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#3918: Re: #3900: Poincy continues the language/pronunciation/spelling issue (fwd)
From: Florence Delimon <email@example.com>
To all Corbetters,
I have been reading about Mr Poincy's posts and paying particular attention
to his remarks related to the "é" and "e" issue, and I am writing because I
am felling uncomfortable with the implication that somehow mastering (or
not) "é" and "e" pronunciation (for example) in Haitian Creole is related to
He wrote, in reference to "é" and "e" sound, the following: "I attributed
the changes not to the non-existence of the sound in the language, but to a
sheer accommodation to the commoners' inability to produce the closed "e"
sound. This handicap is due to the people's lack of education, a fact that
makes the non-existence of the sound in question a virtual factor."
The way I read his sentence, there seems to be the assumption that somehow
education comes before language. It seems to me - regardless of the first
language that individuals may speak - sounds come first, education (and I
will assume that in his post Mr Poincy meant "formal education") comes
second, when it does take place. Also, not all languages have all possible
sounds. By that I mean that a Haitian Creole speaker may not differentiate
between "é" and "e" sounds as native French-speakers (from France) do, the
same way Japanese may not differentiate between "l" and "r" sounds. Does
that mean that Japanese lack education, and this is a handicap of some sort
(one that would for instance "forbid" them to speak, let's say, English)
that education will help them overcome?
Later, he continues: "Had they been properly taught how to read and
pronounce words, the non-existence of the sound would have not been an issue
now. They would produce the sound correctly. Rather than seeing my point, it
was interpreted as I was for the French like spelling of the language. So
much of the joy to distort one's thought for the sake of affirming knowledge
possession, meanwhile those silent "beggars" for understanding stay in
Again, have not all Haitians properly taught - since birth, like individuals
all over the place, in a great variety of languages - how to PRONOUNCE words
IN HAITIAN CREOLE? That is, if monolingual Haitians do not differentiate
between "é" and "e" sounds, it may be simply because Haitian Creole language
does not have the "e" sound? Would Japanese mothers bend over backward and
have their children discriminate between "l" and "r" when such
differentiation does not exist in Japanese language (nor would it be useful
for Japanese children to learn so if they will basically communicate and
function in Japanese language)?
My point is that there is this great problem of thinking about language as
something that we learn formally (through reading and writing), then we use
properly. While the reality of it is that we learn to speak and properly
use a language with its "natural" sounds, pronunciations and structures
(regardless of which language is our first) then we may - if this language
has a written code (such as French and English traditionnally) - learn to
read and write it. In a nutshell, most Haitians, monolingual Haitians, will
not worry about such "é" and "e" sound differentiation. Bilingual Haitians
(or basically Haitians who have had the opportunity to learn and use both
Haitian Creole and French languages) may find that there should be such
differentiation, because lack of awareness of such differentiation would
emphasize "lack of education". I personally am intrigued with such
perception as it seems to put the blame of such lack of awareness on the
shoulders of individuals who simply SPEAK their language.
Mr. Poincy also writes: "The linguists' argument would be: since the closed
" e " in French does not exist in Ayitian, therefore to distinguish " é "
from the " è " and facilitate the task for the commoners the accent above "
é " is dropped. Life becomes easy."
I will second that: the closed "e" in French does not exist in Haitian
Creole, and monolingual speakers will most likely use the "é" sound. And as
the role of the linguists always come "post fact", that is after a language
has come to existence, is being spoken by groups and communities, linguists
(as I understand their role) will observe and study language, and most
likely will guide (among other things) groups and communities into the most
economical way of codifying a language. But I will let a linguist tell all
of us more specifically the different ways they help lay people understand
the oral codes of communication.
Finally, as an educator, I would say that it is quite unfair to monolingual
Haitians to somehow imply that their apparent "inability" to differentiate
between "é" and "e" sounds (for instance) means lack of education. People
SPEAK, then they may get a formal education (and in the case of Haiti, they
may sometimes not get a formal education). Does that mean they lack
education? Let us all appreciate Haitian Creole for what it is: a language
where the majority of monolingual speakers pronounce the words of their
language properly, and it so happens that this language do NOT have the
closed "e" sound.