Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kreyole only

There is a growing debate on making Kreyol the official language of instruction in Haiti.

One of the things that has made so many Haitians in the DR so successful is that they have a fluency in three or four or five languages and so find work in the tourist industry here. Most Haitians here do not work in the sugar cane industry but in tourism or  construction - where the ones who speak Spanish quickly rise to crew boss.

I suspect that this ease of learning languages is indeed from having had to learn two languages at an early age. I know that because I started studying French at age 5, learning a new language has always been easier for me than for most Americans.

Puerto Rico went through a similar debate in the late 50's - when Spanish was declared the "official " language of instruction and education - in part in reaction to the US trying to impose English. So all the public schools in Puerto Rico teach only in Spanish. The wealthy who can afford to send their children to private schools, send them to schools which teach in English.

This is also the case here in Santo Domingo where the best private schools teach completely or premoninanty in English - the language of global business.

I am sure the the elites of Haiti will support Kreyol only instruction as it will keep the peasant class marginalized and isolated. This difference of language has always been used to divide the classes in Haiti and will continue to be used as a weapon as long as the masses are not educated in French. And those of the Left will support it as a sign of standing in solidarity with the poor. And the vast majority of Haitians will suffer from this decision.

When I met with journalists from Haiti and they questioned why I would not speak to the them in Kreyol, I explained that I would not learn Kreyol as I wanted the offer the Haitians who knew it an opportunity to practice their French.(or Spanish, or English)  I hoped that they understood that this did not indicate any disrepect or lack of solidarity with the struggle of the poor.

Declaring Kreyol as the official language will keep the Haitian people isolated and ill informed on world affairs as they will never be able to read the news; let alone the great thinkers of the history of the world  in their own language. They will need interpreters to speak for them at international gatherings.  And those interpreters will be the ones whose voices will be heard by the international community.

I believe that there is ample evidence that children are able to learn two, three and even four languages simultaneously at an early age.

The educated people here in the DR speak at least two, if not four languages so limiting Haiti to one language will only be another step backwards.