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Petition on Haitian Kreyòl

Posted for: Michel DeGraff, MIT Linguistics & Philosophy

Dear friends and colleagues,

We ask that you please take time to read, sign and distribute Professor Yves Dejean’s urgent public petition about school reform in Haiti.

The petition is available online at: — courtesy of indefatigable Web Designer Jean-Pierre Barthélémy.

If you sign the petition, you will receive an automatic message from the email address of Jean-Pierre Barthelemy. This email will ask that you please click on a website to confirm your email address. After you click on this website, and your signature will appear under the petition.

Here’s why we think Professor Dejean’s petition deserves as much support as possible:

With all the billions and the vast efforts that are now being invested in the reconstruction of education in Haiti, now is the time to solve one fundamental problem that has plagued Haitian schools since the country’s birth. This problem concerns the misuse of language in Haiti’s schools. This is a problem that Haitian governments since the 1980s have been confronting with only limited success to date. So we need to gather as much momentum and public consciousness as possible to address this problem with the necessary efficacy.

Indeed, by all accounts, Haitian schools are still not making optimal use of Haitian children’s native language of Kreyòl. Most school books and most school exams are still in French, a language that the vast majority of Haitians, including the vast majority of Haitian teachers, do not adequately speak and understand. Such a paradoxical and exclusionary practice is a consequence of Haiti’s past as a French slave-based plantation colony and its unjust neo-colonial legacies.

This practice of teaching and testing Kreyòl-speaking children in French goes against pedagogical best practice and scientific results that have accumulated in more than 50 years of research in linguistics and in education. Teaching and testing in a language that the vast majority of Haitians do not speak is one reason why Haiti’s education system has failed most Haitians throughout the country’s history. In turn, this language barrier and the attendant educational failure are at the root of much socio-economic inequity in Haiti.

We thus ask that you take a public stance against such blatant injustice: Please sign Professor Yves Dejean’s petition at and invite friends and colleagues to do so as promptly as possible. Once the petition has collected enough signatures, it will be forwarded to Haiti’s government officials, NGOs, media outlets and other institutions that are trying to usher some of the educational reforms that Haitian children desperately need.

The petition was written in Kreyòl by Professor Dejean, then translated into English and French by Professors Michel DeGraff and Hugues Saint-Fort, respectively. Jean-Pierre Barthélémy designed the website for the petition at

In solidarity for Ayiti cheri,

Professor Michel DeGraff, MIT
Professor Hugues Saint-Fort, City University of New York

Michel DeGraff
MIT Linguistics & Philosophy
77 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge MA 02139

10 thoughts on “Petition on Haitian Kreyòl”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Petition on Haitian Kreyol – Society for Linguistic Anthropology --

  2. Are you implying that Haitian kids are dumber than kids whose first language is Catalan, Swiss dialect, Cebuano or Karanga but have to study books written in the language of the majority (Spanish, German, Tagalog, Shona)?

    For younger kids, immersion works,In Africa, the teacher speaks slowly and explains things in the local language when they have a problem. And the cost of printing all textbooks in the local dialect is huge: remember, even in Haiti there are three local dialects.

    Instead of spending oodles of money to print “new” textbooks in local dialect, if you want to improve education, find a way to give out cheap protein supplements into the villages and given out in school nutrition programs, so the kids brains aren’t damaged by malnutrition.

    and, FYI:
    It is corruption, not language, that is the cause of Haiti’s problems.

  3. Dear colleagues,
    I have read the petition by Yves Dejean, and as a linguist and creolist, I am probably the only “voix discordante” in this apparently unanimous support for Haitian Creole as the sole language of instruction in Haiti.
    Suggesting that the current principal language of instruction (French) is the sole or main culprit for Haiti’s failing education system seems unfair and misguided. There are many examples of successful diglossic situations throughout the world, for example in Switzerland where the majority of the population speaks Swiss German, yet is educated in Standard German, without any apparent problem in students’ success rates. To think that changing the whole educational system to Haitian is going to solve the poor perfomance, low literacy rates, and underfunding of the schools is not very realistic.
    Most Haitian parents WANT their children to learn French in school. Who are we to tell them otherwise, even if we mean well? How likely is such a move to succeed, if it goes against the wishes of a substantial part of the Haitian population? Learning French, in addition to Haitian Creole, gives Haitians access to a major international language, from which most of their vocabulary is derived, and which is part of Haiti’s historical and cultural heritage, whether you like it or not. It also facilitates access to all kinds of exchange programs with French-speaking countries and universities, and should not be seen purely as an instrument of discrimination. In other countries, such as Canada (Quebec), native languages like Inuktitut are used during the first 2 or 3 years of instruction, after which other languages are introduced, such as French and English. Children are perfectly capable of acquiring native-like proficiency in more than one language, and I think well-meaning American linguists should perhaps ask the Haitians themselves if they think French should be eliminated from the education system, or whether a more moderate, mixed approach should be adopted, strengthening the teaching of both Haitian AND French, instead of using French as a scapegoat for the failings of a corrupt and underfunded education system.
    Although I hold the authors and signataries of this petition in high regard (some are colleagues and personal friends), I cannot sign it as it is currently worded, because it is completly one-sided, and apparently does not take into account the wishes and opinions of Haitians themselves, who are, after all, “les principaux intéressés”.
    Patrick-André Mather

  4. Juan Luis Rodriguez

    Dear Nancy Reyes and Patrick-Andre Mather,
    It is a little too soon to forget the lessons of the late Dell Hymes.

  5. The fact is that the status quo, which denies Haitian children access to literacy and at least early education through their first language, Kreyòl, is at best educational malpractice and arguably a crime against humanity, a crime by the way that virtually all the nations of the West Indies are guilty of. See the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    There is of course no doubt that Haitian children can benefit from learning French, as well as English, Spanish, and whatever other languages they might find useful. But to claim that this means that Kreyòl should not be used in schools, and especially that it should not be used for literacy acquisition, is to be oblivious to the mountains of research that have shown that children only need to learn to read once, and that they accomplish this more easily and efficiently (not to mention enjoyably) in their first language, the one they are most in tune with. Learning to read first in Kreyòl will not cut children off from French, or any other language they want to learn.

    After all these centuries of abuse, can we not give these children the benefits of our linguistic and educational research?

  6. Dear colleagues,
    Haiti’s educational reforms of the 1980s and 1990s specifically mention that Kreyol should be used as the language of instruction during the first years of schooling. In addition, Kreyol and French are now both official languages, which is a welcome development. The problem is that the educational reforms have not (yet) been properly implemented, due to lack of funds, awareness, etc.. If they were, then the mixed approach which i mention in my first post would be a reality. The central problem in the Haitian education system, is that there is neither the will nor the funds to properly implement reforms that would (a) ensure that ALL Haitian children have access to free, universal public education and (b) ensure that ALL Haitian children be afforded the possibility to be educated in BOTH official languages (and also in foreign languages like Spanish and English). Trying to eliminate French from the curriculum in itself will achieve nothing.
    Dear Juan Luis Rodriguez: I am a tenured professor of linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico, and have read Dell Hymes. Your point?
    Patrick-André Mather

  7. Pingback: More on Haitian Kreyòl and the education system – Society for Linguistic Anthropology

  8. Celso Alvarez Cáccamo

    I get late to this discussion, but, just a comment: Nancy Reyes’ reference to Catalan is unfortunate. As a matter of fact, Catalonia’s educational system is one of immersion in Catalan. Catalan- and Spanish-speaking children alike (as well as immigrants from other countries) learn mandatorily in Catalan; Spanish is also taught. Spanish is not “the language of the majority” in Catalonia (or Galiza, for that matter). Be as it may, quantitative data about language distribution is only one of the criteria for language policies. The relevant criterium in Catalonia is that Catalan is the historical language of the country.

    As for the Haitian case and the petition, my opinion is that the various arguments given (language distribution, language rights, pedagogical reasons, parents’ attitudes) cannot be discussed in isolation. For example, parents’ preferences for instruction in French (if that’s the case) may be motivated for a quest for social mobility (comparable to the fantasmagoric glamour that English enjoys internationally), but language knowledge in itself may not be empowering for a given population without parallel economic and social empowerment and without the necessary structural economic changes. Also, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other charters deriving from it ensure the right of children to receive education in their native language in order to prevent discrimination; but democratic states have the obligation to set up educational policies oriented to the collective good, and these policies may included teaching of or instruction in other languages. Thirdly, theoretically early instruction in one’s native language may be more effective for acquiring literacy, but without the proper materials this may not be the case; and immersion literacy programs in an L2 have also proven effective. Finally, the different language policies for public education in bilingual (or monolingual!) societies may yield different results as to the hoarding of opportunities (“empowerment”) for various segments and social groups; but, if inserted in a class system (such as is the case), no “democratic” educational policy can challenge the logic of cultural capital and therefore of social classification, and, thus, polemics such as this one may simply mask the power games within the technical, intellectual and political fields that manage Language as such a source of capital.

  9. I’m haitian who raised on that school system, french primary creole secondary; now live in the US. I have been educated in the US school system, and i love to speak and do speak other languages. Yves’s Dejean petition is a brilliant grass root movement that is necessary and commendable for the redevelopment of the Haitian education and the people as a whole. Surely the problem is bigger than just the languages barrier. For example 95% of the Haitian population which is 10.2 million people speak the mother language, Creole and 5% of that speak french whom are the elite. When you have 95% of the population who are not able to comprehending their Doctor, Educators, Economist, Scientist and even the government speaks in a language that the masses don’t understand, it cripples and hinders a country from moving forward. This petition will be hard to get through to a lot of my people because of our pride and lack of education, but this is very important. This is a vicious cycle that cannot continue any longer.

  10. At Prof. Mather, Your approach is not realistic. Besides offering some anecdotal statments about a few multilingual countries, as an academic, you failed to advance any particular systematic position, on how to move the country forward. I did not gather that the petition is advocating the total eradication of French from the Haitian classroom. No one is using French as a scapegoat. I question whether those whom you call colleagues and personal friends are really friends of yours. Because if they were, you would know their position that they are advocating that French be taught as a foreign language. I know this because i have read their work.
    You appear to suggest that unless Haitian students are taught in French, Haiti will not have access to a major international language. You offer no impirical evidence for that position. French is currently an endangered language. Uncontrollable immigration and economic instability is pushing France into the brink. Most kids in France are rapping to Jay-Z songs. I would agree with you if by that statement, you meant English, given that Haiti conduct about 85 percent of its foreign trade with the U.S. and about 10 percent with the D.R., comparing to a shaky 1.5 percent with France (CIA World Report). So, you would be correct if you were to say Haitian students need to master the English language, some spanish and chinese.
    By the way, the majority does not decide the language in which their children receive their education. They only seem to care because French is being used as a weapon against them. I accept that Haiti’s problem is not limited to education only.

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