Educational CyberPlayGround ®

Dimensions of a Written Creole by John Rickford.

John Rickford
is a RingLeader here on the Educational CyberPlayGround

Date: Sun, 21 Nov 1999 15:49:34 -0800 (PST)
From: John Rickford
Subject: Re: Written Creole: Genuine or Hoax?

A few closing points on this issue:

(1) For the full set of "Straight Dope" comments on the Housing and Urban Development [HUD] "creole" translation, including Cecil's replies to my points, see:

(2) Apparently the "creole" in the HUD documents was the result of a genuine mixup, not a hoax. HUD wanted a translation into Haitian Creole, but in asking the Government Printing Office to get one, they simply said "creole," and the Canadian company to which the job was subcontracted ("Cosmos Translation and Interpretation Services, Inc") came back with a Jamaican type translation ("Yuh as a rezedent, ave di rights ahn rispansabilities to elp mek yuh HUD-asisted owzing ah behta owme...") which a HUD employee accepted as Haitian. [Clearly not a CreoleTALK subscriber!]

(3) In response to Mufwene's posting, I don't think I misunderstood him, and I certainly didn't say or intend anything negative about him in my posting on this issue. Au contraire, I recognized that he recognized some of the authentic-sounding elements in the translation, and I added other examples. I also share with him an objection to eye dialect for its own sake ("wuz" for "was"). I agree with him that the ethnographic status of Haitian Creole in the US is different from that of Jamaican Creole, and that speakers of Caribbean English creoles, if they can read, can read in mainstream or standard English.

WRT his question about why similar translations were NOT considered for Southern White English nor Appalachian English, the answer is probably very simple -- the fact that "bilingual" provisions are made only (or at least primarily) for populations in the US who have come relatively recently from other countries and whose numbers include native speakers of the varieties spoken in those countries. This is the way the distinction was explained to me a couple years ago by Kenji Hakuta, who has consulted with the US government on bilingualism and bilingual education issues.

I should add, though, that this concern with condescension and potential insult misses some larger issues. It is NOT the case that conventional English forms and spellings can capture ALL the essence of anglophone creole. When I first wrote _Dimensions of a Creole Continuum_ I tried to render the texts in conventional English with a few diacritics, guided by precisely the kinds of considerations Mufwene raises. But I was so dissatisfied with the result--not only the phonology, but the semantic and pragmatic force of the original was significantlyy distorted in the process--that I had to go back and redo all the texts in a phonemic orthography. Moreover, and this was my point in citing the gratitude of the Gullah speaker who was elated that in the creole translation of Luke God had finally spoken to her in her language -- the fact that creole speakers CAN read in standard English does not mean that they derive in that medium the DEPTH, SWEETNESS and SIGNIFICANCE they can derive from their native creole equivalent. Finally, realistic though Salikoko might be about existing negative attitudes to the use of anglophone creole in other than informal speech, attitudes can and do change, and as history has shown (Chaucer and his ilk for starters), it is only when individuals conceive of and initiate change themselves that it occurs.

--John R.