Haitian creole and French: The 2 official languages of Haiti

The issue of which language or languages to employ in educating Haiti’s children and adult literacy programs, which both government and non-governmental groups conduct, has created much controversy among educators and the general public.

Haiti has two official languages: Creole and French. Creole is the most widely spoken language in Haiti, accounting for over 90% of native monolingual speakers; whereas the French language has held pride of place as the country’s sole medium of official government and business transactions, as well as the language of education, for the last two centuries.

Since Haiti gained independence from France in 1804, its language and education system has increased. To understand the positions of the various participants in this argument, it is necessary to trace the history of these two essential aspects of Haitian life.

Haiti Post-Independence Haiti evolved from a French slave colony to a fully self-governing and independent country due to protracted armed conflict and battle between French enslavers and their enslaved African human beings.

The revolutionary struggle was long and bitter, but it was sustained by the enslaved Africans’ terrible determination to free themselves from the scourge of French captivity or perish in the endeavor.

How french became official

The French were the first settlers in Haiti, and when they left in the early 1800s, their language remained the official mode of communication for all government and corporate dealings. The mulatto descendants of these French people became the emerging Haitian society’s aristocratic upper class.

Due to their unique position as successors to their departed French fathers, the half-French and half-African mulattoes wielded economic and political weight in all spheres of Haitian public and academic life.

They accomplished this by enshrining the French language’s continued use in all official government operations and designating French as the only language of educational teaching. The vast majority of Haitians were unable to communicate in French.

This majority was primarily composed of Afro-Haitians, who were illiterate and unable to contribute to the national discourse, although they formed over 90% of the entire Haitian population. Afro-Haitians spoke only Creole, which was not recognized as an official language in Haiti until recently.

Haiti de la modernité The state of affairs remained unchanged for over a century. The little progress made by a relatively small number of educated Afro-Haitians did not affect the French language’s dominant standing and role in Haitian national affairs.

Rather than improving conditions for their marginalized brothers and sisters in Haiti’s lower classes, these Afro-Haitians, having progressed from rural peasantry to urban low class to urban middle class, were more interested in entrenching their positions than in improving conditions for their fellow marginalized brothers and sisters in Haiti’s lower classes.

These middle-class Afro-Haitians acted like stereotypical social climbers who believed the French language was their ticket to advancement in Haitian society. As a result, they allied with Haitian mulattoes in the aristocratic upper class to thwart any move to alter the status quo.

Some members of the peasant class believed that their children should have been educated in French to escape the poverty trap of Haiti’s rural peasantry.

Even previous Haitian governments claiming to defend the interests of the public have been hesitant to grant equal legal status to Creole and French to avoid stepping on the toes of aristocratic mulattoes in the upper class.

Thus, for almost a hundred and seventy years, the Creole language remained an informal mode of communication. The government approved the use of Creole in school only in the late 1970s. Government approval was not implemented completely.

Even in the 1980s, some questioned whether Creole should be taught in primary schools. In 1987, a watershed moment occurred when Creole was included in the Haitian National Constitution as a co-national language alongside French. The way was thus clear for the more popular Creole language to be integrated into the school educational system.

However, much work remains to be done by both government and non-governmental organizations to establish Creole as Haiti’s legitimate national language truly. As a first and essential step, linguists in academia and those interested in Creole’s advancement beyond a glorified appendage to French should vigorously pursue its standardization.

The National Pedagogic Institute (Institut Pédagogique National—IPN) has assumed the lead in establishing a Creole orthography that incorporates parts of the two prior systems.

There are many excellent books and magazines in Creole, but they’re created at a much higher rate than currently possible. The media has already started doing some work by popularising Creole content, but it won’t be enough as more work remains.

The government of Haiti has to take the implementation of the relevant provisions of the 1987 Haitian National Constitution more seriously. Every sector of Haiti’s national life must feel the presence of the Creole language as the official medium of communication.

Much work is needed to implement curricula at all levels of Haitian education, using Creole as a communication medium. Adult literacy initiatives should also be implemented to improve the literacy level of Haiti’s rural peasants and urban poor.

Some church groups have grabbed the bull by the horns, releasing religious material in the Creole language. One such journal is the popular monthly Bon Nouvel, which a Roman Catholic organization publishes. Through the efforts of several Protestant churches, the New Testament portion of The Holy Bible has also been published in Creole.

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