is so widespread that it is found even among the most prominent and progressive
Creole-speaking intellectuals from the Caribbean (though see caveats in notes 1,
9, and 16). This is shown in the textual samples in (7), to be expanded below:10
[We] would not have been able to write in Creole. . . . I don’t even know if this is conceivable
. . . One aspect of Martinique’s cultural backwardness is the [expressive] level of its
Creole language, . . . which level is very low . . . The Creole language has remained . . . in
a stage of immediacy, unable to express abstract ideas. (Césaire 1978:x–xi)
The problem [with Creole] is . . . dealing with a language in which you don’t think abstractly.
(Raphaël Confiant as quoted in Mooney 2000)
But [HC] is not a language that can be used for basic science or that can be used in the
advancement of knowledge. (Métellus 1997:18)
These quotes from influential Creole-speakers remind me a conversation I had with a young man from North Africa. He was a native Berber speaker, but he had gone to a French-speaking school. (He may have also spoken Arabic; I can't remember.) Anyway, he said something that really stuck in my mind: "I don't feel comfortable socializing casually in French, but I can't carry on an intellectual discussion in Berber." He wasn't implying that nobody
could carry on an intellectual discussion in Berber, any more than he was implying that nobody could socialize casually in French. But for him, each of the languages had a familiar context: Berber was for home and family and friends, and French was for academic and intellectual activities. In each case, his vocabulary was adapted to the task. His French was fine, but somewhat formal in the way that many people's L2s are.
Something similar allegedly is seen among French immersion school graduates in Canada (outside of Quebec). They speak a reasonable academic French after many years of doing all their studies in French, and they pick up academic English easily enough in an English-speaking society. But I've frequently heard it observed that many of them find it somewhat awkward to socialize in French.
And on the flip side, my "home" French is vastly stronger than my academic French. I can sing children's songs and politely tell monolingual Quebecois 3-year-olds, "OK, even if my sons' toy is the grand méchant
, we still don't throw toys." Dealing with home and children in French is far more comfortable for me than discussing science fiction and politics. Again, this is obviously no weakness in the French language, but rather a weakness in me.
So when I read that some influential Haitian Creole speakers feel uncomfortable thinking abstractly in that language, or say that it's ill-suited for science, this may not ultimately be a complaint about the limitations of a large and successful creole. It may be the frustration of a bilingual speaker who uses certain languages in certain contexts. Berber is certainly no creole (it's a branch of Afro-Asiatic, which includes ancient Egyptian, Arabic and Hebrew), but if you've never gone to school in Berber, or read literature in Berber, or done mathematics or biology in Berber, then you may not feel comfortable using Berber for those subjects.
You see the same thing with Latin in medieval Europe, or with Middle Egyptian for a large chunk of Egyptian history. People socialized and lived in a local vernacular, but when they had intellectual work to do, they turned towards a "dead" language, one which existed mostly as the L2 of an educated elite. Italian was often considered to be a language ill-suited to serious literature until Dante demonstrated otherwise. Haitian Creole, perhaps, is just awaiting its Dante.
So even if a language has a rich and expressive grammar (whatever that might mean), it doesn't necessarily imply that even sympathetic native speakers will feel comfortable using it for intellectual or academic tasks. In fact, I sometimes suspect that if you take a broad look at human history, the word "intellectual" most typically means, "Somebody who reads and writes a more important L2, one which provides access to literature, and to international society." For a great many people, the languages of literature and science have always been what the Haitian Creole speakers in that article referred to as a lang achte
—a language "purchased" via hard work, and limited to an elite.