguistics.  So I'd like this exchange to double as an invitation to the
many young and energetic Creole-speaking minds in this forum to pick up
linguistic books and brochures to academic linguistic programs.  HC
speakers, in tandem with linguists all over, have a great deal to
contribute to the linguistics of HC and to general linguistics.  And a
better linguistics of HC can lead to a better appreciation of HC and of its
(potential) contributions in Haitian society and to science in general.
Thus far, too many accounts of HC are nothing but caricatures of the
language, including certain accounts in the recent and not-so-recent
`scientific' literature.

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