LINGUIST List 21.3762

Fri Sep 24 2010

Disc: Re: Medium of Instruction for Creole Languages

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <>

        1.    Patrick-Andre Mather, Re: Medium of Instruction for Creole Languages

Message 1: Re: Medium of Instruction for Creole Languages
Date: 24-Sep-2010
From: Patrick-Andre Mather <>
Subject: Re: Medium of Instruction for Creole Languages
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A few weeks ago, I posted a discussion on the use of Creole as a medium of instruction, with special reference to Haiti. My post identified several interrelated issues concerning first and second language acquisition, theories on creole genesis, genetic linguistics, and cultural and political considerations.

Several comments were sent to me directly, while others were posted various blogs and websites. For the benefit of readers of The LINGUIST List, I have summarized below some of these reactions, with a few comments of my own.

First, many thanks to Jeff Siegel for pointing out three recent volumes dealing with the use of creoles in education:

Migge, B., I. Léglise and A. Bartens (eds). 2010. Creoles in Education: An Appraisal of Current Programs and Projects. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Nero, S. (ed). 2006. Dialects, Englishes, Creoles, and Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Siegel, J. 2010. Second Dialect Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The excellent volume edited by Migge et al. (2010) contains descriptions of several attempts at integrating Creole languages in the education systems of various countries, and distinguishes three main types of programs: instrumental, accommodation, and awareness-raising programs. Although the contributions therein do not deal specifically with the Haitian situation, they do nonetheless shed some light on some of the challenges which were faced by the Haitian educational system in implementing the new laws and recommendations of the 1980s and 1990s.

Concerning point (1) in the original post, an interesting analysis was provided on another website, arguing that if Catalan or Canadian children are capable of acquiring native-like proficiency in 2 or more languages, surely Haitian children have the same ability, provided the education system is reformed in such a way as to make it more effective. As I suggested in my original post, the Haitian government has already proposed and partially implemented the use of Creole in the first few years of schooling, which despite some opposition from teachers and parents, has dramatically improved literacy rates over the past 20 years (according to Haitian government sources). As a consequence, higher literacy rate may actually facilitate the acquisition of other languages, including French (which remains one of two official languages in Haiti).

Concerning point (4) in the discussion post, one reader argued against the notion that Haitian parents and educators want their children to learn French, citing psychiatric and psychoanalytical studies suggesting that ‘stigmatized groups often internalize the stigmatization they suffer from’. This of course is reminiscent of studies on minority languages and language shift, including Lambert’s (1967) study on Montreal French, or Dorian’s groundbreaking work on the shift from Gaelic to English in the Scottish Highlands. First, strictly speaking, these studies are not really comparable to the Haitian case, since Creole speakers are an overwhelming majority in Haiti, and there is no danger of a shift to French, given that there is no sizeable French-speaking community there. Haitian is alive and well, and will surely remain the L1 of most Haitians for generations to come. Second, the argument that Haitian parents’ judgments are somehow clouded by internal stigmatization may be an oversimplification of the issue. One could equally argue that Haitian parents want their children to be fluent in both Creole and French (not either/or) because of the many educational and economic opportunities afforded by knowledge of both official languages.

Given the partial success of the introduction of Creole in Haitian schools, one should perhaps encourage efforts to make greater use of the vernacular in schools, while at the same time avoiding a top-down approach that would impose Creole across the board without heeding the legitimate opinions and concerns of parents and educators. Despite shortcomings and resistance to the implementation of Haitian Creole as a medium of instruction, literacy rates have increased dramatically since the 1980s, and adopting a moderate, sensible model of bilingual education in Haiti will no doubt ultimately yield positive results, and allow Haitians to attain greater proficiency in both official languages, as I suspect is the ultimate goal of the educational reform of the 1980s and 1990s.

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics                             Language Acquisition                             Sociolinguistics

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