Saturday, May 29, 2010

On President Aristide's Ph.D. Dissertation by Adrianne Aron

President Aristide's doctoral dissertation, Umoya Wamagama [The Spirit of the Words] studies and elaborates the linguistic relationship between Kreyol and isiZulu, through a methodology that is comparative, descriptive, investigative, analytic, and exegetic. The thesis demonstrates that the African roots of Kreyol are very important for many reasons, not least of which is to help one understand the differences between the French and Haitians in their distinctive interpretations of liberte, egalite, fraternite, and tout moun se moun, in their respective revolutions.

In describing the relationship between isiZulu and Haitian Kreyol, Aristide points out that Ubuntu is the unifying psychological feature—an understanding of Self and Personal well-being as inextricably linked to Collective well-being: "a social love story rooted in brotherhood." In the African-based philosophy of Ubuntu, Ancestor is equated to life, and slavery to death. Ubuntu inspires a collective psychological empowerment, protecting linguistic values as well as Ancestral cultural/religious values. The protection of linguistic values is of special importance in a situation of diglossia, where two languages are spoken but one is considered superior to the other. Both isiZulu and Kreyol have been subjected to that condition.

The thesis contains a lengthy technical discussion of language and linguistics, including a discussion of the slave trade vis a vis its effects on language. To the process of Natural Selection and Artificial Selection, Aristide adds a third: Savage Selection, the violent process of choosing human beings for enslavement.

Before the slave trade began, colonialism in Congo, Zaire, and Angola had already brought about a fragmentation of people and dismemberment of language, with three separate colonial powers imposing their languages on people previously unified by the Kongo language. The slave traffic, lasting over 400 years, greatly escalated the violence to language, producing oppressed language, language attrition, language disorder, language loss, language pathology, aphasia, dysarthria, dysphonia, and source amnesia. Plantation owners mixed their slaves from as many different African cultures as possible, both to divide them politically and to force them to deal with each other in the language of the whites.

Aristide writes, "Thousands of years ago Africans, empowered by Ubuntu, fought for a better quality of life. For healthy-minded people of the twenty-first century, this struggle is still an historic challenge. Both isiZulu and Haitian Kreyol speaking people have demonstrated an exceptional ability to nurture themselves with words of hope, while at the same time work hard to improve the conditions of life…, express[ing] human values through their languages.." While Haitian Kreyol is genetically related to French, the thesis concludes, isiZulu and the Haitian Kreyol are related through an ancestral psychodynamic and theological paradigm rooted in Ubuntu.

By: Adrianne Aron, Haiti Action Committee

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