Lecture, Session 7

The Linguistic Situation of Haiti, by Albert Valdman


Haitian Creole

The colonial language was the official language of Haiti.  Only recently did Haiti recognize Creole as an official language (under Duvalier, but the law did not go far enough in recognizing that most Haitians only speak Creole).  Sadly, as one Creole speaker remarked, when Haiti seized its independence from France the Haitians chose a “bought” language, yon lang achte, rather than their own.  They should have chosen Creole.

P. 82 Franse se pa lang pa nou.  Se lang achte.  Ti moun fèt pou konen Kreyòl paske se lang ni, li pa achte li.

There are slight variations in spoken Creole, owing to regional differences between the North, Center and South and the influence of French.  However, these are relatively minor, Valdman insists, and don’t need to be reflected in orthography–-or they should not undermine the move toward a standard orthography.  The question is how much spoken variation should influence an orthography.  At the same time, children should be allowed to write the sounds as they use them.  English allows this in “should not” and “shouldn’t.”

The United States became new colonial power at beginning of 20th century.  Haiti served as a neo-colony of U.S.  The subsequent affect on language is that English is more and more mixed in.  Of the almost 1/5 of all Haitians who are living abroad, most are in the U.S.  Today English is more prevalent and useful in Haiti.  Links between Haiti and France are very weak, compared to US-Haitian relations.

There has been occasional resistance to American influence in the orthography debate. Valdman argues that American policy makers have no stake in promoting English rather than French, spoken by their allies in the elite.  Written Creole promoted by North American Protestant missionaries, whose translation of the bible into Creole greatly aided missionization.


These examples demonstrate how speakers of the vernacular acquiesce to the dominant or hegemonic view of their language as an inferior idiom--not a language.  Yet there have always been those who resisted the view of their speech and themselves as inferior.  Language provides a means of resistance–counter-hegemony-a language of protest, critique.  Speaking Creole means asserting one’s anti-colonial, Afro-Caribbean identity as a means of resistance–-A rejection of colonial domination.  Using Creole for artistic expression is an act of resistance.  The late twentieth century has seen a move to empower people through promotion of Creole in literature and music, daring to compose in an idiom that signifies ignorance, poverty, illiteracy.

Recently Aristide, a linguistic genius, promoted Creole in the White House and proudly introduced a new language to the UN in September, 1991.  When he returned from that heady meeting, the violent coup to oust him was already underway.  US media portrayed his ability to communicate with the masses in the “darkest” terms–-his mob, incited by his Creole rhetoric was to be feared.  His multilingual competence undercut criticisms of his use of Creole.

Citation: Richman, K. (2008, April 20). Lecture, Session 7. Retrieved November 23, 2014, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.nd.edu/romance-languages-and-literatures/creole-language-and-culture/lectures/lecture-session-7.
Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License