LINGUIST List 10.1818

Mon Nov 29 1999

Disc: For 10.1812 Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. JFThiels, Re: Issue 10.1812 Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Message 1: Re: Issue 10.1812 Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 15:09:39 EST
From: JFThiels <>
Subject: Re: Issue 10.1812 Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

In a message dated 99-11-28 10:09:28 EST, you write:

<< 3) To assume that Creole and other "vernacular" varieties that are
 primarily spoken CANNOT or SHOULD not ever be written--as Cecil's reply
 seems to suggest--is to foreclose the possibilities of change and to
 kowtow to the strictures of the "standard language ideology" that Rosina
 Lippi-Green writes about in _English with an Accent_ (1997), denying full
 access, understanding and enjoyment to those who do not command the
 legitimated variety. If similar strictures had been accepted in the
 history of English, writing and formal discourse in England (and its
 "Empire" around the globe) would still be conducted only in French (or
 Latin). If similar strictures had been accepted more recently in Haiti,
 the use of Haitian Creole in schools and in writing would never have
 occurred. >>

I agree with your response to Cecil's discussion and the point by point 
discussion of the argument. However, the relationship of written 
representation of varieties other than standard to particular communities of 
speakers is often problematic and not necessarily seen as empowering 
(although the well-chosen examples show that it can be for some speakers). 
The choice of orthography can index various social relationships that emerge 
through linguistic and other practices. As Lippi-Green points out, some of 
the most vociferous critiques of AAVE come from African-Americans themselves; 
 additionally the development of standard orthographies in Haitian creole has 
not taken place without much discussion among Haitians about what different 
orthographies index, that is, what relationships both within the Haitian 
community are shown by and reproduced through the standardization process as 
well as the relationship of Haiti to the French colonial experience. For a 
fuller discussion of this point, see Schiefflin and Doucet "The 'Real' 
Haitian Creole: Ideology, Metalinguistics and Orthographic Choice" in 
Schiefflin, Wollard and Kroskrity, eds. _Language Ideologies: Practice and 
Theory_ (Oxford: Oxford UP 1998) .

We do not know who lodged the complaint, and although it appears that this 
brochure was an attempt at the representation of English Creole, the 
appearance of documents in Creole may be contested within Creole-speaking 
communities and may appear as parody to speakers who speak similar and 
intelligible varieties of English (such as AAVE); the comments of the HUD 
tenants' union director may be as indicative of unfamiliarity with a written 
Creole as well as of an unspoken ideology that the distinguishing of a 
difference (in this case of language differing from the standardized norm) is 
racist. Should the brochure (to assume that it is Creole, or an informed 
attempt at Creole) have had a warning label to standard speakers that this 
really was a kind of English different from the supposed standard and only 
for consumption by some?

I am not suggesting that Creole should not be a productive language in print; 
rather, I am suggesting that the appearance of print versions and various 
orthographies may be more problematic for speakers themselves and for other 
reasons than one might realize at first glance. Despite regional 
similarities and commonalities of culture and speech, there may be more 
variety among communities of speakers (or differences salient to speakers) 
than those who propose a standard orthography through the region might wish 
to believe, especially since the oppositional community for linguistically 
oriented academics is the dominant standard, which may not be true for all 
speakers. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the appearance of 
print materials in a variety, for some speakers for the first time, should 
have various responses that are not, however, predictable in advance. It 
would be a fascinating project to document various responses to written 
Creole and its uptake by various communities of speakers. 

John Thiels
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