Language News: Haitian Creoles and Education

In this link, the BBC’s Lawrence Pollard interviews Dr. Michel DeGraff about a linguistic issue every teacher should know about: teaching students whose native language patterns are different than those which are expected in the classroom.

DeGraff, a linguistics professor at MIT, is Haitian, and he explains that the educational system operates in French even though the majority of students are not native speakers of French. Instead, they are native speakers of Haitian Creole.

The Creole is not respected or valued in Haitian society because it is a blend of other languages (including English, French, and African languages). As in many parts of the world where creoles develop, this has led many Haitians to believe that Creole is an inferior language, so it is not used in school.

Although this kind of discrimination against creole languages is fairly common, it is also very misguided.  Creole properties do not stop a language being a language, and we have some well documented examples of how successful speakers of creole languages can be when the socio-poloitical conditions are right. English, for example, went through a substantial creolization process when the Normans (French) ruled England, and it has continued to borrow words from other languages that English speakers have interacted with ever since.  If you suggested today that American students should be taught only in French because English wasn’t a real language, you’d be laughed out of the room, but the same is not true for most other creoles, including the one found in Haiti.

This political discrimination has substantial effects on the educational achievement of native Creole speakers in Haiti, since it means that they are being evaluated in a foreign language (French), and as DeGraff explains, it limits these students’ opportunities to succeed in a variety of subjects covered in the classroom.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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2 Responses to Language News: Haitian Creoles and Education

  1. Pingback: The Rules? of African American Language « Anna Renee is Still Talking

  2. Pingback: Speaking Ebonics Gets Me In Trouble « Anna Renee is Still Talking

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