LINGUIST List 10.1996

Wed Dec 22 1999

Disc: Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. MIT2USA, RE Debate on the Status of the Creole Language

Message 1: RE Debate on the Status of the Creole Language

Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 10:53:34 EST
From: MIT2USA <>
Subject: RE Debate on the Status of the Creole Language

With regard to the debate on the status of the Creole language:

>On Sun, 28 Nov 1999 JFThiels <> wrote:
>Subject: Re: Issue 10.1812 Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?
>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. 
>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. 
>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?

But why do we need to keep turning in circles about
Haitian Creole being a French-lexicon Creole and 
being constantly subject to the French language?
The reason why the sociolinguistic status of Haitian
Creole remains where it is today is because it has
remained stigmatized for so long as "broken French",
as is the case with many of the other French Creoles.
What needs to happen, and has already taken place,
is for some initiatives to occur that really do 
something about the standardization of the written
Haitian Creole language through the use of 
computerized software.

When people sit around and talk about linguistics and
language, the decision makers just laugh and say, 
"show me something for it!". When it then takes 5-10
years to produce a dictionary for the language, then
this simply confirms that conducting research on the
language is just a cognitive activity. What those
governmental decision makers in Haiti and other
Caribbean countries want is a real product, something
that makes it obvious that their Creole language is not
just another nice dictionary item to place on the 

It is necessary to take advantage of the computer era
and do something with it. There are actually 2
initiatives underway that have raised the social level
of Haitian Creole. The fact is that once Haitian Creole
has been "computerized" and can be automatically processed,
the social level of the language raises about 10 points
on the social status scale.

Once you have scanning software like CreoleScan(tm)
that can capture printed text and convert it into text files
that can be modified under Word for Windows or Macintosh
or Word Perfect, such a functional and practical product is
one element that automatically raises the importance of the
language among the elite and leaders.

How can any leader argue that such a software program
is just for a "broken" version dialect? Software can only
work with "real" languages, right?

More info on CreoleScan(tm) is available at:

Or how about spelling reform conversion software like
CreoleConvert(tm) that can convert texts in any of the 
older Haitian Creole orthographies into the official
one (

Or take for example the bi-directional English - 
Haitian Creole speech-to-speech Machine Translation 
system that has been developed by the Diplomat Project
at Carnegie Mellon University (for more information

When one sees a demonstration of a dialogue between
a Haitian Creole speaker with an American English 
speaker using this portable speech-to-speech 
translation system to communicate, not a single 
person in this world can continue to argue that 
Haitian Creole is not a language in itself. How
can a computer translate from English into a 
"broken" non-real language "variety"?

Translation systems are only meant for real languages,
aren't they, or at least for constructed or artificial
languages for which grammars have been developed.
The computer age is changing a lot for the social
status of Creoles. The tools mentioned above 
will be a significant factor in letting Creole speakers
know that their language is something on the same level
of importance as the international languages.

>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. 

The language standardization issue can be dealt
with through tools like CreoleConvert(tm). The 
important issue is to make sure that the various
publishers, editors, newspapers, and other
organizations have access to the software to
standardize their texts at a more global level.
The technology is here. Something has been
done about making Creole languages ready for the
next millenium. Haitian Creole can no longer be
labelled as an on-going daughter of French. 
Haitian Creole has its own scanning software, its
own orthography conversion software, its own
machine translation system, its own speech
recognition system, etc...

Marilyn Mason, President
Mason Integrated Technologies Ltd (MIT2)

Mason Integrated Technologies Ltd
P.O. Box 181015
Boston, MA 02118 USA
(617) 247-8885 (office & answering machine)
(617) 262-8923 (FAX) (e-mail)
Mason Integrated Technologies Ltd Home Page:
Orthographically Converted HC Texts Download Site:
Meet Marilyn Mason:
Seychelles Invited Seminar Pictures Page:
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue