LINGUIST List 11.27

Wed Jan 12 2000

Disc: Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. JFThiels, Re: 10.1996, Disc: Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Message 1: Re: 10.1996, Disc: Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 12:42:29 EST
From: JFThiels <>
Subject: Re: 10.1996, Disc: Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

In a message dated 99-12-22 09:24:45 EST, you write:

<< 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?

No one on the Linguist List would argue that Haitian Creole is not a "real" 
language--and the original posting was about an English language creole, by 
the way. 

Different orthographies for Haitian Creole (by the way, this is really from 
my reading of the article in _Language Ideologies_) are indexing different 
social relationships between the speakers; standardization is a process which 
does, inherently, impose a particular written variety on others with 
implications for what gets considered a ratified version of the language in 
many areas of use--the relationship of the elite to French is clearly 
complicated and not simply based upon the perception of Creole as a "broken" 
variety of French, although this is part of what they say; it has to do with 
their continuing alliances with the colonial past.

Who are these "decision makers"? What language was their own education 
conducted in--did they get summer vacations in Paris as children? Why will a 
product raise the social status of a language--there is an interesting 
connection between technology, capitalist production and language status 
here. How many Haitians can afford computer technology? Perhaps non-Haitian 
Francophone people and others who mistakenly viewed Haitian Creole as 
"broken" French will consider it a language when they see this software. Yet 
Creole is intimately related to French in much of its vocabulary. It is 
precisely because there is a spectrum of varieties closer or further to 
French, and social relations that are indexed by their use, that the 
discussion of Creole is not "just" about a linguistic choice--in this case, 
linguistic choice, including orthography, is a social choice within the 
Haitian community.

It may be true that people might come to accept a particular version once it 
has been chosen by a software designer, a 20th Century William Caxton as it 
were. But which version is chosen? The point of the article was that there 
is no "neutral" orthography in Haitian communities. No matter which 
orthography you choose as your standard, it is saying something about you. 

What is the relationship of linguistic change to other kinds of social 
change? If these decision makers suddenly accept Creole as a language, will 
that bring about their acceptance of the poor on an equal footing? Will 
standardization bring greater political participation, or will it, perhaps, 
clarify other aspects of inequality in Haiti and in the world economic 
system? I'm not offering answers, but they are interesting questions to ask--

John Thiels
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