Forbidden Kreyòl.

Michel DeGraff, a professor of linguistics at MIT and a founding member of the Haitian Creole Academy, writes for the NY Times (archived link) about his native language:

As a schoolchild in Haiti in the 1970s, I was forbidden to speak my mother tongue, Haitian Creole, which we Haitians call Kreyòl. If I disobeyed, a teacher would remind me with the sharp smack of a ruler across my hand. Kreyòl, which emerged from the contact among French and African languages on colonial plantations, is the only language spoken by all Haitians. But the nation’s education system discriminates against it in favor of French, which is spoken by at most a tenth of the population. Kreyòl-speaking children are subjected to myriad classroom humiliations, including in at least one school a sign that says, “I have to always express myself in French. Otherwise, I am the gorilla of the class.” […]

When I was a schoolchild at the prestigious Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince, my teacher of French and Haitian literature, a French Catholic brother, had us memorize texts that taught us to despise Kreyòl as a worthless language. I was also made to write hundreds of lines saying “I will never speak Kreyòl again.” Some parents and teachers even make children scrub their tongues with soap, lemon and vinegar to metaphorically wash away the Kreyòl.

In 1982, a decree known as the Joseph Bernard Reform promised change. It required that Kreyòl be the language of instruction for the first 10 years of schooling and sought to make French a second language of instruction in the sixth year. That would have given Haitian students a chance to function in both languages while prizing their national identity. But for the past 40 years, this decree has largely been either ignored or misinterpreted. Haitian education has suffered across every academic subject — even French, in which the adults at the front of the classroom may be only marginally more proficient than the students in the seats. Many teachers use their native Kreyòl to approximate a narrow range of French sentences that they have simply memorized by rote. […]

Financial remedies for these overwhelming historic injustices still seem like a distant prospect, but in terms of cultural remedies, Haitians at last have some hope. Haiti’s minister of education, Nesmy Manigat, recently announced that Kreyòl should serve as a language of instruction throughout primary and secondary education. French would be taught as a second language in the early grades, then used as an additional language of instruction soon after. Mr. Manigat is also advocating the teaching of English and Spanish starting in middle school. The new direction is meant to valorize students’ language and identity, healing them from the colonial wounds of the past and equipping them for academic success and further education.

These curricular changes are necessary, though not sufficient. Haitian officials also need to ensure that teaching and course materials at all levels include student-centered, active-learning pedagogy, to nurture generations of Haitian children and instill solidarity and pride through a language that honors their history, their identity and their prospect as a nation.

Unshackling Haitian minds and society from centuries of linguistic discrimination is the first step to help Haiti overcome the disastrous consequences of its colonial and neocolonial history.

I can’t tell you how much that sort of thing enrages me; I’m glad DeGraff has some hope about the situation now, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens. History doesn’t provide much encouragement. (Via Slavomír Čéplö/bulbul’s Facebook post.)


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    In New York City, the school system, as well as other parts of municipal government, treat Haitian Kreyol as one of the common foreign languages that they need to being able to communicate it. They may do French as well (also potentially relevant to immigrants from many source countries other than Haiti …), but in the American context the hierarchical relationship between the two in Haiti is not salient enough to overcome considerations of functionality.

    Outside the city limits, the N.Y. state tax authorities offer information online in a dozen different languages (beyond English), including in Kreyol: “Depatman Taks” appears to be the Kreyol equivalent of the English “Department of Taxation and Finance.”

    NB: NYC has lots of residents whose L1 is an English-lexifier Caribbean creole (and others for whom it’s an English-lexifier West African creole) but the working assumption seems to be that those folks can read/understand standard English if they need to. I don’t know how good or bad that is as an empirical assumption.

  2. J.W. Brewer says

    On another front, the do-gooder missionary activities of the Episcopal Church in Haiti had for a century or so worked with a French translation of the Book of Common Prayer, but fairly recently (I think in the current century) someone finally got around to producing a standard Kreyol text of the Communion service.

    I myself attended an Anglican service in the (different, but also French-lexifier) local creole in the cathedral of the Diocese of the Seychelles way back in 1996.

    Googling suggests that there are some Roman Catholic parishes in the U.S. that offer Mass in Kreyol for the benefit of Haitian-diaspora congregations. I have no idea how long-standing a practice this is, and the extent to which the “politics” of it are different in the diaspora (where the local bishop probably doesn’t speak French either …) are different than they are in Haiti proper.

  3. The Mormons have had their scriptures in Kreyol since 2007. The Book of Mormon was available in selections back in 1983, and the full book was completed in 1999.

  4. cuchuflete says

    The linguistic ethnic cleansing (Yes, that’s an overly dramatic way of stating it, but if the shoe fits…) described above has unfortunate parallels in the U.S. Maine, where some 5% of the population still has French as their L1, long punished school children for speaking anything but English in class.

    “ On April 1, 1919, the Maine Legislature passed an English-only bill that targeted the Acadians of Aroostook County.

    It required that schools educate children exclusively using the the English language. In the Crown of Maine, this gave rise to the oft bitterly repeated phrase, “I will not speak French in school,” which originated from teachers punishing children for speaking casual French in classrooms by forcing the child to write the phrase over and over again. Survivors of that period tell stories of receiving punishments just for speaking French on the playground.

    In one month, the centennial of that unreasonable and insulting law will come and go, and even though the bill came to an end in 1960, the impact it had on the Franco-Americans of Maine, especially the Acadians, shows that government efforts to destroy cultures within its own borders are a vile and dishonorable practice that seems to exhibit the intent to neuter minority populations. “. source:

    We discussed this previously here:

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    @cuchuflete, that’s the same time period when some other states passed laws (eventually held unconstitutional) forbidding instruction other than in English even in private schools. Which were generally thought to be targeting religious schools using German as the medium of instruction due to WW1-associated fear of insufficiently assimilated German-Americans. But maybe in Maine they were concerned that unassimilated Quebecois-Americans would be disloyal in the event of invasion by Canada?

  6. cuchuflete says

    But maybe in Maine they were concerned that unassimilated Quebecois-Americans would be disloyal in the event of invasion by Canada?

    Ayuh. Them Canadian hordes gonna crash the border, take all our sugah maple trees an lobstah.

    Can I interest you in the purchase of a smelt whistle? Guaranteed to make ’em jump right into the net.

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    @cuchuflete: Once the invaders had secured the strategically-valuable potato fields of Aroostook County I’m not sure if they’d feel the need to keep pushing all the way to the coast.

  8. Michael Hendry says

    Slightly tangential, but when I taught Latin in Maine 20 years ago (a one-quarter pregnancy-leave substitute position), I was amused to see that the three language choices on ATMs were 1. English, 2. French, 3. Spanish. I’ve never seen Spanish out of 2nd place anywhere else. This was on the coast, by the way.

  9. Michael Hendry: since intergenerational transmission of French in Maine became a rarity long before ATMs became widespread, I would venture to suggest that French as the second language of ATMs may have more to do with the presence of Quebec tourists (I went to Old Orchard beach quite often in my childhood) than with the presence of Maine-born speakers (VERY few of whom would be literate in French in any case).

    J.W. Brewer: the bill, according to cuchuflete, was aimed at ACADIAN French speakers in Maine. Let’s just say that calling Acadians Québécois, as you did -well, to many Acadians, them’s fightin’ words…and indeed, Acadian and Québec French are VERY distinct forms of French (historically: today Québec French is influencing Acadian French rather heavily, for obvious reasons): even when speaking the most standard French imaginable, Acadian and québécois accents are quite easily identified and rather dissimilar. In fact, even somatically the difference is very noticeable: because their ancestry is dominated by migrants from much further South (Poitou, Saintonge and neighboring areas) than is the case of Québécois (whose ancestors chiefly came from the Île-de-France and Normandy regions), Acadians are (on average, of course) much more Mediterranean- or Hispanic-looking than Québécois.

    Cuchuflete: Okay, you are on to us. Yes, we need to capture the sugar maples of Northern New England in order to have a total monopoly on the sweetest substance known to the human race, maple syrup: Québec has a strategic maple syrup reserve (no joke!), but a monopoly would be better. It is part of the PPNSQ (Projet pour un nouveau siècle québécois), a scheme for world domination I and some colleagues came up with one evening at a bar –err, I mean, over an undetermined amount of time at an undisclosed location – where the smell of something burning smelled like…VICTORY. Sigh…I feel like shooting somebody in the face, I wish I knew why…

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    @Etienne: I appreciate the correction. Part of the complexity of the situation in Maine is the different histories of (a) the folks living on both sides of the St. John River whose Francophone ancestors already lived there before it was an international border; versus (b) the folks (more standard-Quebecois by ancestry) whose Francophone ancestors came down across the international border to work in mill towns in Maine as they did in other mill towns throughout New England. If the 1919 bill was aimed only at the former it’s presumably because the public schools in the further-from-the-border mill towns with significant Francophone-immigrant populations were not at the time accommodating French any more than any other recent-immigrant tongues were generally accommodated in U.S. public schools at the time (i.e., not at all), so there was no Francophone-friendly policy to be suppressed.

    FWIW, here’s a wikipedia article claiming that the Francophones up in Aroostook Co. have their own ethnonym (and related glossonym for their dialect) and are in various ways distinct from both Quebecois and Acadians (or at least “regular” Acadians):

  11. cuchuflete says

    @J.W. Brewer, Once the invaders had secured the strategically-valuable potato fields of Aroostook County…. Point taken. We are probably safe in my coastal hamlet, but we’ll keep the pitchforks handy. If you want to sound authentic, don’t ever say Aroostook County.
    It’s just “the county”. The sense is much like saying Glen Burnie to anyone in the Baltimore/D.C. area. Unfair? Of course, but there’s enough evidence to support the unfair generalization.

    @Etienne, you’ve let the cat out of the bag. Now all the hedge funds will be trading syrup reserve derivatives, payment in crypto only to avoid sticky fingers.

    And while we’re at it, don’t forget Franco—que pase la eternidad en el infierno—banning Basque and Catalan, and Stalin “uniting” the USSR by banning languages other than Russian.
    It’s as vile a practice as one can imagine.

  12. Also tangential- went to an ATM in Hammersmith yesterday and Cymraeg was the 2nd option. About bloody time.

  13. Less tangential- how has German Switzerland seemingly managed to crack the secret of successful diglossia when in most other societies it seems to either result in widespread illiteracy (Haiti, much of the Arabic world) or in the long term destruction of the L1 (Sicily, Provence, Okinawa, etc.)

  14. How much literacy is there in Swiss German? My impression was that written Swiss is used by a small minority of enthusiasts (and perhaps in schools, by decree), but rarely for letters or newspapers or shopping lists. In this regard its situation is more like Arabic(s).

  15. @cuchuflete: “Stalin “uniting” the USSR by banning languages other than Russian.”

    It’s simply not true. Stalin’s language policy was completely different from Franco’s.

  16. It’s simply not true. Stalin’s language policy was completely different from Franco’s.

    Quite right. Quoted in this post from Terry Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (which anyone interested in the topic should read):

    Zhdanov also reported that Stalin emphasized “that there should be absolutely no repression or reduction of the use of the native language, that teachers should be warned that the Russian language is not to be used for instruction, but only as a subject of study.” Stalin’s comments here might seem cynical, but in fact largely were not. With few exceptions, throughout Stalin’s rule, native-language education remained mandatory in non-Russian schools and Russian remained only a subject of study. The March 1938 decree did not begin cultural russification. Its goal was only bilingualism or, at the very most, biculturalism. The friendship paradigm continued to insist on the cultivation of the non-Russians’ distinct national identities.

  17. cuchuflete says

    @Alex K. Thanks for correcting me.

  18. David Marjanović says

    How much literacy is there in Swiss German? My impression was that written Swiss is used by a small minority of enthusiasts (and perhaps in schools, by decree), but rarely for letters or newspapers or shopping lists. In this regard its situation is more like Arabic(s).

    That’s my impression as well, except that the education in the standard language is much better than in most Arabic-speaking places. And unlike in Haiti there’s no widely known orthography for any of the German dialects; the enthusiasts don’t all use the same one(s).

    Being fluent in more than one of the four official languages is not all that common. Young people mostly speak English with each other across the language boundaries – which are, for the most part, pretty neat geographic boundaries.

  19. There seems to be a Swiss German Koine variety that is used on TV in talk shows / game shows and similar formats where hosts talk with people from the public, and for advertising; how much that (and its orthography in printed advertising) is normed, I have no idea.

  20. Clicking the link in mollymooly’s comment above, I came to the term “lodgement docket,” which seems to be equivalent to American English “deposit slip.”

    Is that right? Is that just Irish English or is it also British English?

  21. David Marjanović says

    how much that (and its orthography in printed advertising) is normed, I have no idea.

    I suspect not all of its users are even aware of its existence.

  22. cuchuflete says

    I don’t know how, or if, this fits with prior comments about languages in the former USSR.

    “ My opinion about this war and mobilization is shaped a lot by my region and its culture. The Sakha Republic is quite unique; it’s a remote region along the Arctic Ocean in the Russian Far East. Yakuts are the majority, and we have a separate history, language and culture. We have been often treated like a colony — during the Soviet times, our region was commonly perceived as land used for its resources rather than a place to live. Our ethnic identity was suppressed too in the Soviet attempt to make everyone “Russian.” When my parents were young, they were forbidden to speak the Yakut language in public spaces.

    Emphasis added.


  23. That person is 39 now, so his parents were young probably during the early Brezhnev era. Was policy different then?

    That fine piece of Soviet PR, Farley Mowat’s The Siberians, would have you think that Siberian language use was encouraged. Yuri Rytkheu, in particular, is presented as embodying this.

    I recall that there were a couple of Nivkh newspapers for a while.

  24. How much literacy is there in Swiss German?

    Almost none, that was my point. Swiss Germans are almost universally literate and culturally and economically productive in a languague they don’t speak in daily life. That seems to be rare – in most societies this kind of diglossia tends to be a major handicap and disadvantages large segments of the population. Not in Switzerland. Is it simply that the Swiss were already so affluent by the time mass literacy arrived that they could afford to fund a superior education system?

  25. Soviet language policy changed drastically over the years. Since the end of the Affirmative Action era (I echo the endorsement of Terry Martin’s excellent account), it started heading towards russification. The Brezhnev era was already quite open about this, and in 1990 towards the end of the Soviet Union, Russian was made the official language of the state.

  26. “Docket” is used in Australia in the sense of “receipt” or “slip”. So “lodgement docket” doesn’t sound completely strange to me (although “deposit slip” sounds much better).

    Wiktionary backs me up on Australian usage:

  27. @Bathrobe. Thanks.

  28. @cuchuflete: “Mikhail” was born in 1982 or 1983. I would suggest the late 1950s as the earliest likely date for his parents’ schooling. Stalin died in March 1953. The years 1955-56 marked the beginning of a generally more liberal period, the Khruschev “thaw.”

    However, Siberia’s indigenous nations may have experienced it differently. On the good side, people were no longer shot or arbitrarily imprisoned as enemies of the people. But in 1957, Khruschev’s government launched a “modernization” program for the northern peoples, aiming to do away with their traditional way of life. In particular, nomads were to be settled and their children sent to boarding schools, where they would become Russophone. As Nikolai Vakhtin writes in Native Peoples of the Russian Far North (1992):

    Around 1957 school teachers throughout the North began to exert pressure on the children with regard to their native languages. They were punished if they were heard to speak one other than Russian at school. and parents were requested not to speak their native language to their children at home…

    This Russian language policy was never officially announced or published. However, it is interesting that Moscow’s policies towards the Northern schools were very similar to those of the US Federal Administration towards Alaskan schools several decades earlier…

    This said, Vakhtin’s “native peoples” label refers to 26 small Northern nations and excludes the Yakuts, who were the dominant group relative to some of those minorities (e. g., the Yukaghirs). Still, Yakuts in the North of the republic were nomadic reindeer herders and may have also suffered from the mandatory boarding-school policy.

    Officially, the Yakut language was never banned – not even close. On the contrary, throughout the Soviet period, newspapers and books were published in Yakut; there were radio broadcasts, theater and even opera performances in Yakut; a huge body of Russian literature was translated into Yakut. But the audience for all that kept shrinking after WWII and Russification seemed inevitable – until the 1990s.

    When “Mikhail” says “Yakuts are the majority,” that’s correct as of 2022. But that wasn’t true in the 1960s through the 1980s: already in 1959, they only made up 46% of Yakutia’s population, and in 1989, at the end the Soviet era, only 33%. Apparently, as Yakutia (Sakha) de-industrialized along with much of Russia in the 1990s, a large number of recent settlers left the republic and moved to warmer places. I also suspect that some children of mixed marriages started identifying as Yakuts. There’s a decent chance for a Yakut language revival against all odds.

  29. Zeleny Drak says

    @Alex K. and @cuchuflete

    I’ve read a book a couple of years ago about the Virgin Lands campaign (no idea of the name and I’m not organized enough to quickly find it). It was more of a collection of short articles about various topics connected with that period. In one of them the focus was mostly on how the newcomers discovered there were already people living in these “Virgin Lands”, namely minorities deported there by Stalin. The author mentioned towards the end of the article that he did not understand why his Volga German sources told him that they were not allowed to speak German but his Chechen sources told him they were speaking in Chechen. There was no official policy that some languages where forbidden and some where not, it just seems the local authorities could intimidate the Germans but not the Chechen.

    I imagine something similar was happening in Sakha as well, officially the language was protected but in practice Russian was viewed as the proper language and (some/most) Sakha speakers would be pressured not to use it, especially as the region had much more Russian speakers in that period.

    I know some Romanian speakers from Rep. of Moldova, that told me they were asked to “speak a human language” when Russian speakers heard them talk in Romanian, back in Soviet times.

  30. it just seems the local authorities could intimidate the Germans but not the Chechen.

    This is definitely a trope; I’m pretty sure I read it in Chudakov’s Ложится мгла на старые ступени, for instance.

  31. (echoing JP) broadly, as i understand it, the trajectory of soviet policy towards yiddish follows this arc (despite frequent attempts to describe it as if it were exceptional): an amazing state-backed but largely autonomous wave of language support and publication through the 1920s; increasing state control and purges/disappearances of intellectuals in the 30s (alongside a relocation program, in this case voluntary); some relaxation of restrictions and expansion of support for wartime mobilization & morale purposes; defunding, heightened control, and increasing restrictions in the 50s, including further purges/disappearances and steadily accelerating social pressure to russianize; from then on, occasional bouts of increased publication (c.1970, for instance) mainly (if not exclusively) for older writers, accompanied by further social pressure towards russian.

    it doesn’t take banning a language for a state to gut one: making it less useful (few publications and little or no mass media, no opportunities for young writers, no educational support, no access to government uses, and of course arbitrarily killing prominent writers) can do quite a lot. that’s basically the playbook used to damage or eliminate indigenous languages across north america, too.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    Something else that affected minority languages in the USSR was increasing rates of exogamy, both as cause and effect of language shift to Russian, and the ancestrally-Yiddish-speaking portion of the Soviet population was not immune to this trend. Among U.S. Ashkenazim, increasing rates of outmarriage trailed language shift away from Yiddish, but in the USSR the timeline may have been different.

  33. The Virgin Lands campaign was the first of Khruschev’s megaprojects. It began in 1954, when Stalin’s deportations had not yet been reversed. Actually, the Germans never had their autonomous republic restored, like the Crimean Tatars and unlike the Chechens. The Soviet Germans were only officially “rehabilitated” in 1964. There were 480 thousand Germans in Kazakhstan in 1956; most were farmers with the right experience for the Virgin Lands as the Russian steppe east of the Volga borders on the Kazakh steppe. Naturally, the Soviets relied on their experience during the campaign and many exiled Germans from other areas were allowed to move to Kazakhstan. Already in 1959, there were 670k Germans in Kazakhstan; in 1970, almost 880k.

  34. Most of those Germans emigrated to Germany in the 90s, only a few are left. But many of the Germans from Kazakhstan still keep a connection and business ties.
    On the language issue – the story for Kazakh is similar to that for Yakut. It was never prohibited, but Kazakh culture and social structures were severely damaged by the forced collectivisation of herds and the campaign to end nomadism in the thirties, which resulted in famine and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Due to immigration and deportations from other parts of the USSR, the Kazakhs were less than 50% of the population in Kazakhstan at independence. And while there were Kazakh schools and university faculties, most Kazakhs, especially in the cities and the North and Center of the country, raised their children in Russian, in order to improve their chances to find good jobs. At independence, only about a third of Kazakhs (so about 1/6 of the population) were fluent in their ancestral language. Even today, despite government promotion, outside of public administration and some parts of the South you have better chances for successful communication in Russian than in Kazakh.

  35. David Marjanović says

    I recall that there were a couple of Nivkh newspapers for a while.

    In the 1960s, though, schooling in Nivkh was stopped, officially on the grounds that it wasn’t necessary anymore because everyone spoke Russian well enough.

    In the Kuban, schooling in Ukrainian – at the time the majority language, just barely – was suddenly ended in 1932

    in 1990 towards the end of the Soviet Union, Russian was made the official language of the state

    Oh wow, that escaped me completely.

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    Going back to the original post and the Haitian situation, the Soviet parallels are not that helpful because the USSR was generally a Russophone-majority polity (and even if Russian was not the L1 of that much more than 50% of the population, it was way ahead of anything else). That said, Prof. DeGraff may be an unreliable narrator in complaining about his own childhood. He was educated in one of the highest-prestige schools in the country, located in the capital city. It might well make sense for a hypothetical Haitian education system to use Kreyol as the primary medium of instruction for most schools, especially in the earlier grades and especially out in the countryside, while still having some French-medium-of-instruction elite schools. I would imagine a disproportionate percentage of his schoolmates grew up in elite households with parents who were fully fluent in French.

    As to “neocolonialism” as a diagnosis of the historical situation, that seems to let the local French-speaking elite (who have disproportionately if inconsistently dominated Haiti’s chaotic politics in the 200+ years since French rule was overthrown) off the hook a bit too easily for their own decisions, which could have been otherwise — although it’s also easy to understand in hindsight why even the most benevolent members of the elite might well have thought that the way to uplift the masses was to give them the apparent advantage of fluency in French that the elite already enjoyed.* During the perhaps-fairly-described-as-neocolonial U.S. military occupation of 1915-34 there was supposedly some American interest in reforming Haitian education away from a Francophile model, not least because the practice of outsourcing public education to foreign Catholic monastic orders offended the Anglo-Protestant sensibilities of the occupiers, but not all that much came of it long-term.

    *I imagine it was not as clear to them in earlier generations as it might seem to us now that the best strategy for increasing non-elite French fluency is probably having Kreyol-only schools for the earliest years before introducing French as an L2.

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    even the most benevolent members of the elite might well have thought that the way to uplift the masses was to give them the apparent advantage of fluency in French that the elite already enjoyed

    Yes, it’s easy to miss that fact that such efforts were (largely) sincerely meant to serve the best interests of the children themselves. English efforts to destroy the Welsh language via the school system in the nineteenth century proceeded from impeccably good intentions too. The stupidity and arrogance are much more evident in retrospect than they were, even to perfectly nice people, at the time.

    The highly successful efforts to use schools to eradicate indigenous languages all over the world have usually had similar pure intentions; not infrequently, the parents of the children involved have been sympathetic to these aims, too.

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    Here’s a question that perhaps some Canadian denizen of the Hattery may be able to answer. As I noted upthread, official government communications in New York City often include Kreyol among the range of immigrant languages covered. As best as I can calculate from the internet, the percentage of Haitian immigrants in Montreal is higher than that in NYC in percentage terms. Does local government there translate things into Kreyol for the benefit of these immigrants or does having a Francophonic government make it harder for the authorities to treat Kreyol as a real separate language of its own?

  39. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Well, you only get an indication of Francophone attitudes to Kreyol if the Montreal city government translates things into as many languages as the NY one does but leave out Kreyol.

    As far as I can see, on the state level in Canada only English, French and native languages get any status. Quebec is French-only. So if Montreal publishes in more languages, it’s up to them.

    France has not passed legislation to implement the EU charter’s provisions for recognition of minority languages, because the constitution, but I found the report that it was going to be based on. No Kreyol.

  40. Docket, meaning receipt, is to me most associated with archaeology. Dating of many Egyptian Pharaoh’s reigns is based on studying documents from those periods, and among the surviving hieroglyphic writings, “wine dockets” (as they are referred to) are ubiquitous.

    J.W. Brewer’s remark about DeGraff’s possible unreliability also* reminded me of something else I wanted to comment on. The last sentence in quoted in the post (“Unshackling Haitian minds and society from centuries of linguistic discrimination is the first step to help Haiti overcome the disastrous consequences of its colonial and neocolonial history”) seems extremely parochial to me. There are a lot of economic, political, and social problems in Haiti, and there are no clear answers for how they could most efficiently be addressed, even there were much greater resources available than there actually are. Yet here a linguist—somebody fascinated with language and who works on it professionally—thinks that a linguistic issue is the most fundamental one, making it sound as if other meaningful steps to improve Haitians’ lot cannot even be taken without dealing with language and education first. Maybe he is right that this is really is the most important issue, and the educational policies he decries really do interfere with other things that might be done to improve the state of the country. However, it looks more to me like he is simply privileging the kind of problem that interests and is emotionally resonant for him.

    * Here, also functions pragmatically as a sentence-level adverb. It is certainly not local in meaning; I am not referring to a second thing that J.W. Brewer’s remark reminded me of. Yet my internal parser doesn’t seem to interpret it as sentence level, but rather as an adverbial modifier of the following verb, “reminded.” Moreover, if I pull the “also” to the beginning of the sentence: “Also, J.W. Brewer’s remark… reminded me…,” where it is clearly functioning at the sentence level, it feels grammatically different, not merely a transposed version of the same sentence. In fact, in that case, the initial “Also” seems to be functioning almost like a conjunction—as indicated by the fact that it has to be set off with a comma.

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    DeGraff’s actual academic linguistic position seems to be that all languages are valuable because they all reflect Chomskyan UG:

    a nice demonstration of the fact that a bad argument for a true proposition is still a bad argument.
    Martin Haspelmath discusses this particular paper here

    I think DeGraff’s views on creolisation are not altogether mainstream, perhaps as a result of his own linguistic history, but Etienne is the one who will know about that.

    To be rather fairer to DeGraff, he seems in fact to have a perfectly consistent approach to the status of creoles and other low-status languages in general, which reverses the sadly all too familiar “inferior peoples speak inferior languages” attitude into a belief that you can raise the status of a people by raising the status of their language. While at first blush this looks rather like putting the cart before the horse, I think that there is at least some truth in the idea. It just can’t be the only thing you do … or even the main thing …

    And much of this theoretical stuff is probably of limited relevance to most of what he does, which seems to be the assiduous promotion by exhortation and example of the use of Haitian Creole in as many domains as possible – and good luck to him!

  42. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t want to make this overly about Professor DeGraff’s own life arc, but his university degrees (both undergraduate and graduate) are from two different universities where the language of instruction is English and he then went on to serve on the faculties of two other universities where the language of instruction is English. All of which tends to rebut the notion that fluency in French is a precondition to adult professional success by someone born in Haiti. Take that, “prestigious Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague”!

    As to Brett’s point about whether progress on linguistic issues should be prioritized over progress on other issues, consider this interesting article abstract (Robertshaw 2019):

    “The Duvalier presidencies were a devastating chapter in the history of Haiti. There is, however, one aspect of Haitian society that went through unexpected [sic] progress in the midst of these despotic regimes. Haitian Creole has long been excluded from formal and written contexts, despite being the only language common to all Haitians. The debate over whether Creole should be used in formal contexts for the sake of the country’s development and democratization began in earnest at the start of the twentieth century but was far from being resolved when François Duvalier came to power in 1957. Surprisingly, perceptions of Creole changed drastically during the Duvalier era, so that by the time Jean-Claude Duvalier fell from power in 1986 the status of Creole had improved markedly, so much that it had become typical for Haitians to use the language, along with French, in virtually all contexts.”

  43. J.W. Brewer says

    [sic] in previous comment because Papa Doc Duvalier came to power (initially by election although he then ensured that no one would ever run against him in future elections) as the purported populist champion of the downtrodden Haitian masses against the Francophone elite. So raising the comparative status of Kreyol was perfectly on-brand.

  44. @Hans: As Kazakhstan was a member of the Soviet Union from 1936 until 1991, Kazakh was a Tier 1 language, so to say. Yakutia (now Sakha) was a member of the Russian Federation so Yakut was a Tier 2 language. The Khanty-Mansiysky autonomous (previously national) okrug was part of the Tyumen oblast so Khanty and Mansi were Tier 3 languages. By this logic, Yiddish was likewise a Tier 3 language because the Jewish autonomous oblast was a sub-division of the Khabarovsk kray. Nivkh, Yukaghir, Udege had an even lower status, exacerbated by the small number of speakers.

    Compared with some other Tier 2 languages, Yakut did pretty well under the Soviets, thanks perhaps to the Yakut-speaking intelligentsia, decimated but not wiped out in the Great Terror.

  45. John Cowan says

    Québec has a strategic maple syrup reserve (no joke!)

    Indeed. A slow-motion robbery of 3000 tonnes syrup from the reserve worth CAD $18.7 million in 2011-12 (CAD $24 million today), the Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist / Vol de sirop d’érable du siècle, is still the highest-value theft in Canadian history; it took several months to perpetrate. The barrels were trucked to a remote location, empties, and refilled with water and then returned; meanwhile, the contents were trafficked to Vermont and New Brunswick and resold.

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