Cece becomes Mainstream! I see today’s column excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, Notable & Quotable section. Had to see what they cut in the … sections. What’s next - IPO for Straight Dope Inc? eDope? Cece to cash in his CEO stock options and give us a real alternative Presidental candidate? The teeming masses can only hope.

Yeah, wasn’t it great to see? BTW, it’s this column: Did HUD publish a brochure in “Creole” containing a parody of black speech?

It’s out a little early, but when Cecil makes the mainstream, it’s a very special day.

your humble TubaDiva/SDStaffDiv
for the Straight Dope

Cecil Himself said:

I hate to have to correct The Master, but what he describes above is technically called a patois, IIRC. A creole (I’m sure of this part) is a patois that acquires native speakers, i.e. people who were raised speaking this amalgam of languages. The first people to speak “that way” were speaking a patois; their children spoke creole.

Now back to your regularly scheduled discussion.

–Da Cap’n

In this silly culture of “PC before everything,” it’s too easy to picture folks with little else to do mewling and squealing about HUD’s insensitivity. I find myself questioning, not HUD’s sensitivity, but it’s need to exist, much as I wonder why most of our federal government exists. But that’s another can o’ worms…

Question: If Creole is a linguistic parameter, be it patois or dialect or whatever, what has any of this to do with race and racism?

Another question: I’ve seen and heard folks of all descriptions, skin colors, etc. speaking what sounds a lot like Creole. Is there a race or culture or some other well-defined group commonly identified with Creole? (I really wanna know.)

Yet another question: Am I alone in wondering what business HUD has publishing anything at all in any language other than English?

insigfhtful reply to the straight dope, there, tbone.

the creole brochure wasn’t funny at all. i’d go so far as to say it was stupid. it might have seemed funny if i’d read it when i was twelve. but equally stupid is the knee-jerk response of labeling bad humor as racism.

i live in new orleans. i can tell you with total confidence that people of all colors and ultimate heritages speak in the creole dialect. i’ve actually come across a larger number of white folk than black, whose creole is unintelligible to a native english speaker.
The House of Dr. Cliff


I hope you are, but I fear not.
Challenging the existence of HUD is, as you said, a different topic. Given that HUD exists, the agency is simply following the long-standing practice (over 100 years) of attempting to make government services available to all residents of the country. Since the overwhelming majority of immigrants learn English (and their children are generally native speakers of English), the non-English texts are intended to ensure that those people who have not yet become fluent in English have access to government services. These policies were adopted, generally, in the 1890’s and many generations of immigrants have become useful, participating members of society because the governement helped them find housing, education, and other services by speaking to them in their native tongues until they could learn English.


In fact, it’s even more appropriate for HUD to translate its literature into other languages than, say, for VA. You’d assume that veterans have learned to read standard English after a few years in the armed forces.

Pardon my ignorance, but how is this “creole” different from the “Ebonics” that California wants to be studied in schools?

Not patois. “Pidgin” is the word you’re thinking of, Cap’n Crude.

To quote from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal, a pidgin is “a system of communication that has grown up among people who do not share a common language, but who want talk to each other, for trading or other reasons”. A creole is “a pidgin which has become the mother tongue of a community”.

Actually, the English-based creole with the largest number of speakers in the U.S. is the language spoken in Hawaii that’s usually referred to as just “Pidgin”. Besides English, the language is influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Filipino. There’s surprisingly little discussion of this in books about Hawaii or about languages. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language says that there are half a million people who speak Pidgin, although not all of them speak it as a mother language.

Jamaican Creole English has over two million speakers according to the Encyclopedia.

I’m dubious about Cecil’s claim that nobody writes in English-based creoles.


The Creole of Louisiana is, in fact, a separate dialect. The fake translation that was printed up was probably based on a spurious “jive” translator that made it look (to those unacquainted with either) somewhat like Ebonics.

(California has never proposed teaching in Ebonics that I am aware of. The Board of Ed at the city of Oakland did float a proposal a few years ago to teach teachers Ebonics to ensure that the teachers could communicate with their students. The proposal was not clearly defined (leading many to conclude that students would be encouraged to speak Ebonics). It was harshly criticised, laughed at as ludicrous, and was withdrawn from consideration.



I’m unaware of a Creole dialect here in NOLA.
There’s a Creole subculture but to the best of my knowledge the Creoles speak English, although with a unique accent.
The brochure perfectly describes the way a bayou Cajun speaks English, if he/she spoke “French” growing up. French is in quotes because only the Cajuns think it is French. It is in fact a Creole of French, English, Italian, and a long-gone Native American tongue.
So, to clear this up (ha!), Creole people speak English and Cajun people speak a Creole. Clear as mud!
I’d like to steer back to what I thought was a much more interesting question-
Is the Creole brochure a racist slur, and if it is, what race is being slurred? I think too many people are too anxious to play the race-card and start throwing their righteous (but misguided) rhetoric around. Opinions?
The House of Dr. Cliff

I’d challenge any of you to head for a village in the mountains of Jamaica and understand a word anyone there says, if you haven’t heard the English-based patois/creole spoken there before. Some of the words and sentence syntax are West African in origin. Still, as Cecil said, when they learn to read and write in school, it’s standard English they learn. Patois is sometimes written, though the spelling and form is not completely standardized. When a patois-speaking person is quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner, the quote is transcribed into patois. But official brochures in Jamaica are never written in patois(except when they include poetry, songs, or informal storytelling). It’s a lovely dialect, and most educated Jamaicans are what some might call “bilingual.”
Here’s a link to the Jamaica Gleaner: Click on “Readers Comments” on the left side. It’s not what one might call “deep patois” which is almost incomprehensible to most English speakers from outside Jamaica. You might notice that many of the arguments they have online are similar to ones we see here. Jill
[Note: This message has been edited by JillGat]

Thank you, Wendell. It’s been a while since I cracked a linguistics book. At least I got the creole part right, yah?

–Da Cap’n

Orale when can I mera un pamplet in TexMex?

Again los dejado awura. Chale holms. No vale dik que todos los de mas are represented, y nostros are left out. Es la misma story over, y over.

Ok I los watcho.

One amusing aspect of this episode is the unimportance of this HUD brochure, which was translated into so many languages. The only meaning seems to be, “We’re from the government; we’re here to help you.”

[[I’m dubious about Cecil’s claim that nobody writes in English-based creoles.]]

The Caribbean-English creole that this brochure was supposedly written in is not standardized in its written form. Although some songs, poetry, plays, and sometimes quotes in the newspaper (by patois speakers) are sometimes written in phonetic patois in Jamaica, official brochures and documents are written in standard English. As Cecil pointed out, when native Creole speakers first learn to read and write in school, it’s standard English that they learn, not Creole. In other words, there is no real market for this brochure because there is not a population of people who can read English Creole but not standard English. Haitian Creole has apparently been standardized as a written as well as spoken language. There are about 300 kinds of Creole (and I guess the word has other meanings, too, in Louisiana), so it’s probably hard to generalize about them.

[[Ok I los watcho.]]

A quien estas watchando, hombre?

I wrote:

> Not patois. “Pidgin” is the word you’re
> thinking of, Cap’n Crude.

I didn’t realize this, but there is also a word “patois”. It means a regional dialect without a literary tradition, so it also could be applied to Caribbean English Creole.

JillGat questions my tentative assertion that people do write Caribbean English Creole. It’s true that there’s no standarized written form for it, although it is studied by linguists. The distinction between a creole and a pidgin (or perhaps a patois) is partly a political decision, just as the distinction between a language and a dialect is. Part of the reason that Haitian French Creole is considered a different language from French is that a political decision was made to treat it as a separate language, while part of the reason that Jamaican Creole and Pidgin (as spoken in Hawaiian) are considered just dialects of English is a political decision.

{[A quien estas watchando, hombre?]}

Pos you shore. Quién mas?

Qvole como esta todo jale in NM? I just spoke to this chavalone camarada. He spent some tiempo out there. He said que no aye nada que se in NM. Pero to get into pedo with the ley.

Just got this in an email- relates to Pidgin:

It has come to our attention that a few copies of the Hawaiian Edition of Windows 98 may have accidentally been shipped outside of Hawaii. If you have one of the Hawaiian Editions you may need some help understanding the commands.

The Hawaiian Edition may be recognized by looking at the opening screen. It reads Puka 98 with a background picture of Iolani Palace superimposed on
the Hawaiian Flag. It is shipped with a free Gabby Pahinui screen saver.

Also note:

The recyle bin is labeled “opala.”
My computer is called “Dis Gun fun ting.”
Dialup Network is called “Go home on da net.”
The keyboard is known as “da kine.”
Floppies are “da ting fo inside da kine.”
The mouse is called “da clika.”

Other features:

Instead of Error Message you get one small kini opala covered with a poi bag and duct tape.


OK . . . . . . . . . ah dats awright
Cancel . . . . . . oops
Reset . . . . . . . gunfunit
Yes . . . . . . . . . no matta
No. . . . . . . . . . Naaaah
Find . . . . . . . . Where da heck
Go to. . . . . . . . ovah deah
Back . . . . . . . . ovah heah
Help . . . . . . . . oh oh
Stop . . . . . . . . oh no
Pause . . . . . . wait wait wait
Start . . . . . . . . shoots
Programs . . . da kin fo dat
Documents . .stuffs
Thesaurus . . .how you say…
Indent . . . . . . . move 'em in
Flush right . . .stat da oddah side
Center . . . . . . stat in da middo
Exit . . . . . . . . . Neva mine
Graphics . . . . .pichahs
Save . . . . . . . . Good good good
Reveal codes . .what da hell

Also note that Puka 98 does not recognize capital letters or puntuation marks. We regret any inconvenience it may have caused if you received a copy of the Hawaiian Edition. You may return it to Microsoft for a replacement version.

[[Qvole como esta todo jale in NM? I just spoke to this chavalone
camarada. He spent some tiempo out there. He said que no aye nada que se
in NM. Pero to get into pedo with the ley.

Cuanto tiempo pasaba tu amigo aqui in Nuevo Mexico? No sabe nada el chavalone. Tell him que depiende on what he wants to ver y a comer y hacer for fun. NM is certainly mas better que Tejas en muchas ways. Y yo, I try to evitar la ley. Most of em son cabrones, estos.