Monday, July 27, 2015

An Explanation of Language/Yon Eksplikasyon Lang

Ou met jwenn atik sa an Kreyol anba sa ki an angle a.
Language matters, and language can be power. The language I choose to use at any moment in Haiti determines who will and will not understand what I say. Like any power, this can be used for good or for bad. When used to express superiority, manipulate, degrade, suppress or exclude it is unjust; likewise, when used to amplify the voices of the suppressed and outcast it is full of justice and goodness.

When I say language, I mean the particular language of choice, be it English, French, Haitian Creole or Elvish. The issue is not that speaking any one of these languages is a bad thing in and of itself. The issue is about awareness of the privilege being able to speak them, and wisely reflecting on when and how to appropriately use them and NOT exert unjust power over others.

It was to illustrate this point that I chose to write a brief post a couple of weeks ago on racism, the shooting at Charleston's Emmanuel AME Church, and the parallels in Haiti, yet post it only in Haitian Creole (Men jan mwen we'l). #blacklivesmatter #lavinwaenpotan

Many of my non-Creole speaking readers asked for a translation, for which, to their frustration, I only offered Google Translate, which is not great with longer passages. That frustration, I believe, comes from a sense of powerlessness (and of course sadness for missing out on one of my thrilling blog posts). And that's just from one small written piece.

Meanwhile, I found out I have many more Haitian readers than I previously thought, when they shared their appreciation for that post. In that appreciation, I feel a sense of camaraderie, solidarity, and liberation. And that's just from one small written piece.

I do a lot of translating between English and Creole with my work, and I have encountered circumstances where English speakers in meetings speak to cut off my translation so the Haitians in the room cannot understand what is being said. I can understand the need for private conversations, but this manner is inappropriate.

American groups often speak about the desire and need for local engagement, local contribution and local control over things in Haiti. "Why can't Haitians just help themselves?" they say. Choosing to speak so that Haitians cannot understand is asserting ones own power, reminding others that they do not have the same power, thus undermining the "local leadership philosophy" and continuing the status quo of foreign control.

I cannot exclude myself in this critique, though. I am guilty of using my English to exclude someone in my presence from understanding me. Most were simple moments, and often in frustration (not an excuse)--a comment or complaint about someone persistently asking me for a favor, for example. I rightly regret each of these moments.

An important aside: I am not saying that using a language someone cannot understand is always a bad thing, nor is it always meant with bad intent. But the language of choice is connected to a history and context, and that history and context influences the present reality.

There is a big difference between using English around people who only speak Creole and using Creole around people who only speak English. In my experience, the former is almost always about secrecy, power and manipulation. It is using the fact that others cannot speak the same language in order to gain an advantage in the given situation. The latter, however--speaking Creole among those who only speak English--can also be about coping. Coping with the imbalance in power and context through jokes, clarification, and relating.

Fran Quigley reminds us in his book, How Human Rights Can Build Haiti, that French is a language of privilege here as well, where the majority of the population only speaks Creole. This creates an imbalance of power just as between English and Creole speakers (Read this: Teaching In Kreyol). For example, a Haitian may be arrested, rightly or wrongly, and given trial that they cannot understand. French is the language of the government and the more educated (and wealthy) in Haiti, so not knowing the language can be a barrier to justice, state services and even jobs.

Lawyers Brian Concannon (American) and Mario Joseph (Haitian), featured in Quigley's book, are working in Haiti through the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI and IJDH) for better justice in Haiti. Quigley nicely presents the difficulties of navigating a French-based justice system as a Creole-only speaker, the lawsuit against the UN over cholera, and the trail of the 1994 Raboteau massacre. Worth the read if you want to know more about this.

In my personal work, when serving as a translator I strive to translate everything so that all can hear the same message, even if I must summarize or go back several moments to catch up. This is tedious, but I greatly value it's importance. I also now work all written documents and emails in English and Creole, when necessary, so that any audience can read them and have access to them. I keep in mind this simple fact: Creole is an official language in Haiti, English is not. I would be imposing if I only worked in English.

Language matters. The power that comes from speaking a language is intertwined with our economic status, race, nationality and gender. English speaking visitors to Haiti, or any other country, should be aware of the power they hold by virtue of the language they speak, and likewise be aware of the powerlessness that comes from not being able to speak it.

If you come to work in Haiti long term, learn Creole. You will be better for it, as will those you work and live with. (Secret: it's also fun to learn). If you are a short term visitor to Haiti, simply try to learn it. It can be hard without immersion, but that's okay. In my view, simply making an effort to speak the language is a big victory for justice and more balanced relationships.

Lang la enpotan, epi lang ka bay pouvwa. Lang ki mwen chwazi itilize a nenpot ki moman an Ayiti kapab detemine kiyes ka komprann e kiyes pap ka komprann sa map di a. Menm jan nenpot lot pouvwa, nou kapab itilize li pou fe sa ke byen oswa sa ke mal. Le nou chwazi lang pou eksprime siperyorite, manipile, degrade, siprime oubyen eskli li pa jis; pareyman, le nou chwazi lang pou anplifye vwa de moun ki siprime e deche li plen jistis e tout sa ki bon.

Le mwen di lang, mwen vle di lang patikile, tankou Angle, Franse, Kreyol Ayisyen oubyen Elvish. Pwoblem nan se pa pale lang sa yo yo menm. Pwoblem nan se pou konsyans de privilej le'w konn pale lang sa yo, epi pou reflechi avek sajes pou le ak ki jan ou itilize lang yo apwopriye epi pou PA egzesis pouvwa ki pa jis sou tet lot moun yo.

Se pou montre pwen sa ke mwen te deside ekri yon ti atik sou bagay rasis, sa ki tire nan legliz Charleston, epi sa li gen pou Ayiti, men pou ekri'l selman an Kreyol Ayisyen (Men jan mwen we'l). #blacklivesmatter #lavinwaenpotan

Gen plizye moun ki pa pale Kreyol ki te mande'm pou tradiksyon. Pou yo, mwen te ofri Google Translate selman, ki pa vreman bon avek pawol pi long. Sa fristre yo anpil. Fristrasyon sa, mwen kwe, soti nan sans enpwisans (epi tristes paske yo pap ka li yon lot atik mwen ki vreman interesan). Epi sa jus apre yon ti bagay ki ekri a.

Pandan se tan, mwen te jwenn plis Ayisyen ki li blog mwen a pase jan mwen konnen anvan, apre yo te pateje apresyasyon pou sa'm te ekri a. Nan apresyasyon sa, mwen santi kamaradri, solidarite, epi liberasyon. Epi sa jus apre yon ti bagay ki ekri a.

Nan travay mwen, mwen tradwi anpil antre Angle e Kreyol, epi pa fwa mwen jwenn moman le moun ki pale Angle nan reyinyon yo entewonp sa map tradwi a pou Ayisyen yo pa ka komprann sa yap di. Mwen ka komprann konvesasyon prive, men kon sa li pa apropriye.

An plis, gwoup etranje yo pale anpil de jan nou bezwen angajman lokal, kontribisyon lokal epi kontwol lokal an Ayiti. "Pou ki sa Ayisyen yo pa ka ede tet yo?" yo di. Depi nou chwazi pale jan Ayisyen pa ka komprann, nap montre pouvwa nou sou yo, nap fe lot moun yo sonje ke yo pap gen menm pouvwa, epi nap mine filosofi lokal epi nou selman kontinye sa kap fet la avek kontwol etranje yo.

Mwen pap ka eskli tet mwen nan kritik sa. Mwen koupab de itilize Angle mwen pou eskli lot moun pou komprann nan presans mwen. Le sa yo se sitiyasyon senp, epi se avek fristrasyon mwen dil (men se pa yon eskiz)--yon ti mo oubyen plent de yon moun ka mande'm yon bagay, pa egzanp. Mwen regret chak moman sa yo. Map fe efo pou pa fe sa anko.

Yon ti not enpotan: Mwen pap di ke le nou itilize yon lang ki yon lot moun pa ka komprann se yon bagay ke toujou mal chak fwa, epi li ka posib moun pa vle fe yon bagay ki mal l yo pale konn sa. Men lang nou chwazi li konekte avek yon istwa e konteks, epi istwa e konteks sa ap enfliyanse reyalite jounnen joudia.

Gen yon gran diferans antre le nou itilize Angle antre moun kap pale Kreyol selman epi le nou itilize Kreyol antre moun kap pale Angle selman. Nan eksperyans mwen an, primye a se pou kenbe sekre, pouvwa epi manipilasyon. Se pou itilize konesans ke lot moun pap ka komprann pou pwofi yon avantaj nan sitiyasyon an. Dezyem lan--pale Kreyol antre moun ki pale Angle selman--se pou ede nou kanpe an fas sitiyasyon an. Pou kanpe an fas dezekilib pouvwa e konteks avek blag, klarifikasyon epi rapo.

Fran Quigley fe nou sonje nan liv li, How Human Rights Can Build Haiti, ke Franse se yon lang nan privilej an Ayiti, kote majorite peyizan yo pale Kreyol selman. Sa ka kreye pouvwa dezekilibre menm jan antre moun kap pale Angle e moun kap pale Kreyol (Li sa: Teaching In Kreyol). Pa egzanp, yon Aysiyen ka vin arete, avek oubyen san rezon, epi yo ka gen yon jijman yo pap ka komprann. Franse se lang gouvenman epi moun ki edike (e rich) an Ayiti, donk depi ou pa konn lang Franse a ou ka gen pwoblem pou travay, jistis, e akse nan sevis leta.

Avoka Brian Concannon (Ameriken) e Avoka Mario Joseph (Ayisyen), ki andan liv Quigley a, ap travay an Ayiti avek Bureau des Avocats Internationeax (BAI and IJDH) pou pi bon jistis an Ayiti. Quigley presante travay yo byen avek difikilte pou navige yon sistem jistis ki an Franse si'w pale Kreyol selman, pwose kont UN pou Kolera, epi jijman pou masak Raboteau nan ane 1994.

Nan travay pam nan, le'm fe travay pou tradikte mwen eseye tradwi tout bagay net pou tout moun ka tande men pawol, menm si'm bezwen bay rezime oubyen retounnen pou kek moman pou trawui sa ki pase a. Li konn fatigan, men li vreman enpotan. Kounyea, mwen travay an Angle e Kreyol pou tout email e dokiman ki ekri a, jan ke nesese, pou nenpot moun kabap li travay mwen e jwenn akse a yo. Pa bliye: Kreyol se yon lang ofisyel an Ayiti, men pa Angle. Se yon inpozisyon si'm travay an Angle selman.

Lang la enpotan. Pouvwa ki lang yo bay nou li konekte avek ekonomi nou, ras nou, nasyonalite nou, epi seks nou. Moun ki pale Angle kap vizite Ayiti, ou nenpot lot peyi, dwe konnen pouvwa yo kenbe gras a lang ki yo pale, epi menm jan a tou enpwisans ki moun genyen ki pa ka pale'l.

Si'w vin travay Ayiti pou anpil tan, fok ou aprann Kreyol. Ou pral pi bon pou li, menm jan tout lot moun bo kote'w pral pi bon. (Yon ti sekre: li yon plezi pou aprann). Si'w pral vizite Ayiti pou yon ti tan, selman eseye aprann li. Li kapab difisil san imesyon, men sa pa anyen. Jan mwen we'l, selman yon efo pou pale lang la se yon gran viktwa pou jistis epi relasyon pi ekilibre.

No comments:

Post a Comment