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Does Haiti really need a Creole Academy?

Emmanuel W. Védrine

Haitian Creole version : Vèsyon kreyòl
(published in Haïti en Marche, Vol. XXIII #43. Nov. 2009)
English translation: November, 2017

Photo: Cambridge Brick House Publishers

Pou poze baz yon akademi kreyòl ayisyen: kèk konsèy pratik” (To lay down the bases of a Creole Academy: a few practical advise) is an article by Tontongi (Eddy Toussaint, written in Creole),published in the literary review, Tanbou (Autumn 2009). Before going far in our criticism, as a creolophone writer who is familiar with the “Haiti Reality”, a subject that we have written about it already, we can say that Tontongi is one of the Haitian authors living in Boston, who has been trying for (over) a quarter of a century to do a work of “consciousness” with his pen in order to awaken the Haitian intellectual milieu in diaspora, as well as in Haiti.

Before going into more details, it is important to salute the efforts of some Haitian pioneers in the area of “Creole Studies” who opened the door for many who were going to do research in the area further down. So, we can’t forget (philologist) Jules Faine, (linguist) Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain (author who first wrote on the “description of the language”), Charles-Fernand Pressoir (creator of the orthography used between 1945 and 1980), Carrié Paultre (founder of the Creole journal, Boukan).

It is important for Haitian (writers, researchers, linguists, and authors) to write grammars, dictionaries, novels, books  (of all kinds) in their own native language (Creole) if they have the possibility of doing so, but we don’t believe we would have to wait for ever for some “so-called scholars” who are talking about Creole  (in French) to come and do that. The proof is clear: (almost) all Haitian linguists (with the exception of Yves Dejean1, and some few others) don’t write in Creole to promote that language. The Haitian public still has not yet read their works.

Though Pradel Pompilus’ name is not unknown in the Haitian intellectual milieu, and in research on Haitian Creole2 and Creole Studies but he missed the opportunity to produce more on Creole (and more precisely, in Creole also) after his doctoral dissertation, “La langue française en Haїti” (The French language in Haiti), presented at Université Sorbonne, where he included a great amount of Creole lexicon he collected and analyzed, together with a complementary doctoral dissertation, entitled  “Lexique créole-français3 (1958). Since French was the only “official language” of Haiti at the time, obviously he would lecture in that language when teaching…”.

We want to make it clear that we don’t have anything against the French language in Haiti, but rather against the way some “so-called scholars” and other people were using it (to humiliate most Haitians who until today are not at a level to speak it because they don’t have the means to attend school or to go far in school in order to master that foreign language).

We applaud Yves Dejean (an educator, professor, a conscious Haitian priest who went back and forth to many remote places in Haiti, who lived the “reality of the Haitian people”, who became conscious and who took his pen also to translate and produce some key tools that would help with literacy projects, that until today have not become reality for sure (throughout the country).

We applaud the late Paul Dejean (Yves’ brother) who shares this same consciousness, and who did not just hang on the wall of his house his diploma from Sorbonne (in Philosophy and Religion), but who tried to help the way he could to push the Creole language together with Yves.

We applaud some other priests, religious, and secular groups who were helping in their own way they could. We applaud some members of Sosyete Koukouy (e.g, Jan Mapou, Dr Ernst Mirville, etc.) who went to jail under Duvalier just because they were promoting the Creole language and culture in the ‘60s through radio programs, and continue to do so today, promoting the Desssaline’s language through writings. We applaud Bon Nouvèl, the only monthly journal in Creole that held on from 1967 until the 2010 earthquake. We applaud Educa Vision (and its founders Féquière Vilsaint, Maude Heurtelou), the largest Haitian publisher in the United States that has been publishing many books in /on Creole and other tools for writers, and researchers’ need. We applaud the tireless works of Kesler Brézault (Brezo) in Montreal (through Editions Lagomatik), who has been helping in promoting publications of works in Creole for many years.

We can’t forget the efforts of Kaptenn Koukouwouj (Michel-Ange Hyppolite) in Ottawa who shows his devotion in promoting the Creole language (through school books he has been producing, his online participation through the kreyol.org forum (formerly called REKA*) and criticism he is writing from time to time on published works (in Creole in the weekly newspaper, Haiti en Marche). We applaud (journalist) Carl Fombrun in Miami who gives to Creole the spot it deserves in the Haitian media in diaspora. We applaud the devotion of (webmaster) Guy S. Antoine who is among the pioneers, trying to spread out Creole on the net throught his web site windowsonhaiti.com. We applaud the works of Professor Marc Prou (founder of the Creole Institute of University of Massachusetts-Boston in the ‘80s), and who is helping other universities in other areas of New England (such as Brown University, and others, etc.), developing programs related to Haitian language and culture, and summer exchange programs with Haiti.

We can’t forget (webmaster) Francesca Palli (potomitan.info) who, since the late ‘90s, has been concentrating all of her energy in helping (creolophone writers, researchers, and artists) publishing their works online, and many documents to facilitate research on creole languages and cultures. We don’t forget the efforts of Pierre-Roland Bain (in Montreal), president of KEPKAA*, where this group put aside the entire month of October (Le Mois du créole à Montréal) to celebrate creole language and cultures. And finally, we applaud all those making efforts in diaspora, as well as in Haiti, who have been trying to give Creole the place it deserves in society.

It’s important to have “translation” that can cover many aspects, including of “classical works”. Translation can help in the development of a language (if we look at how French have translated key works existed in Latin and Greek, where they adapted and edited many of them to enrich the French language). Yes, translation is important to help the evolution of the Creole language, and to enrich it with literary documents of all types, therefore we must encourage it.
Concerning “Prize of the Haitian Creole Academy” mentioned by Tontongi, according to him that can be given each year or every two year for scholarly works in Creole. Well, no problem to create one but when we understand how intrigues exist at all levels in Haiti, knowing about the issue of “favoritism”, (“who you are”, what’s your “last name” etc.), we would rather encourage people to produce more in Creole on all forms, and in all areas or disciplines. Regarding this, there are people who sometimes awarded a prize they don’t deserve. Also, the issue of “prize” can be sometimes a controversial one, (creating jealousy and discouragement). Jean-Paul Sartre,  a French philosopher and writer made a very nice gesture when turning down the (literary) Nobel Prize given to him (in 1964) by the Swedish Academy.

In Tontongi’s article, he suggests a “Prix Yves Dejean” (the Yves Dejean’s Award), though he (Dejean) is still alive (in 2009), but for us who are familiar with his works, devotion, and his dream to see Creole fully used in education in Haiti, we can say that his name is a very important one for us to be mentioned in all real works that would have to be involved with Creole. At the same time also, we cannot forget many other people (Haitians as well as non-Haitians) who came before Dejean who made some efforts to raise the banner of Creole. Tontongi doesn’t forget to mention Felix Morisseau-Leroy’s name, a pioneer among the first (Haitian) writers who has produced literature in the native language, and a writer that many Haitian critiques woud give the nickname “dwayen literati kreyòl la” (dean of Creole literature). Tontongi thinks there would have to have an award that would carry the name of this great writer.

“Academy” in general does not help in the evolution of a language; on the contrary it can cause tardiness in the process if we take into consideration “linguistic policies” or hidden politics (some) members of an academy may have in mind, all the chatter that have to be done where we can include “desagreement” between members of the same academy. Haitian scholars are raised in a culture that not only doesn’t valorize “working in group”, but also the possibility to have quarrels between themselves, and disrespectiing one another is something quite high where often time they can be carried away by their emotion.

Americans never talk about or put emphasis on an “academy for the English language” here, in the United States. However, There are some “Publishing Houses”, “Publishers”; there is the Academy of Science, etc. There are great American publishers, publishing important dictionaries, lexicon, grammars (from time to time) which serve as “reference” tools, and “standard” for people who are writing in English. Also, don’t forget that there is a “standard English” (a formal form that everyone has to follow in writing or producing documents that everyone is going to read. They don’t reject the “familiar” forms either, and “idiomatic expressions” (that can be part of “popular language” in which everyone expresses theirself through (acceptable) “slang”. There are always “contexts” where one can dominate another or express a thought in a comprehensive language.

The real language “laboratory” is the people (what they are speaking daily, new words they are creating (or that are being created) or using, where these words spread out smoothly in the environment. Did you know that Kwabosal* is the biggest language lab that exists in Haiti? Many of us would laugh at that, but that’s where a bunch of new words, new idioms are being created and they spread out smoothly throughout the population, before (even) reaching journalists. Many times, journalists just report them in interviews with vendors, or with people in the streets. We would be stun to hear English words that enters the Creole language if we were to do a thorough research in Port-au-Prince today.

Members of a Creole Academy would spend more time, not to be straaightforward but philosophying, talking a lot (wether or not they would accept such and such word…, this and that …), and in the meantime, most people would have already used that same word or idiom a long time in order to express a “concept”, or a “thought” somehow.

We remember the English word “e-mail”, how the Academie Française (the French Academy) was talking about (back in 1997), wether to accept it or not (because it’s an English word), and this same word was already in the mouth of all French (e.g, “J’ai reçu son e-mail”, etc. [I received his /her email, etc.]). French Canadians who are good inventors of words, have beforehand invented the word courriel (short for “courrier electronique”, meaning email). Courriel was quickly creolized as kouryèl by Haitians in Canada (and by many Haitians in the US, and Haiti).

A “Creole Academy” would never function normally either, knowing that the Haitian government has not yet shown real interest in anything that would be related to education and the promotion of language and culture. A good example we can take is: looking at the Hatian Embassy’s web site in Washington D.C to have an idea in what “dominant language” it is. So, this gives us an idea already of the linguistic reality in Haiti (in terms of the “irresponsibility” of the government. Things are as clear as the day: we don’t have to beat around the bush. All Haitian liars who earn a doctorate abroad in “Syans pa konn fè anyen” (The Science of knowing nothing) or in “Syans grate santi” (The Science of sitting down doing nothing) would come to show off, and joke on Creole (in French) but would not come and sit down together with the intention to:

a. Give ideas on writing books, on producing school materials, devopping materials for literacy for “the mass” in the native language, producing all types of materials in order to have a “solid bilingual program” that would respect the use of the two official languages (French and Creole).

b. They would not go to the countryside or the provinces, to the mountains to help in teaching the rest of the population (that never had the means to attend school) to learn how to read and write, who don’t have access to documents to read in any language, who is ready to give their children as restavèk or slave childwhen they don’t have any means to help these innocent children.

c.They would not give ideas about how to open “resource centers” or small libraries in all schools, communities and equip them with documents to help school children.

d. They would continue wasting time talking about Creole (in French), without learning techniques to produce texts in Creole, without producing any Creole document to publish online free of charge so that everywhere in Haiti it can be accessed and all schools can have free access to print them and have copies of them in libraries.

e. They would be interested in the “budget” of such a “so-called institution” or a “gato gèp institution” (a non-productive institution), or “a phantom institution” (for example, how many million of U.S dollars this academy would need, how many US dollars they would pay them as “specialist in the Science of sitting down doing nothing or specialist in the Science of don’t know how to do anything”.

f. Would they not be interested in knowing how Prof. Albert Valdman  (linguist, educator, and researcher of French origin) founded the Indiana University Creole Institute in the United States (that has been functioning since the early ‘60s), where Haitian Creole was first taught at university level (and this language is not yet taught at any university in Haiti, even today). Still functioning today, and thanks to documents stocked in it that I revised. This helped me completing the most extensive bibliyography research on Haitian Creole that I would published later on (An Annotated Bibliography On Haitian Creole: a review of publications from colonial times to 2000). Would they be interested in the devotion of Prof. Bryant Freeman, founder of the Kansas Institute of Haitian Studies at Kansas University, who been working hard in publishing great bilingual dictionaries of Haitian Creole, promoting the language? 

g. Would they be interested in the history of the (old) Centre d'Etudes Créoles de l'Université de Aix-en-Provence (Marseille I) that the great French creolist, Robert Chaudenson founded? The tight collaboration of the late Guy Hazaël-Massieux (linguist born in Guadeloupe) and Marie-Christine Hazaël-Massieux (French linguist, specializing in Kreyol of the Lesser Antilles) to make that center work (where Marie-Christine also played the role editor-in-chief of Revues Études Créoles, founded by Robert Chaudenson, presided over and animated for thirty years the Comité Internnational d'Etudes Créoles)?

h. Would they be interested in klicking on the potomitan.info web to view the works of (of the late) Professor Jean Bernabé (linguist and writer, a native of Martinique) and his team GEREC have published online to promote Creole in the Lesser Antilles, to also have a spot in the CAPES, and for the Minister of Education in France to recognize a Capes Créole (the same way it has been done for all other languages being taught in France in secondary school)? Would they be interested in taking a look at the extensive works of Prof. Raphaël Confiant (reknown Martinican writer) who produces in both French and Creole?

i. Would they be interested in knowing the efforts some great universities in the world have been making and continue to make to stock huge data bases of reference on creole languages in the world so that students at these universities who are doing research on them can have access (among them: Indiana University, Kansas University, some universities in France and Antilles-Guyane, StockholmUniversity (Sweden)? In the mean time, universities in Haiti don’t even have a web page on Creole, forget about an equipped “resource center” (since forty years) with documents on / in Creole to help students who are studying Linguistics?

“Potential role of the university” is another point that Tontongi touches in his article, but one that’s still related to “Creole Academy” where he refers to what some other people say: “… Professor Deshommes mentions ‘they recognize Creole [today] as language and teaching subject since the Bernard’s Reform; Higher education gets involved in it with the creation of the Faculté de Linguistique Appliquée [Fakilte Lengwistik Aplike] at the State University of Haiti”. (E. W. Védrine -- translating from Creole).

But the questions we may ask are the followings: What university? What has the Faculté de Linguistique Appliquée (FLA, Faculty of Applied Linguistics) really produced after over thirty years of its existence? Does it have a functional web site to stock research documens in order to give access to people who are conducting research to find references in a wink to time, and to help in the development of the Creole language)? We nottice that Tontongi misses this sensitive information, an important ingredient in the “Haiti’s reality” we have been talking about.

If we are talking about real“university in Haiti”, we must be serious on that. That has not yet really existed. If we say that (existence), we would have to look at “its role”, we’d have to read over Ortega y Gasset’s philosophy on “Mission of the eniversity”. We, some conscious Haitians, would like to see a “real university in Haiti”. Some of us don’t know if we will have time to see one before our eyes close on this earth, but it would be our dream to see a real one. Yes, our dream to see one that is publishing scientific reviews every three, six months… and in a all areas.

It would be our dream to see one with a well-equipped library like any real “university” abraod... Yes, we would like to see a library that has all references, computers to locate and to stock research materials. Yes, a university that’s publishing books and scientific articles by professors from time to time, a university where there are real professors (not charlatans who are sitting down doing nothing, but those who know how to produce research).

Yes, a university where when graduate they recognize their diplomas, and their qualifications at any university abroad. Yes, a university that has laboratory (in almost all areas, so that students can do experimentation in their field of specialization, so that they don’t just memorize everything but understand (and be able to explain) what they are studying. We’d would love to see such a university in Haiti… !

On “the potential role of the government”, Tontongi says: “The decisive role of the government will be indispensable in constructing a solic National Haitian Academy, that really has a national character, and which is willing to use resources and the power of the government to establish and make people abide by the rules and necessary structures to hold the mission of the academy”. (E. W. Védrine, translating from Creole to English). In this short paragraph, Tontongi finally comes up with a better name, “Akademi Nasyonal Ayisyen” (National Haitian Academy), but we don’t need necessarily a “Creole Academy”. Don’t we already have a slight idea of ‘the potential role of the government’ in the 200 years (and + years) since Haiti has been independent? In this sense, we see the role of (most of) Haitian governments in Haiti would be:

j. Acting like ostentatious people in power, and making fraudulent maneuvers to hold it forever if possible (a Machiavelli’s philosophy: regardless how you ascend to power, keep it).

k. Pillaging the government coffer (without wasting time).

l. Stealing enough money for many generations, and put that money foreign banks abroad (so that Haiti won’t have access to it).$

m. Leaving the people as dummy as they are, don’t teach them how to read and write or make fun of them instead.

n. Don’t create free schools for “the mass” because education leads to revolt (as the Haitian dictator, Jean Pierre Boyer said, when he closed down the University in Santo-Domingo to turn it into barracks).

o. Not giving the people tools to work, don’t help them find ways to cultivate their land, encouraging them to pray for rainfall while water is being wasted in many places in Haiti, and end up in the sea.
p. And peasants leave Haiti to go to the Dominican Republic to cut down sugar cane; they go there to do all types of humiliating jobs… Truly, (most) Haitian governments have that potential!

At the end of the article, Tontongi mentions the potential role of writers, artists, philosophers and the scholars …  where he says: “Naturally, the greatest pillars of an academy are writers, artists, philosophers, and scholars who are producing works in the civil society and who are enriching the Haitian Creole”.

Well, we can say: some of them still have a bit of knowledge (people are taking note of that) while most of them have never done anything to help the mother land, while most of them have never thought of publishing online even one chapter of their book, not even a single research paper they wrote (in French, English, Spanish, Haitian Creole [if they can write in their native language]) at the university in order to help students or schools in Haiti.

Yes, some have potential, but potential to write beautiful things in French, in English ... , nice essays with no grammatical errors in French (as the famous actor, Piram, in [the play]  Pèlen tèt ] would say), and they never think of creating small libraries … or donate one of their books so that students would have access to it to do research.

Finally, we think that all people who have access reading this article, a reaction to Tontongi’s article (Pou poze baz yon akademi kreyòl ayisyen: kèk konsèy pratik),will share it with others. Maybe they can become conscious of the reality Haiti has been facing (on a daily basis), and they will rethink by what means they themselves, can start contributing (to something) in order to learn how to create, how to produce on all forms to help Haiti moving forward, and in the benefit of all of her children.


  1. [DEJEAN, Yves. 1977. “Comment écrire le créole d'Haïti”. Indiana University. Degree: Ph.D. 554 p. + 1 page of CV (curriculum vitae) of the author. Dissertatopm director: Professor Albert Valdman. [Note: Also published in book form by Collectif Paroles, Canada. 1980. Dejean’s linguistic publications have appeared in many journals and reviews (abraod as well as in Haiti)...
  2. Two books published by Pradel Pompilus (cited many times in research on Creole):
    a) Contribution à l’étude comparée du créole et du français à partir du créole haїtien: phonologie et lexique (Vol. I). Port-au-Prince, Eds. Caraїbes.
    b) Contribution à l’étude comparée du créole et du français à partir du créole haїtien: morphologie et syntaxe (Vol. II). Port-au-Prince, Eds. Caraїbes.
  3. “Lexique créole - français”. Unpublished complementary doctoral dissertation, Univesité de Paris (Sorbonne).


KEPKAA: Komite Entènasyonal pou Pwomosyon Kreyòl ak Alfabetizasyon (Comité international pour la Promotion du créole et l'Alphabétisation : International Committee for the Promotion of Creole and Literacy).

Kwabosal: Financial quarter of down town Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

REKA: Rezo Entènèt Kreyolis Ayisyen (Online Network of Haitian Kreyolis or writers who write in Kreyol).

• Recent article by the author: “October 28, International Creole Day, and what? ”

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