IN THIS ISSUE (No.6)

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

 

Two chapters in Multilingualism in the British Isles 2. Africa, the Middle East and Asia edited by Safder Alladina and Viv Edwards (Longman, London, 1991) are relevant to PACE. In “The Afro-English creole speech community” (pp.42-56), Morgan Dalphinis reviews the difficult linguistic situation of Creole speakers from English-lexified Creole languages who have settled in Great Britain.

Since the 1950s when West Indians came to settle in Britain in larger numbers than ever before, a cycle of underachievement by Creole-speaking students has been perpetuated in the British school system. Citing writers such as Eysenck (1971) who suggest that African and Afro-Caribbean people are of a “genetically inferior” race (p. 47), Dalphinis attributes “institutionalised racism” (p.47) as a major contributor to Caribbean underachievement in British schools. Thus, it is stated that while language awareness programs might be useful to some extent in improving academic performance, a more significant obstacle which must be overcome is the negative attitudes towards Creole-speaking students.

Additionally, Caribbean parents, who have come to equate English language with material success, often feel that teaching Creole in the classroom is just another attempt to “keep down” those who are not in power.

However, some educators attribute academic failure at least partly to the schools’ lack of recognition of Creole language, and they want to validate the unique language skills of Caribbean students. Through exposure to Creole literature and language, these students would be provided with a source of linguistic heritage and pride.

In the same volume, “The Kwéyòl speech community” by Hubisi Nwenmely (pp57-68) provides a general overview of the Kwéyòl-speaking community in Britain (particularly immigrants from Dominica and St. Lucia). It provides a brief history and evolution of modern Kwéyòl in the Caribbean, its transplantation to Britain, and its current status and patterns of use in Britain. There is also a discussion of the various efforts towards promoting Kwéyòl culture and writings in both Britain and the Caribbean.

Hubisi Nwenmely also teams up with Carol Morris in their article on “The Kwéyòl Language and Literacy Project” in Language and Education 7/4, 1993 (pp.259-70). Despite some overlap from Newnmely’s 1991 publication (above), this article deals more specifically with the development of the “Patwa Project” (Kwéyòl Project) for Dominicans and St. Lucians living in Britain. The project launched its first phase of Patwa classes in May 1984, and since then has produced a number of teaching and reading materials. Aims of the project have been to “to develop literacy skills amongst St. Lucian and Dominican people and to encourage the development of students to become tutors on the Project” (p.263).

Additionally, participants in London’s Kwéyòl Project have established ties with people in St. Lucia who are also keen to write Kwéyòl. The result is a mutually enjoyable and profitable teaching/learning experience between the two groups.

Lise Winer, author of “Teaching Speakers of Caribbean English Creoles in North American Classrooms” (in Language Variation in North American English Research and Teaching, edited by A. Wayne Glowka and Donald M. Lance (The Modern Language Association of America, New York, 1993, pp.191-198), provides an overview of Caribbean English Creoles and discusses the situation where English Creole speakers are transplanted into North American schools. As stated in the overview on page 191, this article “provides some basic information about Caribbean English Creole and about teaching Caribbean-background students, including suggestions for teacher preparation, classroom teaching procedures, and useful reference sources.”
Winer believes that a little knowledge of students’ social, cultural, and political background can go far in facilitating the transition of Creole-speaking students into North American classrooms. She suggests that teachers gain a knowledge of Caribbean geography and history, and be aware of the current family and social structure, educational system and cultural traditions, and how these differ from North American norms.

While Winer does not propose that teachers learn the Creole of their students, she does believe that they have a duty to obtain a basic knowledge of Creoles, so that they may be more aware of potential problems arising from linguistic misunderstanding.

The International Journal of the Sociology of Language 102 (1993) focusses on “Creole Movements in the Francophone Orbit”, and contains several articles of interest.

In “So near, yet so far: Bannzil’s pan-Creole idealism” (pp.27-38), Vinesh Y. Hookoomsing tells the story of the how the Bannzil Kréyòl movement originated, espoused ambitious ideals, and then experienced a swift decline in momentum and spirit.

The movement arose from the French-inspired Comité International des Etudes Créoles (CIEC). Dissatisfied members of this organization began to see a need not only for scientific study of Creole languages, but also for a society which celebrated Creole speakers of both the Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands as a distinct community.

The ideals of the Bannzil Kréyòl movement thus focussed on the idea that Creole speakers, despite their cultural and linguistic differences from island to island and from ocean to ocean, are part of a larger family of Creole speakers that share a common linguistic, cultural, and social background.

The movement also had the aims of promoting Creole languages as a vehicle for scientific and literary communication, and to be recognized at the university, national, and international levels.

What happened to the Bannzil Kréyòl movement, the author wonders. With regards to a pan-Creole culture, Hookoomsing believes that cultural differences and distance prevailed over desired unity. For example, in Mauritius, Creole speakers and those who consider themselves to be members of the Creole community do not necessarily constitute the same group. A large portion of the Mauritian community who are of Indian origin continue to identify with the culture of the ancestral subcontinent, yet these people also have acquired the Creole of their adopted land. In Mauritius, the term “Creole” there-fore better serves to identify the ethnic (African-European) sub-group of Mauritians, rather than the larger group of the Creole-speaking community, as a whole.

With respect to developing Creole as a scientific and literary instrument: there was a seminar for this purpose held in Réunion in 1984, a gathering which in itself was significant. However, little serious discussion and no follow-up projects resulted.

What Hookoomsing considers most paradoxical is that by 1987, Bannzil Kréyòl, without any legal status of its own, became registered as a French association, thus losing its Creole identity.

The author refers to the Bannzil Kréyòl movement as an attempt to reverse the “...unpalatable visions depicting Creole islands adrift like shipwrecks” (p 36). Despite its early demise, however, s/he feels that perhaps the experience has taught us to take a more localized and pragmatic, rather than globalized and idealistic, stance toward Creole languages.

Yves Dejean, who was born and raised in Haiti and returned there after sixteen years in exile, has written a comprehensive and informative article entitled “An overview of the language situation in Haiti” (pp.73-84).

He launches into his discussion by refuting the existence of a diglossic situation in Haiti. Addressing some of the requirements for diglossia according to the theories of both Ferguson and Fishman, Dejean argues his points, noting that 99% of the population is monolingual in Creole, and the one to two percent who do speak both Creole and French do not reserve either code for specific situations, and furthermore, they code-switch constantly between the two languages. Dejean also strongly disagrees with Fleischmann’s account of Haitian “linguistic anguish” (p.76) whereby Creole speakers allegedly long to be competent in French, stating that the average citizen carries on day-to-day life in “...a peaceful linguistic existence undisturbed by...imaginary quarrels and conflicts...” (p.77).

The author then continues on with a description of the issue of language planning in Haiti. He scorns the 1980 educational reform which has as its goal for all Haitian children to be fluent speakers, readers, and writers of both French and Creole. Citing Haiti’s low economic status and high illiteracy rate, as well as the fact that fluent French speakers for students to “practice” with are few and far between, Dejean dismisses this reform as unrealistic.

A new Creole adult literacy campaign was initiated by the government in the late 80s, but was unsuccessful according to Dejean, absorbing huge amounts of “talk, bluff, and money” (p.79).

He seems to acknowledge that the traditional educational system, which has subjected Haitians to 200 years of non-Creole usage, has taken its toll – Creole is still considered by some to be an inferior and inadequate language to learn in schools. However, it is encouraging to note that (p.79) “...the most varied and distant regions of the country gladly welcomed the announcement of literacy programs all based solely on the use of Creole.”

Another article on the Caribbean focusses upon the language situation in Dominica, an island which was originally colonized by the French but was handed over to British rule in 1805. Despite almost 200 years of British influence and an Anglophonic tradition on the island, French-lexified Patwa is slow to die in Dominica. Stephanie Stuart examines the status of Patwa in her article, “Dominican Patwa – mother tongue or cultural relic?” (pp.57-72).

Stuart identifies many obstacles which hinder the use of spoken and written Patwa in Dominica. For example, the fact that Patwa is a French-lexified creole within an officially English-speaking environment causes prob-lems in the coinage of new words, where lexical borrowing from English does not come so easily as it would come from French.

Other factors which confine Patwa development is official as well as de facto English usage in government and the legal system. Even in the schools, English is considered to be the only “appropriate” language of communication, to the dis-advantage of at least 30% of students whose home language is Patwa. To the date when this article was written, there was still no standardized orthography for Patwa.

Although Dominica became independent from Britain in 1978, beliefs dating back to colonial rule linger in Dominican society. For example, it was considered “inappropriate” in times of British rule to use Patwa in “polite discourse”. Such discourse encompassed virtually all aspects of life except for communication with servants or estate workers.

Currently, young people in the country speak Patwa fluently but regard this as a “disability”. Paradoxically, their counterparts in urban areas are much less capable in Patwa, but mix it with their English and “...have learned or are learning to value it” (p.61).

The creation of the Komité pou Etid Kwéyòl (KEK) in the 1980s has helped the Creole cause in Dominica. It acts as a point of contact for creolists in other countries, and has worked to establish an oral history as well as written documentation of Patwa. Additionally, the Komité has initiated adult literacy courses in the language. The KEK has to a limited extent influenced the educational system. Many teachers are beginning to understand the creative resources to be found in the mother tongue of their students. However, the educational system does not provide for this. Also, since Patwa as yet does not have a standard orthography, teachers are reluctant to instruct in an area where there is no adjudicated “right” and “wrong” spelling form.

Stuart also writes about the status of Patwa in other aspects of society, where it generally suffers from a low status in relation to English. An exception to this is in music, where Patwa flourishes, and in dance, which is supported by the Cultural Division of the government.

Although in the words of Stuart, the government now pays “lip service” to Patwa, it benefits from no formal language planning. The author feels that for this language to carry on amidst an English-speaking environment, steps will need to be taken to “officialize” Patwa. This would mean including it in the school syllabus, and promoting it as a working language that should not be admired as a mere cultural relic, but as a language to be used in both formal and informal settings.

In “Language policy in the Seychelles and its consequences” (pp.85-99), Annegret Bollée takes a cautiously positive stance towards the status of Seychellois Creole. After describing its origin and history derived from Mauritian and Réunion creole-speaking immigrants, Bollée explains how language policy in the Seychelles has traditionally been very supportive of Seychellois Creole. Since the 1960s and 70s, it has been used in public functions, on radio news broadcasts, and in government dealings with the public. In 1979, only three years after independence from Britain, Seychellois Creole was designated as an official language along with English and French, and in 1982 it became the medium of instruction in primary schools. In later school years, Creole is the language of instruction in conjunction with French and English.

Bollée notes that despite the fact that Seychellois Creole is the language of instruc-tion in Seychelles’ schools and that it is used with great success on radio and TV, the print media continues to use predominantly English and French. Creole literature can still be found only to a limited extent in bookshops. This is attributed to the limit of Creole’s vocabulary, and the fact that it is easier to leave English and French media reports in their original language than to translate them into Creole. Bollée expresses the hope that in the coming years, when current students will have graduated with an academic background in Creole, the tide will turn towards increased usage of written Creole in the media and in literature.

In anticipation of this, the Komite Kreol, later taken over by the Lenstiti Kreol (Creole Institute) has been established with the aim of doing research on Creole (dictionaries, grammars), creating literature, and promoting Creole, generally. Bollée lists the stated aims of the Institute, and provides examples of its work, such as the coining of new Creole words and some rulings in Creole grammar.

Bollée anticipates a bright future for Creole, not only in the spoken domain where it is already strong, but also in its developing written domain. She notes, however, the necessity of retaining English and French as official languages in the Seychelles, where the local language could not reasonably be expected to infiltrate international borders.

Alain Armand focuses on the creole of neighbouring Réunion in “A Kréol/French dictionary: to what purpose? A lexicographic undertaking on Réunion” (pp.101-16). Armand provides an overview of social and theoretical issues involved in creating the Dictionnaire kréol réunioné/français: How wide a boundary to create between Creole and its lexifier language, French? How to define Creole words with no direct French equivalent? How to account for a spelling and grammar in a language that has not been standardized?

He makes mention of the impact that a bilingual dictionary might have on the school system, suggesting that it could be used as a tool in the mastery of Creole, which would in turn aid in the learning of other codes such as French.

Armand promotes his dictionary as a flexible orthographic proposal which can change to meet the needs of Creole speakers in the years to come. He notes (p.109), however, that “...it is not a question of transcribing from the spoken language, which is a place par excellence of variation, but to give birth to a written language, which stabilizes usages”.

Another article of interest is “The creole movement in Guadeloupe” by Ellen M. Schnepel (pp.117-34). To quote the author (p.118):

[T]his article analyzes the relationship between politics and language in the current movement to promote, develop and popularize the Creole language on the island of Guadaloupe in the French Antilles. In tracing the evolution of the “Creole Movement”, we shall observe how the Creole question both reflects and structures the island’s changing sociopolitical environment. In particular, how each political party’s posture on the status and role of Creole corresponds to its own position regarding Guadaloupe’s political status in relation to the French nation.

With regard to Creole and education, Schnepel notes (p.126): “The institution where the conflict between French and Creole cultures played out most dramatically was the local school system.” She describes how, in 1981, a secondary school started an experimental program to teach Creole in several classes in addition to the French class. The purpose was to correct interference errors in French due to Creole, and also “to liberate the students by allowing them to communicate more freely through speaking Creole in the classroom” (p.127). For the political faction that supported this experiment, it was a “preemptive measure to forestall a French government effort to teach Creole along its own ideological lines” (p.127).

After a long history of neglect of languages other than French, the Socialist government passed a law in 1982 acknowledging minority languages and spelling out provisions for their being taught in the school system. However, creole languages were not included. But in 1983, a surprise announcement was made that Creole languages and cultures were considered regional languages and would be gradually introduced as an experiment into the school systems of the overseas territories.

This led to a great deal of controversy. Many people were “hostile to the idea of elevating their vernacular to the status of a regional language and teaching Creole in school where it had been previously banished” (p.127). Others supported Creole, but thought it should be considered the national language of Guadaloupe, not a regional language of France. Others feared that introduction of Creole into the schools would lead to greater interference from French or decreolization. People argued about which variety was the “real Creole” or “pure Creole”. Teachers debated about the level at which Creole should be introduced into the schools (if at all)–preschool, primary or secondary–and about whether it should be merely the medium of instruction for some years or an object of study along with French.

What was the result of all this political conflict and in-fighting on Creole in education? Schnepel gives the following answer (p.130): “Through the decline in student interest, parental campaigns against the classes, teacher apathy, and the absence of any clear administrative support, the school program has been marginalized.”

Finally, “Integrating Creole into Caribbean classrooms” by Peter A. Roberts (Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 15/1, 1994, pp.47-62) is the published version of a paper given at the conference of the Society of Pidgin and Creole Linguistics in Amsterdam. This paper is summarized in PACE Newsletter 4, p.9.

 

 

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