Haitian Immigrants in Black America: A Sociological and Sociolinguistic Portrait

By Fiore Zéphir | Go to book overview

5
Language and Ethnicity in the Haitian Immigrant Context

Madichon ou bay chen se li ki rive manman ou (The bad luck you wish a dog gets back on your mother. Haitian proverb.)

Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.


GENERAL THEORIES OF LANGUAGE AND ETHNICITY

The role of language in the construction of ethnicity and nationalism has for many years been the object of study for both sociolinguists and language sociologists, as well as for social psychologists who have produced an important body of literature on the subject.1 Perhaps the most authoritative scholar of language and ethnicity is Joshua Fishman, who asserts, in his 1989 volume Language and Ethnicity in Minority Sociolinguistic Perspectives, which represents a collection of most of his significant papers written on that subject since 1972, that it has been the "underlying theme" in his work for most of his professional life (p. 1). Fishman's contribution to the field is ceremoniously recognized by Dow ( 1991) when he writes in his introduction to the second volume Language and Ethnicity produced as a Focusschrift in his honor: " Fishman has been and still is one of the most profound and productive academicians to deal with the study of ethnicity, and he is a passionate scholar of language as perhaps the most significant marker of ethnicity." Indeed, Fishman ( 1983: 128) argues that ethnicity is fundamental to peoples' lives because "it assists individuals with the existential question of 'Who am I?' and 'What is special about me?' by contextualizing these questions in terms of putative ancestoral origins and characteristics." These questions, he goes on to say, "are therefore illuminated in terms of 'Who are my own kind of people'?" In short, for Fishman ( 1989: 216), "ethnicity is 'peopleness.'"

Additionally, the renowned scholar ( 1989: 16) contends that language is a dimension of ethnicity that is considered almost sacred, and that it is part of the corpus mysticum that makes up the "ethnic essence that is intergenerationally continuous among one's own kind and is absorbed via the mother's milk." In

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Haitian Immigrants in Black America: A Sociological and Sociolinguistic Portrait
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables and Maps vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Part I - Haitian Immigrants: Sociological Dimensions 1
  • 1 - Haitians in New York City 3
  • Notes 22
  • 2 - Premigration Experience of Haitian Immigrants 25
  • Notes 40
  • 3 - Emergence and Essence of Haitian Immigrant Ethnicity 43
  • Notes 67
  • 4 - Haitians' Responses to African Americans 69
  • Notes 96
  • Part II - Haitian Immigrants: Sociolinguistic Dimensions 97
  • 5 - Language and Ethnicity in the Haitian Immigrant Context 99
  • Notes 120
  • 6 - Patterns of Language Use of Haitian Immigrants 123
  • Notes 143
  • 7 - Haitians, American Cultural Pluralism, and Black Ethnics 145
  • Notes 160
  • Appendix - Interview Questions 161
  • Bibliography 167
  • Index 177
  • About the Author *
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