By Ardain Isma
Languages do not evolve without sustainable and genuine efforts by their proponents. Creole is no different, and, by all accounts, its evolution over the last 200-plus years has been steady and awesomely healthy. Spoken by over 20 million people worldwide—from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea—it is one of the most fascinated form of communication. Stemmed from French and variances of African dialects, its beauty, however, is too often ignored and looked down. Those at the top echelon of society, who use language as just another form of domination, usually consider Creole as a bastard vernacular not fit for expressing words of wisdom.
So, Critique de la Francophonie is the latest rebottle in a tedious and protracted struggle to elevate Creole to the same footage of other languages—mainly European languages—long considered as “mainstream” forms of communication. Written by Tontongi, a well known figure in the Creolophone debate, Critique de la Francophonie is an in-depth analysis used here as an intellectual and sociological plea on behalf of millions—noticeably Haitians—whose Creole is their only means of communication.
In Critique de la Francophonie, the author goes beyond the obviously simplistic form of domination in the French-Creole relationship. The author attempts to unveil the true aim behind those in the Antilles who claim to be part of the grand Francophone family. To Tontongi, the implicit acceptation of the Francophone terminology does not amount to a simple meaning of individuals who can express themselves in French in oral and written forms. It is rather a “linguistic and cultural entity participating in a project [designed to establish] a cultural and geostrategic hegemony.” Tontongi goes on to say that this unspoken aim of La Francophonie means an adherence to the French mission of “civilizing [the new world] through neocolonialism. But this also exposes nostalgia for France past glory, the faith in a ‘dominant’ culture and an [arrogant] alternative to the Creolophone culture.
As far as Haiti is concerned, Tontongi directly questions the notion of a Francophone country. The author muses about an awkward paradox: it is hard to imagine a Francophone country where only ten percent of its population can express formally in French. What is even more paradoxical is that ninety-five percent of Haitian writers write [and publish exclusively] in French while Creole is their mother tongue and their daily language of use.
Needless to say that no tangible efforts have been made by State institutions to bridge the gap or do away completely with this unfair equilibrium, this unacceptable continuum: French, language of dominance; Creole, dominated language.
In chapter 2, the author goes eloquently in-depth in taking the contre-pied of two well-known writers in the Creole debate, namely Edouard Glissant from Martinique and René Depestre from Haiti. Here, their hypocrisy is greatly exposed. In Glissant’s theory of Creolisation, the emphasis is the acknowledgement and the empowerment of the African component in both language and culture of the former French Antilles societies. However, Glissant’s eloquence is sadly clouted for his refusal to display the true dichotomy between Creole, authentic language of the Antilles population and French, symbol of an ugly past fore-grounded in slavery, outright exploitation and despicable humiliation.
In Depestre, Tontongi discovers an arrogance that is quite unequivocal. As opposed to his Antilles counterpart, he never hides his nonchalantly true feeling toward his mother tongue now being reduced to a simple role of support—a decorative role—in his newfound acceptance in the French literary milieu. “For every French word I use, Creole plays an intimate supportive role,” affirms Depestre shamelessly.
In all, Critique de la Francophonie is an impressive manuscript that a reader must keep in his/her private collection of pertinent documents tackling the Caribbean Creolophone dilemma. Far from seeking a rapprochement between French and Creole, this book presents an objective view of the two distinct languages and why Creole authenticity MUST be preserved. Tontongi is also poet, literary critic and essayist. He is Haitian, but lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts.
Note: Ardain Isma, Ph.D teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University. He is the editor in chief for CSMS Magazine. He lives and works in Saint Augustine, Florida. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.
Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon.com or Amazon.fr and other online bookstores.