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#3909: DeGraff thanks Dannenbaum and Wexler (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I am most thankful for Dannenbaum's and Wexler's kind references to
published sources re "se bon ki ra":


> For what it's worth: "se bon ki ra" is listed as proverb number 952 in
> Edner Jeanty's "Parol Granmoun: Haitian Popular Wisdom" published by
> Editions Learning Center, Port-au-Prince, 1976.


> I don't know if it has the status of a proverb, but I first came across
> "se bon ki ra" in a Vodou song discussed by Gerdes Fleurant in his
> doctoral dissertation as a rarely sung form of warning to unscrupulous
> oungan or to newly initiated oungan who are thus admonished not to betray
> the trust of the community.

The methodological point I made earlier now becomes even more relevant.  If
my and other native speakers' intuitions (pace Lamour) are right that "bon
ra" and "se bon ki ra" don't really sound acceptable as PRODUCTIVE
(i.e. widespread and non-formulaic) Creole patterns, then the references to
"se bon ki ra" in proverbs and songs brings home my previous observation
that proverbs (and, now, songs) --- unlike everyday speech --- do enlist
syntactic patterns that are frozen.  In other words, proverbs, songs,
poetry and other forms of consciously-created and culturally-transmitted
forms of verbal play are, by their very nature, memorized fixed phrases,
which therefore can make use of patterns that are no longer in fluent use
in the spontaneous, non-reflective and non-memorized speech of native
speakers.  Wexler also mentions that the proverb is used in a "rarely sung
form ...".  In one of his previous messages, Lamour gave a number of
examples of such `proverb-like' non-productive patterns.  It must also be
noted that "se bon ki ra" is exempt of the kind of metaphor and other
semantic word play that usually characterize Haitian proverbs.  The meaning
of "se bon ki ra" is rather straightforward.  So it may be its very
idiosyncratic syntax that endows it with `proverb' status.

As of the title of Jeanty's book --- "Parol [sic] Granmoun" --- it is also
quite telling.  As historical linguists all over are well-aware of, the
grammar of "pawo`l granmoun" can sometimes be quite different than the
grammar of "pawo`l ti moun" --- this is the essence of language change and
of dialectal variation (compare say Shakespeare's English to our own, or
Quebec French to Parisian French).  Thus, contemporary NATIVE speakers'
differing opinions on "bon ra" and "se bon ki ra" (as witnessed in recent
messages) may reflect what now counts as acceptable/productive
vs. unacceptable/non-productive patterns in the individual mental grammars
of living Creole speakers.  And this variation CAN be carefully documented
by consulting native speakers' speech and grammatical intuitions and the
relevant reliable publications.  

Those in search of linguistic research projects may find it interesting to
go through Jeanty's and other lists of proverbs, songs and verses in order
to identify and classify other such non-productive (or, perhaps,
no-longer-productive) patterns, then try to relate these non-productive
patterns to the historical course of Haitian Creole grammar --- at least in
the relevant domains of the lexicon, the morphology and the syntax.  This
would be a really fascinating project, and I'd love to know about its

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