Undergraduates in the Archives – Hebblethwaite 4
4What are some of the challenges you have encountered?
Assistant Professor, Department of Languages, Literature & Culture – University of Florida
PI, The Vodou Archive
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The major challenges in writing and editing Vodou Songs in Haitian Creole and English and The Vodou Archive are the profusion of variant spelling systems found in Haitian Creole until 1980. Most Haitian-Americans I work with at the University of Florida have limited exposure to written Haitian Creole prior to enrolling in my courses. After a year of intermediate Haitian Creole, it is still typical to misspell certain words. Given that the source texts they work from routinely employ spelling conventions that are no longer current, it is also common for undergraduate research assistants to reproduce the outdated spelling, especially in the cases of words that refer to concepts that are unfamiliar to them. The source text in (a) below, taken from scholar Milo Marcelin (1950), illustrates the base from which transcription (b) and translation (c) were produced:
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|Danbala Wèdo se koulèv dlo!||Danbala Wèdo is the water snake!|
|Chèche Danbala, ki bò w a wè li?||Look for Danbala, where will you see him?|
|Papa Danbala se koulèv dlo,||Papa Danbala is the water snake,|
|li plonje anba dlo!||he dives under water!|
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In texts like this one, it is common for research assistants to import uncorrected words like Oueddo, or to accidently retain the “c” or the unpronounced “e” in coulève instead of writing the official koulèv. This impacted my work, as it required me to extensively edit the students’ work and send it back for review and correction; while it was labor intensive, the feedback provided the students with the opportunity to master the transcription of Haitian Creole and the translation into English. Students will learn from their mistakes if they can see what they are and have the chance to correct them. It is also common for students to import erroneous grammatical analyses by writing “wa” following oua (in line two), a minor confusion in which separate words are conflated. The correct representation of oua is “w a” (“you will” or “will you,” when used interrogatively as in the above). As senior editor, I had the challenge of constantly encountering examples of outdated spellings that research assistants had unwittingly imported into their transcription.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The quality of the undergraduates’ work varied widely. The nuances of the mythology, the “cryptic tricksterism” of Vodou semantics, and the rich—and obscure—idioms, expressions, and conceptualizations of the Haitian Creole language meant that all the texts required years of refinement through the editorial process, which is based upon countless critical re-readings from various points of view. Thus, working with undergraduates is rewarding but requires mentoring and patience due to their limited experience.
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