The Linguist

The Linguist 53,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES 10 The Linguist JUNE/JULY Could wider use of Creole have saved lives in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, asks Marilyn Sephocle I n the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the world came to the rescue of the Haitian people. But one thing greatly hampered the rescue and reconstruction efforts: the linguistic factor. This has to do as much with Haiti's turbulent and rich history as the manner in which the Creole language is regarded in Haiti and the world. In the early days of the rescue efforts a major fact was totally disregarded: Haiti is 90% creolophone and only 10% francophone. Most of the assistance and instructions were delivered in French or English, and very rarely in Creole. Understanding the context Prior to independence in 1804, Haiti's majority population of African descent was under the yoke of slavery. Along with the ruthless institution of slavery came a new language, born some 450 years ago. Creole initially grew out of the need for the European slave owners to communicate with the enslaved Africans, who spoke a variety of African languages. In its inception, Creole was a rather rudimentary language, used to yell orders at the enslaved. Initially, for the enslaved, it was the language of obedience and compliance. As most languages, however, Haitian Creole evolved in structure, in purpose and in scope. Today it is one of the two official languages of Haiti, along with French. Government official documents, newspapers and literature are produced and published in Creole. At the end of the 1800s, Choucoune by Oswald Durand and Et Cric? Et Crac! by George Sylvain were among the first works published in the Creole language. Famous Haitian writers, such as Felix Morisseau-Leroy, began to write in Creole as a way of affirming their Haitian identity. This thirst for a Haitian identity was further reinforced in 1934 after two decades of American occupation. This brought President Élie Lescot to invite two prominent American linguists – Frank Laubach and Ormond McConnell – to develop a standardised Creole orthography. Although their work was often criticised, it served as a template for future standardisation efforts and Creole was finally standardised in 1979 by Haitian experts at the Institut Pédagogique National. According to the 1979 Haitian constitution, French is the 'language of instruction' while Creole is 'a tool of education'. And therein lies the ambiguity. The government created a system where teachers were left scrambling for interpretations of the distinct roles assigned to each language. Selecting French as the language of instruction created several problems. It placed the students in the unenviable position of being taught in a language that Haiti's secret tragedy 'Some of the prominent linguists had died in the earthquake. So I was at a loss for words on many levels' Haiti's secret tragedy SHAUN EDGERLEY/DFID, 10/3/10 VIA FLICKR

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