(Vèsyon kreyòl la pi ba la a)

Linguistic discrimination may be the most insidious tool of hegemony. In my native country of Haiti, French, which is fluently spoken by no more than 5 percent of the population, is fetishized by intellectual and political authorities who often devalorize the national language, Kreyòl. Yet Kreyòl is the only language that can give access to quality education, equal opportunity, and justice for all in Haiti. The inclusion of languages that all can understand is a necessary—though not sufficient—condition for justice. And education, like justice, must include the systematic use of students’ native languages, especially the native languages of those who, like the impoverished in Haiti, have been excluded and disenfranchised for centuries by arbitrary social hierarchies cemented by linguistic discrimination.

Because of the deep entrenchment of French hegemony in Haitian society, the population’s fundamental linguistic (i.e., human) rights are violated every day, even by human rights activists and self-proclaimed “decolonial” intellectuals, alongside local and international institutions like the UN and the World Bank. These stakeholders qua gatekeepers blissfully participate in the oxymoronic practice of talking about “education for all” and “human rights” in the very languages (French or English) that double as brutal tools for narrowly restricting access to education and for violating the human rights of the majority. These institutions are complicit in linguistic discrimination, even as they make eloquent “loud and clear” pleas for social justice and progressive, inclusive education.

It is important to explicitly embed miseducation practices in Haitian schools within the larger theater of (geo-)politics in the Global South (DeGraff 2020). These politics of (mis)education are particularly relevant in the #BlackLivesMatter era, and all the more so 2021, as France celebrates the “Year of Napoléon” while conveniently forgetting that Napoléon, an icon of white supremacy, is the only historical figure to reestablish slavery. Indeed, after reinstating slavery in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1802, Napoléon tried—but failed—to do the same in Haiti. His failure was made apparent by the success of the Haitian Revolution, which, in turn, led to Haiti’s independence in 1804. It is a sad irony that French is so hegemonic in Haiti, the country that started the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the eighteenth century, long before the hashtag!

Official French discourse also likes to forget that France still enjoys the material benefits of the “greatest heist in history,” when France stole more than US$20 billion from Haiti through gunboat diplomacy in the nineteenth century. According to economists like Thomas Piketty, such theft is one of the root causes of Haiti’s extraordinary misery today—from “la Perle des Antilles” to the so-called “poorest [read “most impoverished”] country in the Western Hemisphere.” This impoverishment process—from Columbus’s so-called discovery to the “Code Noir” to French colonization to the US occupation and various other European and North American interventions—also operates through the fetishization of French and “Francophonie,” and the concomitant exclusion and devalorization of Kreyòl. The most striking aspect of this Francophile hegemony is that, though our ancestors were forced to pay for our independence with blood, sweat, and tears (plus gold francs for an “indemnity” that included the price of their very own bodies!), it is still France, via its presidents, its consultants, and its neocolonial tentacles (e.g., the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie), that helps block the use of our national language in Haiti.

A recent example of these recurrent anti-Kreyòl campaigns is the Cadre d’orientation curriculaire pour le système éducatif haïtien [Curricular framework for the Haitian educational system], circulated via email by Haiti’s Ministry of Education in December 2020. This document forbids the use of Kreyòl as the language of instruction starting in the 5th grade of elementary school, even though the document recognizes that most teachers are fluent in Kreyòl only, and that most students won’t, in all likelihood, be fluent in French before reaching the 9th grade. According to the prescriptions in that document, even the teaching of Kreyòl as a subject matter must be conducted in French from 5th grade and beyond. So, not only do these curricular prescriptions violate children’s rights to use their native language, they also constitute a recipe for massive academic failure. These guidelines were reportedly developed by Haiti’s Ministry of Education in collaboration with Agence Française de Développementthe French public agency for international "development" projects.

Such state-sponsored Francophile hegemony has exacted a very heavy price on the well-being of the Haitian population, starting with school children. Many schoolchildren are still being physically and psychologically punished for speaking their native language at school. Francophile hegemony is also a barrier to justice in Haitian courts, where Kreyòl-speaking defendants are administered injustice by judges, prosecutors, and attorneys who hold court proceedings in a language that most people in the courts do not understand, including the accused.

So, with all this in mind, what should justice sound like in Haiti—and in the Global South more broadly? In Haiti, since the early nineteenth century, Général Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Général Étienne Élie Gérin exhorted their contemporaries to valorize Kreyòl as “lang a nou” [“our own language”], and to use it as a means of intellectual emancipation. It took almost two centuries—until 1987—for Dessalines’s dream to become enshrined in Haitian law—namely, in Article 5 of the Haitian Constitution, which now states that Haiti has two official languages: Kreyòl and French, with Kreyòl as “the sole language that truly unites all Haitians.” But, in spite of this legal victory for the people, Haiti's Francophile elites keep excluding the use of Kreyòl in sectors where knowledge and power are created and transmitted.

The use of scientific and political arguments in defense of Kreyòl speakers is at the core of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, where we promote Haiti’s national language, active-learning pedagogy, and technology writ large as the three pillars for universal access to quality education in Haiti. These three pillars are enlisted as antidotes to the age-old tradition of rote learning and to the mistaken belief that Creole languages cannot express scientific and other complex concepts. The rationale and objectives of the MIT-Haiti Initiative are germane to Haiti’s centuries-old fight for freedom from racial injustice.

As a Haitian linguist, my answer to the question “What does justice sound like?” is that justice, like education, must be carried out in languages that each and every one of us can understand. On my Twitter feed, I posted a series of clips that feature children from Lekòl Kominotè Matènwa in La Gonâve, Haiti, singing a Kreyòl alphabet song, children singing and dancing mathematics in Kreyòl, and children who tell us why they prefer Kreyòl over French as language of instruction. These voices offer a sample of what justice should sound like, across Haiti and throughout the Global South, in a world that, ideally, would respect the human rights of every child, a world where “tout moun se moun”—that is, a world where everyone's human rights, including their linguistic rights, are granted equal respect.

Nan ki lang lajistis dwe pale ?

Diskriminasyon lengwistik se youn nan pi gwo zouti pou ejemoni vale teren. Ann Ayiti (peyi natif natal mwen), pa gen plis pase 5 pou san moun nan popilasyon an ki pale franse byen. E poutan, entèlektyèl yo ak otorite politik yo souvan ap denigre kreyòl (lang nasyonal la) pandan y ap fè franse pase pou sa li pa ye. Kreyòl se sèl lang ki ka pèmèt tout moun ann Ayiti jwenn yon bon edikasyon ansanm ak aksè a opòtinite ak lajistis. Itilizasyon yon lang tout moun konprann se yon nesesite — menm si sa pa kont — pou bay moun espwa nan lajistis. Epi edikasyon, tankou lajistis, dwe sèvi ak bon jan metòd ki entegre lang manman popilasyon an, sitou lang manman moun yo te voye jete an ba nèt nan sosyete a. Diskriminasyon lengwistik se youn nan zam ki toujou ap simante prejije nan yerachi sosyal.

Pou jan lang franse a chita kò l kòm sèl kòk chante nan sosyete a, se chak jou dirijan yo ap pase dwa lengwistik popilasyon an (sa vle di dwa moun) an ba pye. Ata militan k ap defann dwa moun e ki deklare tèt yo kòm « entèlektyèl dekolonyal », ata gran enstitisyon lokal ak entènasyonal tankou UNESCO ak Bank Mondyal ap pile dwa fondal natal sa a nan peyi Sid yo. Aktè sa yo toujou ap patisipe nan pratik lengwistik ki depaman ak misyon yo konsènan « divèsite lengwistik » ak « edikasyon pou tout moun ». Pandan y ap preche divèsite ak egalite, yo pa sèvi ak lang majorite popilasyon an pou fasilite enklizyon ak patisipasyon y ap preche a.

Aktè sa yo konplis nan diskriminasyon lengwistik, menm si yo gen bèl diskou « byen fò epi byen klè » (« Loud and Clear ») konsènan edikasyon ak jistis « pou tout moun ».

Li enpòtan pou nou konprann move pratik lekòl tèt an ba ann Ayiti nan kontèks politik e jeyo politik ki konsène tout peyi Sid yo (DeGraff, 2020). Kontèks sa a enpòtan anpil, sitou nan epòk #BlackLivesMatter [#LaviMounNwaKonte]. Mete sou sa, 2021 se lè Lafrans ap selebre « Ane Napoléon » pandan yo genlè bliye Napoléon se yon gwo aktè nan istorik dominasyon rasis. Wi, Napoléon se sèl figi nan istwa monn lan ki te retounen ak sistèm esklavaj la apre yo te kaba sistèm sa a. Dayè, aprè Napoléon fè sistèm esklavaj la retounen nan zile Matinik ak Gwadloup nan lane 1802, li te eseye fè menm bagay la ann Ayiti, men, li echwe. Echèk sa a se youn nan rezilta Revolisyon Ayiti a. Se Revolisyon sa a ki te vin bay Ayiti endepandans li an 1804. Se yon istwa ki tris pou jan lang franse a (ansanm ak prejije sou koulè po !) toujou ap wonje Ayiti jounen jodi a — yon peyi ki te lanse mouvman anti rasis #BlackLivesMatter nan 18yèm syèk la, byen lontan anvan medya sosyal ak achtag te egziste !

Diskou ofisyèl Lafrans montre leta franse pa sou wout pou l rekonèt li fè youn nan pi gwo dappiyanp nan listwa limanite. Dappiyanp sa a se lè Lafrans, nan 19yèm syèk la, te fòse Ayiti bay 20 milya dola vèt an ba menas kout kanon. Daprè kèk ekonomis tankou Thomas Piketty, vòl sa a se youn nan kòz fondal natal mizè san parèy Ayiti jounen jodi a. Bay kou, bliye ; pote mak, sonje. Wi, fòk nou sonje se blan franse sa yo ki te rele Ayiti « Perle des Antilles » epi jodi a se yo menm tou k ap rele Ayiti « peyi ki pi pòv nan emisfè oksidantal la ». Pwosesis pou rann nou « pi pòv » sa a te tanmen ak yon dekouvèt tèt chat Kristòf Kolon, pase nan « Kòd Nwa », pase nan kolonizasyon blan franse, pase nan lokipasyon blan meriken, pase nan divès lòt entèvansyon blan ewopeyen ak ameriken, rive nan tout ajisman politik ki toujou ap anpeche peyi a dekole nan 21yèm syèk la. Jounen jodi a, pwosesis apovrisman sa a sèvi ak frankofoni pou valorizasyon frankofòl lang franse k ap mete kreyòl la sou kote. Lè n ap analize prejije anti kreyòl moun sa yo ki damou franse ann Ayiti, sa ki pi dwòl se lè n konsidere zansèt nou yo ki te fè san yo, fyèl yo ak dlo nan je yo koule pou yo jwenn libète. Mete sou sa, yo te peye kantite lajan bay Lafrans pou « dèt endepandans » — yon swadizan « dèt » ki te gen pri pwòp tèt yo (« tèt nèg ! ») ladan. Enben, gade ki jan se menm Lafrans sa a, avèk prezidan li yo, konsiltan li yo ak tout zam neyo kolonyal li yo (egzanp : Òganizasyon Entènasyonal Frankofoni ak Ajans Inivèsitè Frankofoni), ki la pou mete baboukèt sou lang nasyonal nou ann Ayiti.

Youn nan egzanp kanpay k ap plede fèt kont lang kreyòl la se « Cadre d’orientation curriculaire pour le système éducatif haïtien — Haiti 2054 ». Ministè Edikasyon Nasyonal ann Ayiti te pibliye dokiman sa a nan imel nan mwa desanm 2020. Dokiman sa a entèdi itilizasyon lang kreyòl kòm zouti ansèyman depi nan 5yèm ane fondamantal. E poutan, daprè menm dokiman sa a, kreyòl se sèl lang pifò anseyan yo pale fen e byen. Epi, tou, dokiman an rekonèt se pifò elèv yo ki p ap rive maton nan pale franse anvan 9yèm ane fondamantal. Daprè sa dokiman sila mande, menm kou kreyòl yo ta dwe fèt nan lang franse depi nan 5yèm ane fondamantal ! Ki donk, « Kad oryantasyon kourikoulòm » sa a pa sèlman derespekte dwa ti moun yo genyen pou yo sèvi ak lang manman a yo, men, dokiman sa a tounen yon pongongon k ap koze echèk anpil ti moun. Sanble se Ministè Edikasyon Nasyonal ann Ayiti ansanm ak Ajans Lafrans pou Devlopman ki ekri dokiman sa a. Ajans Lafrans sa a se yon ajans piblik ki responsab pwojè « devlopman » entènasyonal pou peyi Lafrans. Èske sa se devlòpman vre ?

Pouvwa ejemonik Lafrans sa a, nan kòkòday ak leta ayisyen, vin fè popilasyon an pèdi yon gwo pati nan byennèt li, kòmanse sou elèv lekòl yo. Yo pini anpil elèv lekòl (e pafwa yo menm kale yo !) lè y ap pale lang manman yo nan lekòl la. Epi, tou, kalite diskriminasyon anti kreyòl sa yo se yon obstak malouk k ap anpeche lajistis tabli nan tribinal kote jij, komisè ak avoka ap kreye plis enjistis toujou nan sèvi ak yon lang ke majorite moun ki nan tribinal yo pa konprann, ata akize yo.

Ki donk, avèk tout sa nou sot pale nan atik sa a, nan ki lang lajistis nan peyi d Ayiti ak nan tout lòt peyi ta dwe pale ? Nan peyi d Ayiti, depi nan kòmansman 19yèm syèk la, Jeneral Jean Jacques Dessalines ak Jeneral Etienne Élie Gérin te ankouraje moun nan epòk sa a bay lang kreyòl la valè kòm « lang a nou » epi itilize li tankou zouti pou liberasyon an ba chenn mantal. Fòk nou te tann prèske 2 syèk, jis nan lane 1987, pou rèv Dessalines lan vin byen chita nan lwa peyi a, nan Atik 5 nan Konstitisyon 1987 la. Atik sa a deklare dezòmè Ayiti gen 2 lang ofisyèl — kreyòl ak franse — epi kreyòl la se « sèl lang ki simante tout Ayisyen ansanm ». Men, malgre viktwa legal sa a pou pèp la, ejemoni Lafrans nan peyi d Ayiti kontinye ap mete lang kreyòl la sou kote, espesyalman nan aktivite kote plim e ank frankofil yo ap kreye materyèl pou transmèt konesans ak pouvwa.

Se agiman syantifik e politik pou defann moun ki pale kreyòl yo ki nan nannan Inisyativ MIT-Ayiti a, ki chita sou twa wòch dife : lang peyi d Ayiti, pedagoji pou aprantisaj aktif ansanm ak teknoloji nan yon sans ki laj. Sa se twa wòch dife ki pou ede tout moun jwenn aksè a edikasyon bon kalite nan peyi d Ayiti. Nou prezante twa wòch dife sa yo tankou remèd kont tradisyon bat pa kè depi digdantan ak kwayans ki pa kanpe sou anyen ki fè konprann lang kreyòl pa ka pale sou konsèp lasyans ak lòt konsèp ki konplike. Agimantè ak objektif Inisyativ MIT-Ayiti se pwolonjman konba k ap mennen depi syèk pou peyi d Ayiti sòti an ba enjistis rasis.

Kòm lengwis ayisyen, ki jan pou m reponn kesyon sa a : « Nan ki lang lajistis dwe pale ? ». Enben, lajistis, menm jan ak edikasyon, dwe pale nan lang chak grenn nan nou ka konprann. Sou kont Twitter mwen, mwen poste yon seri videyo kote ti moun nan Lekòl Kominotè Matènwa nan Lagonav, Ayiti, ap chante alfabè lang kreyòl la, kote ti moun yo ap chante epi danse pandan y ap fè matematik an kreyòl, kote ti moun yo ap esplike pou ki sa yo pito kreyòl pase franse kòm zouti pou ansèyman ak aprantisaj. Vwa ti moun sa yo se yon bèl egzanp pou lajistis. Wi, lajistis, menm jan ak edikasyon, ta dwe pale nan lang manman pèp la. Sa se youn nan engredyan ki nesesè pou kreyasyon sosyete ki respekte dwa chak moun jan sa dwe ye, sosyete kote « tout moun se moun » — ki vle di sosyete ki respekte dwa chak moun menm jan, san bliye dwa lengwistik yo.


I would like to thank Guynemer Cétoute, Peterson Duprévil, Amah Edoh, Kate Herman, Osée Jorsley Morvan, Jacques Pierre, Hugues Saint-Fort, Liliane Umubyeyi and the editors and anonymous reviewers of the journal for their help in preparing, revising and publishing this article. Of course, I alone am responsible for the opinions and for any flaws in the article.

M ap remèsye Guynemer Cétoute, Peterson Duprévil, Amah Edoh, Kate Herman, Osée Jorsley Morvan, Jacques Pierre, Hugues Saint-Fort, Liliane Umubyeyi ak ekip editè jounal la pou èd yo ban mwen nan preparasyon, editing ak piblikasyon atik la. Men, opinyon ki nan atik la ansanm ak nenpòt ki erè mwen ta fè nan analiz mwen pa angaje youn nan kòlèg sa yo.


DeGraff, Michel. 2020. “The Politics of Education in Post-Colonies: Kreyòl in Haiti as a Case Study of Language as Technology for Power and Liberation.” Journal of Post-Colonial Linguistics 3:89–125.

DeGraff, Michel. 2021. « Rèv Yves Dejean, rèv mwen, rèv ou, rèv nou : ‘… pou solèy ledikasyon rive klere an kreyòl…’ ». Nan liv Renauld Govain edite, Langues créoles : Description, analyse, didactisation et automatisation (Presses universitaires de Méditerranée), 177–201.