Welcome to ELAT’s blog – Five Questions. We use this space to feature interviews on different topics related to endangered languages in our city. Our first series is with language learners − individuals dedicated to learning an endangered language or another small, minority language. Participants answer the same five questions about their experiences. Our most recent interview is with Sari Jn-Francois who studies Kwéyòl (St. Lucian Creole). Our previous interviews were with learners of Scots Gaelic and Karaim.
What can you tell us about the language are you studying?
Kwéyòl (St. Lucian Creole) is a language of St. Lucia, an island nation in the East Caribean. Kwéyòl has been spoken in St. Lucia for centuries, beginning with Africans who were forcibly brought to the island to work as slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries and their descendants. The grammatical structure of Kwéyòl is significantly influenced by West African languages, while its vocabulary is based predominantly on French due to contact with French slaveholders/settlers. Kwéyòl is part of a larger grouping of Lesser Antillean Creole French widely spoken in Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe, and also among a small number of remaining speakers in parts of Trinidad and Grenada. Lesser Antillean Creole French is in turn part of a larger family of French-lexifier Creoles, including for example, the Creole languages spoken in Haiti, Louisiana, French Guiana, Seychelles and Mauritius.
Although widely spoken in St. Lucia, Kwéyòl does not have official language status alongside English. The number of monolingual Kwéyòl speakers is said to have declined after 1945, as improvements in road networks and communication technology helped English to spread throughout the island (St. Hilaire 2011, 54). Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards Kwéyòl also increased during this period and by the late 1960s it was noted that Kwéyòl was in decline while English use was growing, and some were predicting the impending death of the language (St. Hilaire 2007, 62). However, various language revitalization efforts beginning in the 1970s and 1980s and continuing up to today have been critical in keeping Kwéyòl alive and creating a sense of pride around the language. These efforts included the creation of an orthography in 1981.
Why did you choose to study this language?
Kwéyòl is my parents’ first language, so I heard it at times growing up and always had an interest in it. In 2005 I stayed in Martinique for a few months where I got more exposure to the language. My desire to learn Kwéyòl really deepened at that point and it’s kind of been an obsession for me since then.
What is your ultimate goal?
Ultimately I would like to be fluent in Kwéyòl and then be able to help others learn the language. I also want to explore the use of the language as a tool for building community (e.g. intergenerationally) and challenging the Eurocentric and racist ideologies that underlie the far too common belief that Kwéyòl is nothing more than a form of “broken” or inferior French.
What are your study tools?
Since there are many more resources for Haitian Creole, I’ve spent a lot more time trying to learn Haitian Creole and then bring over elements that are similar between the two languages to help with my Kwéyòl learning. I’ve taken a few Haitian Creole classes (one in Toronto and one in Haiti), used various texts, primarily Pawòl Lakay (Léger 2011), and accessed lessons available online through Toronto Public Library (e.g. Mango Languages resources).
For St. Lucian Kwéyòl specifically I’ve used the following resources:
• Kwéyòl Dictionary. Published by the Ministry of Education of St. Lucia. 2001.
• Tèstèman Nèf-la épi an posyòn an liv Samz-la. (The New Testament and selected psalms in St. Lucian Creole). This is the largest collection of text I know of in Kwéyòl at this time. Both the text and audio are available online, so I find this resource very helpful for learning correct pronunciation and practising listening.
• A Visitor’s Guide to St. Lucia Patois by Mary Toynbee. 1969.
• Bonjou Sent Lisi by Michael Walker. Published 2001 and 2011.
• Dictionary of St. Lucian Creole by Jones E. Mondesir. 1992.
• Speaking with my parents or anyone else who is patient enough to speak to me in Kwéyòl!
Some would say that your time would be better spent learning a large, global language. Why do you choose to study a small, endangered language?
At times I have decided to set aside Kwéyòl and focus on studying something more “practical” like French or Spanish. Yet something always draws me back to Kwéyòl and I feel compelled to do my small part to help keep the language alive. Kwéyòl for me represents a link to so many things – a link to Africa, embedded in the structure of the language; a link to generations of strong women and men who survived ongoing oppression and in the midst of this created and passed down this powerful language that gave voice to their existence. And for me personally, the language has been a link to a community of other Creolophones and Creolophiles, locally and around the world, that has enriched my life in countless ways.
Léger, Frenand. 2001. Pawòl Lakay: Haitian-Creole Language and Culture for Beginners and Intermediate Learners. Coconut Creek, Florida: Educa Vision Press.
St-Hilaire, Aonghas. 2007. “Postcolonialism, identity, and the French language in St Lucia.” New West Indian Guide, 81(1&2), 55-78.
St-Hilaire, Aonghas. 2001. Kwéyòl in postcolonial Saint Lucia : globalization, language planning, and national development. John Benjamins.