Roundtable, Association of Haitian Teachers in Quebec (AHTQ)
Montreal, October 16 2011 (shortened and revised version, November 30 2011)
In order to contribute in constructive fashion to today’s roundtable, whose theme is “Schooling
in Creole and French in the two languages? Situation and Perspectives, » I will identify the Haitian linguistic situation using four principal axes. These four analytical axes represent the foundation from which our vision derives, and that vision legitimizes and allows for a central perspective –the accommodation of Haiti’s two official languages throughout the country as a whole. And it is stemming from that central vision that I will question the subtext “the accommodation of the official languages in the national educational system.”The main thrust of my thinking will then be: Does the Haitian state have to adopt its first compulsory legislation on the issue of linguistic accommodation in order to legitimize and structure the accommodation of Creole and French in the national educational system, from the elementary to the secondary, college and technical levels? The analytical argument that I want to share with you highlights the Haitian linguistic configuration in the following terms:
1. a national linguistic heritage historically divided unequally, next to the institution of the dominant use of French and the institutional minorization of Creole on the national level;
2. an exemplary insufficiency of constitutional provisions regarding linguistic accommodation; an insufficiency in connection with the denial of the linguistic rights of Haitian speakers as a whole;
3. the nonexistence –a consequence of the flawed vision and leadership of the State—of a publicly announced and promoted linguistic policy, as a preamble to the application of a national plan for the accommodation of the two Haitian languages;
4. the maintenance of a two-tier Haitian school system which fosters social exclusion, practices linguistic discrimination in a context of the near total failure of the three reforms of the Haitian educational system led and financed by the national and international private sector.
1. A national linguistic heritage historically made up of unequal parts next to the institution of the dominant use of French and the institutional minorization of Creole on the national level.
In the standard language dictionaries, the etymology of the term “heritage” refers to “family goods,” “heritage of a collectivity, a community or a group (for example, literary heritage), or yet to “what is transmitted from one generation to the next (for example, cultural heritage).” Haiti is rich with a linguistic heritage that includes Creole –a language spoken by its native speakers as a whole—and French –a language spoken by a minority of native speakers and a majority, and learned in school by about 25% of the population.
Similar to the architectural, literary and musical heritage, the linguistic heritage, “that belongs to the nation and is the common heritage of all its speakers,” unilingual and bilingual, has a history and expresses itself through oral and written works in institutional and founding texts. Thus, written and proclaimed only in French, the Declaration of Independence of January 1 1804 belongs to the linguistic and literary heritage of the country, and it can be considered as being at the beginning of the first implicit intervention of the State in the life of languages in Haiti. By instituting the new State in 1804, the nation’s Fathers –formerly officers of the French army—instituted a dominant use of the French language –without, however, proclaiming it the official language—in all the spheres of public administration, in the relations between the State and its citizens, and in the embryos of the schooling system inherited from France. The transition from a colonial slave society to a republic independent from France was thus effected from the beginning on a mode of repression and on the minorization of the mother tongue of the newly freed –Creole—in the hills and in the plantation system rebuilt almost identically in response to the demands of the new administrative centralization of the country and to the needs of the militarization on a large scale of the new State still threatened by enslaving Europe. From 1804 to 1987, the configuration of the rough economic and social relations of the country –first along semi-feudal servility, then along a predatory import-export type of capitalism—allowed for the reproduction of a society of castes and classes anchored in social exclusion, exiled in its speech and in the “outsidedness” of its majority creolophone peasant majority, the takeover of economic and political powers by the “would-be owners” of a system locked up since 1804, as well as the maintenance of the dominant use of French in offices of the State, in the school system of the republic, the administration of justice and in the other spheres of everyday life. In 1918, for the first time in the history of the nation, a constitutional status was given to one of the two languages of the country: French was proclaimed the official language in the new Constitution –written in Washington during the American occupation of Haiti. The unequal distribution of the Haitian linguistic heritage through the historical and factual minorization of Creole –“a language which all Haitians have in common—formally comes to an end –and I insist on the wording “formally comes to an end”—with the 1987 Constitution which grants the status of official languages to both French and Creole. If it is agreed that there lies an undeniable historical achievementof the Haitian nation, it is equally true that the 1987 Constitution did not solve with the stroke of a magic wand the question of the dominant use of French and the minorization of Creole in a society which has yet to adopt the notion of linguistic rights on the level of an accepted constitutional right.
2. The maintenance of a two-tier Haitian schooling system which fosters social exclusion and practices linguistic discrimination in a context of a near failure of the three reforms of the Haitian educational system administered and financed up to 80% by the private national and international sector.
In spite of the Bernard reform of 1979 which –at the cost of a heavy handicap for previously established teaching competences and tools—introduced Creole as a language taught , and as a teaching tool, in our educational system; the Haitian school, as a site for the transmission and the reproduction of knowledge, insures that transmission and that reproduction not in the usual mother tongue of the ones being taught (Creole) but rather in French, which is their second language, and that they have to acquire at the same time as the said knowledge. It is indeed there that is located –among others—the primary cause of the shipwreck of both the teaching and socialization of our national educational system.
In Haiti today, in spite of the three successive “reforms” of the educational system –that is the Bernard Reform of 1979; the PNEF (National Plan for Education and Training); the National Strategy for Action in Education for all in 2007—the teaching of Creole in Creole remains very limited and is done through a piecing together of various “methods.” The quality of the teaching material for Creole in Creole is desultory, sparsely communicated and is still very widely unknown on the national level. And the teaching of French, a second language, is still traditional, deficient and inadequate, lacking connection with the culture and the realities of the country; and, in the end, that teaching results in the reproduction of the sub-level linguistic competence of the students. Most of the analysts of the Haitian educational system agree on the fact that a great number of students who manage to complete their secondary schooling do not master either Creole or French on the level of written and oral fluency… It is not because these students are native speakers of Creole that they would automatically be competent to master Creole… What must seriously be taken into account is that the current schooling offering – about 10% of which that the State on the other hand controls – is largely insufficient, “pieced together,” badly adapted, essentially under qualified both in terms of the general curriculum and in the teaching of the two official languages; and it does not allow Haitian students to gain access to quality schooling.
In spite of the real achievements of Creole in the media, which might give the illusion of an irreversible accommodation of that language in Haiti, the socio-linguistic configuration of the Haitian school is thus still locked in the same defining characteristics that produce the same effects: the national educational system provides a secondary and accessory role for Creole and yields a high proportion of failure and loss in schooling. Today, in the public sector of education, the Haitian State insures a limited schooling potential, often mediocre, in a system of linguistic exclusion. The under-qualification of teachers and the obsolescence of structures and programs in the Haitian school system administered and financed up to 80% by the private, national and internationalsector, NGOs, as well as the nearly total absence of standard teaching tools of high quality in Creole or in the two national languages, remain the principal characteristics of the system.
That diagnosis is confirmed in the totality of our schooling system when one looks at the unequal coexistence of Creole and French in classrooms –(on that subject, see among others The situation of the teaching of French at the Université d’État d’Haïti by Renauld Govain and Hérold Mimy, Faculty of Linguistics and IRD, June 2006). Such a diagnosis explains and highlights the near failure of the three reforms of that system. Worst: the three reforms dovetail and run sometimes in parallel in some schools, or they are cut to pieces by other schools according to their clienteles or their level of “number games” in a context where the Department of Education –it, too, kept under leash by financial infusion from international aid—administers and controls only a weak link of the system (about 10%). Today one must dare to take into account the fact that the Haitian State is up to 90% outside the administration of an educational system financed and administered by the private sector of education with which it will have to negotiate the generalization of the use of Creole on a status of parity with French. Two distinct studies support such an idea.
First, that of Louis-Auguste Joint (“Educational System and Social Inequalities in Haiti,” L’Harmattan, 2006). which very correctly states that “(…) until the 1980s, the Haitian school played the traditional role of filtering and reproducing the ‘elites.’ From the first grade to the level of graduate school, the school was an enormous machine for exclusion. According to Bernard Salomé (1984), on the eve of the educational reform of 1979, “Out of 1000 children from one generation, (only) 26 achieved the second part of the baccalaureate.”
Then, that of the presidential Commission on education, the GTEF (“Let’s Shape the Future,” Port-au-Prince, March 2009), which states: “By looking at the pyramid that the current Haitian educational system represents, starting with the cohorts of students entering in the first year of Fundamentals and those found at the end of their secondary schooling, one notices that very few among them have been able to successfully complete all the cycles of their schooling. Indeed, for each cohort of 100 students entering the first year of Fundamentals, only 8 among them ended up in the final year of secondary schooling.”
One will thus keep in mind that this analysis of a segment of socio-linguistic configuration of Haiti suggests that there does not yet exist a plan for accommodation and teaching of the two official languages in the classroom –while the 2007 National Strategy for Action in Education for all articulates the embryos—and that the linguistic patchwork which is maintained in the transmission of knowledge in our national educational system represents in the end one of the principal causes of the failure of the Haitian school.
To rebuild or rethink the Haitian school?
“Schooling in Creole and in French in the two languages? The issue at hand and perspectives.” To that phrasing I readily add, with your permission, its necessary complement: but what Haitian school is to be considered? Is it a modern socialized, quality school in line with the linguistic rights of the whole of the Haitian population?
At the core of that reflection, I submit to you that it is totally useless and counter-productive to raise the issue of “the rebuilding” of the Haitian school only in physical terms (buildings), or according to the terms of reference of the traditional international “aid” which quickly came in the wake of January 12 2010 to the bedside of a nation in distress and bent with no hopes for its dossiers of “economic crisis” to the detriment of national knowhow… To want to “make something new with the old,” the same causes can only produce the same results. To my mind, and based on my experience of teaching in Haiti –in the Faculty of Linguistics at the Université d’État d’Haïti and at the Université Quisqueya—it is totally illusory, even suicidal, to fool oneself while wishing to “rebuild” in the same form a Haitian school, a Haitian university, whose failure has been so often diagnosed in so many ways –a school and a university which are today unable to respond to a massive schooling and academic demand on both the quantitative and qualitative levels; the Haitian State being itself in a situation of academic failure. Before 1957, and until around 1970, the Haitian school principally trained students from the various urban classes more or less “bilingual” and more or less “well-off” from Port-au-Prince and the bigger cities of the country. That Haitian school more or less responded to their academic needs in a primarily francophone.linguistically elitist,system. During the bloody dictatorship of the Duvaliers, the forced migration of hundreds of thousands of peasants toward Port-au-Prince, starting in 1957, progressively modified the configuration of the urban landscape of Port-au-Prince (40% of the country’s population), flooding the grassroots districts, the shantytowns and the well-to-do districts with thousands of cohorts of students who would change the urban space and the features of the school demands during the 1960-1970 decade. At the same time, thousands of cadres in the Haitian school system (teachers, professors, doctors, lawyers, etc.) went into exile to flee the deadly plague of the Duvalierist dictatorship, shortchanging thus the educational system of essential professional resources, and forcing its entry into an accelerated pattern of sub-qualification from which it has yet to recover. One will also take into account that starting from the 1970s the majority of students in the Haitian school system came from the unilingual creole-speaking lower classes struggling with training both in French and the ensuing learning stemming from that second language learned in school. To sum up: from that time on, the Haitian school is no longer the one for the different bilingual lower and middle classes; it becomes that of hundreds of thousands of students issued from all the country’s creole-speakingclasses with a different schooling requirement differently set up on the socio-linguistic and teaching level.
Given such a configuration,how can one think of “Schooling in Creole (or) in French (or) in the two official languages of the country?” Today, in October 2011, we are faced with:
a) an under-qualified educational system that is extraordinarily under-equipped for the teaching of languages; a personnel which is also under-qualified in Creole and in French for teaching in the two languages as well as for disseminating general and specialized knowledge in the two official languages of the country;
b) a State in a situation of deficiency shown by its leadership in the field of schooling and the accommodation of the two official languages in all the structures of the national educational system;
c) a State which controls just about 10% of the national educational system; a 10% that still relies on international aid for the accommodation of the State’s royalist mission.
In this context it is unrealistic and counter-productive to think it is possible to move in Haiti from one day to the next –in voluntary fashion and in an extraordinary “state of denial” with damaging consequences—to “everything in Creole right away.” From that point of view it is also essential to break with a certain “linguistic adventurism” by working to liberate the problematic of languages in Haiti from the ideological prison in which it is constantly kept by certain sectarian and populist speeches on identity that are unwaveringly “fundamentalist” and changing so that, finally, on the threshold of 2012, we may dare to move on to the essential. Thus, well beyond the ritual of “conferences” and other quite useful post-earthquake “colloquia,” one would be well-advised to work henceforth for a new and measurable companionship with the State in the matter of languages. Better: one should henceforth break with “the culture of NGOs,” which consists in replacing the State, when not weakening it further along the course of national disasters… Addressing the basics: at the heart of the decision-making processes of the State, by calling upon the Executive and Legislative branches, while working with them on the pioneering road of a binding linguistic legislation. Because working toward the establishment of a State respectful of rights also means the setting up of an agenda for the effective linguistic rights of all Haitians, with no exception, while that very notion –linguistic rights—is still relatively unknown in the land of Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture.
Let me be clear. The 1987 Constitution, which grants Creole and French the status of official languages, authorizes the setting up of a Creole-French bilingual educational system in Haiti by the Haitian parliament adopting, in a near future –one must hope— the first legislation on a linguistic accommodation legtitimizing the effectiveness of statutory parity of Creole and French (on French-Creole bilingualism, see the article by Fortenel Thelusna in Le Nouvelliste, Port-au-Prince, 7 octobre 2011: “L’aménagement linguistique en Haïti et le bilinguisme français-créole”). In short: article 5 of the 1987 Constitution is the foundation of the right for all Haitians to be educated in Creole and in French. Such is our vision: we aim to work, from the perspective of “linguistic convergence” toACCOMMODATE AT THE SAME TIME THE TWO OFFICIAL LANGUAGES OF HAITI in the public space of the relations between the State and its citizens, in the media, in the legal system and in the whole of the educational system (from kindergarten to the university and technical school levels) by the effectiveness of the right to language, through the fostering with no prejudice of the linguistic rights of all Haitians, by the compulsory statutory parity of the country’s two official languages by means of a national policy of linguistic accommodation and the creation of a strong State structure for the application of that State policy.
From that viewpoint, with clarity, strength and conviction, I say YES to the Haitian school in both Creole and French everywhere in Haiti, on all levels, in the private and public sectors; and that central viewpoint opens the door for the effectiveness of the constitutional right of all Haitians to be educated in the two official languages of the country. I am convinced that a competent generalization of the use of Creole in the whole of the Haitian educational system is a legitimate and irreversible social choice that must be very seriously prepared and carried out by the State in the constricting and compulsory frame of the first law on linguistic accommodation that Parliament will be called upon to vote. By the same token, it is my conviction that it is counter-productive and unrealistic to “put the buggy ahead of the horses,” to plunge ahead into “Everything in Creole right away” while the national educational system does not still have a teaching staff qualified and certified in Creole in the whole of the nation, and which does not have a quality Creole teaching material in all subjects in the schools and the universities of the Republic. There is here a vast network for termino-linguistics –for the production of scientific and technical works in Creole in all fields—and teaching –for the production of textbooks and supporting material in Creole—to think through and make operational right now and which, taking the counterpoint to all “linguistic adventurism”, will have to make credible the generalization and use of Creole in the whole of the educational system with statutory parity with French. Related to this, it seems to me equally foolhardy to create the next day a “Creole Academy” at the core of the fragile institutional construct of the Université d’État d’Haïti which receives just 0.6% of the national budget for its 24,000 students; and whose poor cousin has always been, on the budgetary level, the Faculty of Linguistics. Let me be very clear on that question of a “Creole Academy” in Haiti today. Already, in the context of the international Day for Creole, Le Nouvelliste, Port-au-Prince, 27 octobre 2004, characterized the position of Yves Dejean as follows: “The linguist Yves Dejean agreed with (the late Pierre Vernet) the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Linguistics: ‘We do not need an Academy for the Creole language. We must finance the serious institutions that deal with the Creole language.” In a more recent text, “Déménagement linguistique,” Yves Dejean restated his opposition to the creation of that “Creole Academy,” just as he is against any intervention by the State in the planning of the two official languages of the country in the educational field, while he pleads elsewhere for that same State to ban French (a “foreign language” in Haiti) from the educational system and leave instead just Creole unilingualism. As for the linguist Hugues St-Fort, author of a remarkable book, “Haïti: question de langues, les langues en question,” basing himself on linguistic and historical data, he says “no!” to the question “do we need a Creole Academy in Haiti.” For myself, and agreeing with Hugues St-Fort, I maintain that one must exercise caution while approving the constitutional principle of the creation of a “Creole Academy.” My approval of that principle will be validated in the future when the Haitian State will have first tackled the question of the two official languages on the legislative level –a “Creole Academy” will have to be subordinated to the future and first law of the Haitian State dealing specifically with the accommodation of the country’s two official languages. I state this in the clear light of day: the 1987 Constitution does not provide any normative and prescriptive power to the future Creole Academy.” Hence, a “Creole Academy” whose statute and mandate are solely declarative –which is not subordinated to a law for linguistic accommodation, and has no legal linguistic power for intervening in the educational system; in short, from the strict viewpoint of linguistic accommodation, void of legislative and normative power with regard to the use of the official languages in public administration—that “Creole Academy” risks reproducing the cosmetic saga of the State Secretariat for literacy. I say it bluntly: a “Creole Academy,” with no jurilinguistical and normative mandate stemming from a law on the accommodation of the official languages of the country, and which cannot legally force the State to act on the accommodation of the languages in Haiti, and which risks marginalization in the anemic effluvia of the scandalously insignificant budget of the Université d’État d’Haïti, that “Creole Academy” will sign its implosion ad nauseam in the tales and charades of a self-referential “nationalist” discourse, far from the sciences of language, without any measurable applicability on the linguistic rights of all Haitians, and far from the re-founding of a national educational system…
Let me repeat the thread of my thinking. One must then aim for the long term in realistic and rigorous fashion, prepare the groundwork, set up the legal framework, that is to say the jurilinguistic frame of a disciplined intervention by the State throughout the whole country and especially in the educational system,. Unless one ties down oneself with pious academic wishes by replaying the cosmetic and sterile card of the State Secretariat for literacy, one must get hold right away of the issue of the accommodation of our two official languages and create anew in measurable fashion THE CONSTRUCTION AND APPLICATION OF A LINGUISTIC STATE POLICY INSCRIBED IN BINDING LEGISLATION AND RULES OF OPERATION.
Thus, when the Haitian State will have adopted its first binding legislation in the matter of linguistic accommodation, it is in the general context of the accommodation of the two Haitian languages throughout the country that we will be able to launch a School for linguistic equity which will insure the whole accommodation of Creole and French in the totality of the national educational system, from grade school to the secondary, university and technical school levels. And it is in conformity with that perspective and subordinating it to this conceptual and jurilinguistic frame that there will be a need to ELABORATE, TEST, APPROVE, NORMALIZE AND DISSEMINATE CREOLE AND FRENCH-CREOLE PROGRAMS,METHODS AND TEACHING TOOLS conceived in a direct line with a central vision of the rebuilding of a socially-conscious educational system relevant to Haitian culture.
(Translated from the French by Max Dorsinville, Professor emeritus, McGill University, Montreal.)
[Editorial note: Robert Berrouet-Oriol, linguist-terminologist, poet and literary critic, is the author of the first theoretical study on “Migrant and mixed writing in Quebec,” (Quebec Studies, Ohio, 1992). His most recent literary work, “Poème du décours” (Éditions Tryptique, Montreal, 2010) earned in France the Poetry Prize of the Ouessant Island Book 2010. A former professor in the Linguistics Faculty of Haiti, he is also the coordinator and co-author of the reference work, “Linguistic accommodation in Haiti: themes, challenges and proposals,” Montreal, Éditions du Cidihca, February 2011;Port-au-Prince, Éditions de l’Université d’État d’Haïti, June 2011.]