FRENCH: LANGUAGE OF BONDAGE FOR THE HAITIANS

The French language has been, is and will always be a language of bondage, domination and exploitation for the Haitian people. It is not the French using it as a tool to exploit and dominate the people of Haiti, as it used to be during colonial time; it is, rather, Haitians using it to dominate and exploit other Haitians.

When I was growing up in Haiti, some of the abuses I used to see perpetrated against some of the people were revolting, and I am still traumatized by them. I saw with my own eyes people being ridiculed and humiliated for not being able to express themselves in French. I saw people not being willing to get service from government employees in government offices for not being able to speak French. If they need to get service, they would have to pay someone, a “racketeer,” to accompany them inside and speak on their behalf.

All Haitians educated in Haiti are psychologically tortured and traumatized. In school in Haiti, a country where ALL the citizens speak Creole and only a very few speak French, the French language is made the language of instruction. The students are being forced to learn in a language they can barely comprehend. Subjects such as mathematics, physics and chemistry, for example, are taught to the students in French, but if they must understand and solve the problems, they would have to translate everything from French to Creole. Their research papers or “dissertations” ought to be written in French, yet their chains of thought are in Creole.

Let me tell you the real politics behind this language divide. The French language is made a national language along the Creole language to further divide the already divided Haitian society. It is not to be used as a tool of communication to reach out to people as that is the true meaning of language. Politicians make good use of the French language in their politics of bluff to impress and show off their so-called intellect. They do it because most Haitians see French speaking ability as being educated.

How is French being made my language and I do not speak it? And mind you, I did my primary and secondary education in some of the best institutions in Haiti. In fact, I used to be severely punished in school if ever I got caught in the act of speaking a word of Creole. Yeah, I know some of the Frenchies, broken French speakers, are going to blame me for not being able to speak French as they often do. Why is it that I have never seen me speaking French in my dreams, not even once? Why is it that after so many years living in the US, my Creole has never left me? In fact, the longer I live away from my homeland Haiti, the better my Creole gets. Well, the answer to these questions is simple. It’s because Creole is MY language; French is not and has never been mine. I have never seen me expressing myself in French in my dreams simply because my intuition or subconscious is not molded in French. 

In his masterpiece, The Haitians: Class and Color Politics (1983 edition), Lyonel Paquin, a privileged Haitian mulatto, whom I ADMIRE dearly for his insightfulness, frankness and boldness, had this to say about the French language, the Creole language and the Haitian elite:

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands -1980

Upon writing the book, I found myself facing several disturbing facts.

After living in the U.S. for more than 20 years, I had lost command of written and spoken French. The Haitian elite insist they control it; that is a fallacy. In the eyes and ears of a Frenchman, the Haitian-French is full of “creolism” and linguistic impurities.

Also in the eyes and ears of the Americans, it is more than obvious that I am still experimenting with their language.

So I was not only a man without a country, but also without a language. I truly felt at ease only in my native Creole, which certain people reject as a bastard tongue.

I was not discouraged. With certain bravado, I plunged into my self-imposed calvary, “So what!” I declared to myself “as long as I can convey a thought, that is all that matters. The finishing will come later.

Whenever I read this clause in the Constitution of my country, making French a national language, I think of how the so-called intellectuals -the politicians -are a bunch of stupid puppets. Here is what I am proposing as alternative of solution to this language nonsense:

  1. Amend the Haitian Constitution to make Creole the sole language of the land. Revise the nonsensical clause in the Constitution that makes of French a national language.
  2. Elevate the Creole language to a whole different level. Make it the sole official language for business and instruction in the country. It must be taught to our students at every grade level.
  3. Since we are evolving in a global environment, we must prepare our young Haitians graduating from high school and college for the global job market; learning many foreign languages is the gateway. That’s why I am proposing that French, English, Spanish, etc. be taught to our students as early as possible (kindergarten) to the very last day of their academic journey (university).

As you can see in my proposal, I treat French as a foreign language, and that is exactly what it must be for us Haitians. Like English and Spanish, it must be taught to our students, not as a national language of the people of Haiti, and certainly not as the language of business and instruction.

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35 comments on “FRENCH: LANGUAGE OF BONDAGE FOR THE HAITIANS

  1. This article is rather extreme. French is a language. It is up to people to decide how to use it. Yes, historically French has been misused in Haitian society. Wouldn’t the solution be to find ways of using it correctly instead of limiting its use? It’s all about access. When the majority of the population can’t eat, the solution is not to rule out food. When the majority of people don’t have access to education, the solution is not to close all schools. If we have two official languages, yet the majority of the population only has access to one of them, wouldn’t the solution be to ensure that everyone has access to both languages instead of radically limiting one of them? Especially if we acknowledge that speaking more than one language is an asset for everyone.

    • Nadeve, the solution to this language dilemma is not as simple as you propose. Access to education is not the problem, since Lyonel Paquin, the author I cited in the article, and I were educated in Haiti and attended some of the best academic institutions in the country. It has to do, rather, with the socio-cultural reality of the Haitian people.

      French is nothing more than a foreign language to the Haitian people, and, sadly, it is being forced on us. How can anyone win an argument for the defense of that language when the people are naturally not embracing it? If French is an organ transplanted into the body of the Haitian people, our body has rejected it. You cannot force a foreign language on a people. It is not feasible.

      I am not radically limiting the French language. In fact, like English and Spanish, I want it to be taught to our students in their academic journey. This is just a way to prepare them to be fully operational on the global stage.

      Also, I would not approve of any idea of having the state going around dictating its citizens what language to use in their home settings and private enterprises. That would be a foolish endeavor. As far as I am concerned, you want to speak Swahili in your household, you are alright with me. That’s your dwelling; therefore, you run it the way you believe is right for you. But for the state to use a foreign language as official language to handle its affairs and educate its kids is to me preposterous and dim-witted.

      Now, let’s go back to the access to education argument you made in your statement. I am going to say it again: lack of access to education is NOT the root cause of this issue.

      In my case, and I do strongly believe it is the case for possibly 99% of the people, the only time I used to literally speak French was in the classroom, and that would be only to address my professor. That’s it. When/if we students were to talk amongst ourselves in the classroom, we would whisper whatever it is in Creole. On the playground, during recess, we would speak nothing but Creole. On our way from and to school, we would speak Creole. At home, playing “lago kache” (hide and seek) and “kachkachingkola”with our friends and relatives, Creole would be the commanding language. The language in our households was and is still Creole. So you are going to tell me that access to education is going to change such reality?

      Lyonel Paquin and I or most of us educated in Haiti had access to education, yet we don’t retain the French language. You must wonder why. Well, the reason is simply because it is not ours; it is a language being forced on us for I don’t know what. Had French been ours, like it is the language for the French people, we would have spoken it naturally just like we naturally embrace the Creole language. We would not have to be severely punished for failing to speak it, for it would have come to us naturally.

      I don’t see what is so hard for us Haitians to place the French language where it belongs –in the same pool as Spanish and English, and that is the foreign language category.

  2. i saw it all also…..but this is exagerated and generalised big time…

    the french language is part of haiti’s best independance quest also…
    i don’t agree whith that message

    • Maryel, how is the French language part of our “best independence quest?” I don’t seem to get what you are saying. Can you please THOROUGHLY and CONCISELY explain yourself? Thank you so very much, as I am looking to reading your thorough and concise explanation.

  3. L Paquin was my husband’s father in law….and i don’t agree with all of his perceptions either…even if i do respect his integrity

    • I can see why people don’t agree with his perceptions. In the eyes of the elite, he is a traitor for speaking the truth. The elite don’t like seeing one of their own speaking the truth about the system that benefits them.

      He was the Jean Dominique of his time, an honest and conscious Haitian mulatto. So for a guy like him to be saying “The Haitian elite insist they control [the French language]; that is a fallacy… I truly felt at ease only in my native Creole, which certain people reject as a bastard tongue,” one cannot expect him to be loved, adored and cherished by the so-called educated Haitian elite.

  4. la haitian revolution is a direct consequence of the french revolution’s ideas…

    as for the people…u seem to think that i know nothing of the majority here….i won’t comment on this..

    lolll

  5. I can’t say for sure, but perhaps the reason you haven’t retained the French language is because you weren’t taught it very well. Yes, French is taught in all Haitian schools, but it is usually not taught well. So, yes, I do think education is at the root of the problem. Education as it pertains to classroom instruction, but also education at a societal level.
    I also learned French at school in Haiti and managed to retain it. It is even the basis of my career. It would be extremely selfish on my part to deny my fellow Haitians the same opportunities that I had. It makes more sense to me to try to ensure that every Haitian has full and complete access to both official languages, and then, as you say, they can make their own choices about which to use in their personal lives.
    It might help to consider the linguistic situations of other countries. Haiti is not the only country in the world with two official languages and French is most certainly not only the language of the French. We have moved far beyond that, thank goodness.

    • “[T]he reason you haven’t retained the French language is because you weren’t taught it very well.”

      If French is indeed my language, why it must be taught to me in school like English and Spanish to SPEAK it? I was not taught Creole in school to pick it up. It’s because it’s mine.

      The Americans don’t need to go to school to know “conversational” English. It is because that’s the language they speak. The Frenchmen don’t need to go to school to know “conversational” French. It’s because French is their language.

      If you have to go to school to know a language, that language is second to you; it is not yours. That’s why you have to go to school to know it.

      I am ESL (English as a second language) because I had to learn English in school in America for me to know it. The same rationale applies to French for us Haitians. If we must go to school to learn French, it is because it is second to us. We are FSL -French as a second language. lol lol

      Yet, we have a stupid clause in our Constitution making French, a foreign language, one of the country’s national languages. So stupid!!!

      Our generation needs to challenge this nonsense to the core; it is making people laugh at us. It does not make any sense. This is so stupid to have a foreign language in our Constitution being elevated to the rank of national language.

      Do you remember when some crazy people were trying to argue for Spanish to become a national language in America? Such proposal was trashed without pity; it was an aberration. They did not even give it a debate in the US Congress.

      French is what it is -a foreign language for the Haitians.

    • Maryel, feel offended for what -because I don’t claim speaking a FOREIGN language? That would be preposterous on my part, would it not? I don’t consider myself speaking Spanish, would I be offended if someone say that I don’t speak it because I was not taught it right? Nah, I don’t get offended by things like that.

  6. Haitian Creole is a based primarily on 18th Century French. It does not contain a single African word, contrary to the ignorant beliefs of those who would pretend that it is more purely “Black.”
    One source states this fact cleary: “Most of the lexicon is derived from French, with significant changes in pronunciation and morphology.”
    Creole is the result of enlaved African people’s efforts to speak the French that they heard when they arrived in the colony. These people came from all over West Africa and spoke many different languages. On any one plantation, several African languages were spoken. Therefore, enslaved peoples, seldom able to communicate with fellow Africans in a common tongue, attempted to speak Popular French.

    Over time, this approximative form of French became more and more different from the French varieties and came to be recognized as a language in its own right: Creole. It is also interesting that it was picked up by the whites and became the language used by all those born in the colony. A majority of the vocabulary of Creole is of French origin, yet French people can’t understand Creole [. . .] because the grammars of the two languages are very different. Also, Creole has kept the original meaning of Popular French words, whereas in France these words were replaced by words from Standard French, and some Popular French words changed their meaning. A good example is the sentence “Ki jan ou rele?” or “What is your name?” which corresponds to French “Comment vous appelez-vous?”. Although a French person wouldn’t understand that phrase, every word is of French origin: qui/what, genre/manner, vous/you, héler/to call or “What manner call (yourself)?”. In France, the verb héler has been replaced by appeler.

    It is also of interest that the written form of Creole (not “Kweyol”) is phonetically Anglophone: the letters K & W, which are rarely used in Latin-based/Romance languages (other than for unassimilated foreign names and words, like “Kramer”), is employed in written Creole because Caucasian Americans were part of the linguistic team asked to create the written form: in other words, they wrote a Francophone language the way an English-speaker would pronounce it.

    Language planners have not always taken prestigious patterns into account. The new alphabet for Haitian Creole (Kreyòl Ayisyen), adopted in 1980, undoubtedly offends many French-speakers in Haiti by its acceptance of non-Latin, non-French phonetics. This factor unnecessarily created the subjective impression — even among speakers of “Ayisyen” — that the new written form of the language was alien, even barbaric. This impression was particularly strong with those who also knew standard literary French well. An example of Ayisyen follows:
    Kreyòl Ayisyen se yon lang endependan ki ekri jan yo
    pale li men dapre regleman gramè pa li. Li chita sou
    vokabilè franse sèzyèm rive dizwityèm syèk epi li sèvi
    ak regleman gramè lang nan peyi Lwès Afrik yo.

    In English: “Haitian Creole is an independent and phonetically-spelled language based on sixteenth to eighteenth century French vocabulary, with rules of syntax from West African languages.”

    This statement might, however, have been written — just as phonetically — in a more “classical” and therefore more prestigious style:
    Creiòl Aiisien se ion lang endependan ci ecri jan io
    pale li men dapre regleman gramè pa li. Li chita sou
    vocabilè franse sèxièm rive dixuitièm sièc epi li sèvi
    ac regleman gramè lang nan peii Luès Afric io.

    Such a system might well have been better received. Language planners have a great deal of difficulty establishing any new pattern; they should not make their tasks unnecessarily difficult.

    http://www.acadon.com/acadon_essays.html

    I ask you, if you had to create a standard written form of Ebonics, would it make sense to use Russian spelling or Chinese letters?

    Also, would someone please tell me which African country English originated from? So much for “keepin’ it real.”

    • Hello, Sinette.

      This is NOT in response to the Haitian crisis (except very indirectly). However, my search brought me here, and there’s no harm asking.

      I’m searching through the Internet trying to find somebody to translate a short note (under 100 words) from Haitian French to English. It’s from a lad my church has been sponsoring for some years with small annual contributions. The letter had a translation attached, but it was clearly done by somebody who did not have a good command of English and is somewhat incomprehensible as a result. I’d like to present the letter, interpreted, of course, to our congregation in the near future.

      Or, perhaps you can suggest some link to follow where I might find support for this.

      Thank you,

      Tony in Rindge, New Hampshire, USA

  7. Sinette

    I totally agree….they did make it more difficult for the next generation….

    Emann…it doesn’t make sense…but i know how u feel..

  8. Haiti is not the only country in the world with two official languages and French is most certainly not only the language of the French. We have moved far beyond that, thank goodness.

    did we move ???great…
    thanks nadeve

  9. Since last time I didn’t comment on the blog i’ll do it now. I think the everyone decides what they want to speak and as both languages are used then both should stay official. speaking french or creole does not make me less or more haitian. as for me i’m haitian and i’ll always say it although I didn’t have to go to school to learn conversational french but i was taught creole. So does that make me french? or haitian? and if you dare say that it makes me french i will get mad because i was born and raised in haiti.

  10. “Our generation needs to challenge this nonsense to the core; it is making people laugh at us. It does not make any sense. This is so stupid to have a foreign language in our Constitution being elevated to the rank of national language.”

    I see the debate has taken a lot of interesting turns, so I won’t say too much. I wanted to address these two points. No one is laughing at us for having two official languages and why are you so concerned if they are? Do you laugh at Canadians? Do you think they all speak French? or English? Do you laugh at Belgians? At the Swiss? At Cameroonians? These are all countries that have two or more official languages; and not all of their citizens speak both. As far as I know, the United States doesn’t have an official language, so maybe we should leave that country out of the discussion.

    I have taught both English and French in several countries. Believe me when I tell you I had to teach teenagers in Baltimore how to conjugate verbs in English. We all go to school to learn our own languages. It’s one of the most important ways a language is standardized and its standardization implemented. Creole clearly needs to be taught more, and more effectively in Haitian schools. The problems regarding language instruction in Haiti concern all languages, especially both official ones. As I stated in my first post, I think the country would be best served by having both of its languages taught and transmitted effectively to all of its citizens.

    I’m not sure what it is you propose? Teach French, but make sure that we all consider it foreign? I guess I don’t see the logic in that.

    Thank you for starting this debate, though!

  11. Nadeve, Thank you for injecting some logic into the discussion: of course, Americans, like everyone else, need to go to school to learn their language (and they still don’t speak it well–ask any English person). Also, I like that you intelligently brought up the fact that the only people who “laugh at us” are the figments of the imagination of the anti-French speakers’ heads. I’ve never heard such complete nonsense as what was being spread here.

    Why would you cut off your possibilities, open to you by being bilingual, because you insist on rejecting past white oppression? Meanwhile, everyone who speaks Creole (not the incorrectly Anglicized “Kreyol”) is simply speaking a deformed version of FRENCH, not any African language: that’s why we’re able to understand other Francophone speakers, like people from Martinique & Guadeloupe.

    Unfortunately, the fact is that Europeans invaded most of the world and still rule a great majority of it. Therefore, in order to do well, it is simply necessary to learn their languages in order to succeed (see the Japanese). To refuse to do is as self-defeating as an American Black refusing to learn proper English because it’s the slave-master’s language: we see how well that’s been working out for those in the ghetto. Why must we assist in ghettoizing our entire country?

    What I find most fascinating is that the Haitians who are most dead set against to teaching of French as the language of the oppressor have no problem whatsoever speaking in English. What hypocrites!

    • “To refuse to do is as self-defeating as an American Black refusing to learn proper English because it’s the slave-master’s language: we see how well that’s been working out for those in the ghetto. Why must we assist in ghettoizing our entire country?”

      Oh really? Creole is a “ghetto” version of French? Are you serious? Now I see why some people are so against Creole to the point where they refuse to have their kids even speak the language with their maids, who can only speak Creole.

      Hmmm!!! Creole is now a ghetto version of French. That’s the headline of the day. Now I see what has gotten you to be sooooo against the idea of removing the Constitutional clause making of French, a foreign language, one of the country’s national languages. I got you now. Thank you so very much for not making it hard for me to see where you stand on the issue and why.

    • “What I find most fascinating is that the Haitians who are most dead set against to teaching of French as the language of the oppressor have no problem whatsoever speaking in English.”

      The answer to this can be found in the last five paragraphs of the piece. Please read it against, especially my proposal.

  12. I understand your point of view, Sinette, but I do disagree with the characterization of Creole as a deformed version of French. Most of the vocabulary does come from French, that much is fact. But the syntax comes from various West African languages. So, Creole is its own language. In Martinique and Guadeloupe (also in Seychelles, Dominica, and St. Lucia) there are French lexicon based Creoles spoken as well. And yes, they are mutually intelligble. That doesn’t mean they’re all deformed versions of French.

    However, I definitely agree with you that there is no reason to throw away the French language. Just teach both languages properly. If there is a solid government policy behind it, it really would not be that difficult.

    I’d be curious to know how many people here in Haiti would be for eliminating French as an official language. It’s really not something people are clamoring for; no, not even monolingual Creole speakers.

  13. Thank you Emann for bringing up this issue. I do agree that French is a language of bondage for Haitians.It is the residue of Slavery and imperialism. We need to free ourselves of any ties to France mentally and physically. If anything, we need to align ourselves to our real African heritage.Most Haitians I’ve talked to seem to have forgotten the fact that Haitians are Africans after all . Not acknowledging our true heritage did not happen by accident, it is embedded in Haiti’s school system. The Haitian school (fool) system is where the ignorance begins.

    • but though we originate from Africa you do realize that a lot of those african countries do have 2 languages also which most are shared between french and english even if they have their own language? I really don’t actually see the point of taking off french as an official language. like seriously i understand what emann is saying but …

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  15. I must admit 100% with Lyonel especially the fact that by living in the US and learning English has caused Haitians to understands their Creole Language with much ease and appreciation.

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