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Letters to the Editor

David Fleming's recent letter [SAA Bulletin 15(2):3] regarding the absence of French abstracts in American Antiquity and Latin American Antiquity strikes close to home for Caribbeanists. There are interesting parallels in the Caribbean as well as international circumstances unique to that region.

The Caribbean islands' "official" languages--French, Dutch, Spanish, and English--as well as its many creoles and dialects result from imperialistic expansion and rivalry in this archipelago during its tumultuous colonial era. The present linguistic diversity is especially evident in the northern Lesser Antilles, where islands are separated by quite narrow passages, and it is epitomized by the binational (French/Dutch) island of St. Martin/St. Maarten with its neighboring English-language island (Anguilla) being only 10 km away. In the Greater Antilles, Jamaica (English) is 150 km from Cuba (Spanish) and 200 km from Haiti (French). In northeast South America linguistic diversity truly reigns supreme, for adjacent to one another are five countries whose inhabitants speak Spanish (Venezuela), English (Guyana), Dutch (Suriname), French (Guyane Française), and Portuguese (Brazil), as well as Amerindian and Maroon languages.

However, unlike the situation Fleming discusses, whereby the French speakers are Canadian citizens, in the Caribbean the French speakers of Martinique, Guadeloupe (which includes St. Martin), and Guyane Française are citizens of France (of its Départments Outre-Mer or Overseas Departments, which have a similar relationship to France as does Hawaii to the U.S.). It would appear that under the current policy for American Antiquity and more pointedly for Latin American Antiquity, an article dealing with the archaeology of these French Overseas Departments would have to be submitted in English or Spanish and include abstracts in both languages, but not even an abstract in French is acceptable. This situation seems ludicrous, and it appears even more so in light of the policy of the Journal de la Société des Américanistes, the major French journal dealing with western hemisphere archaeology, which publishes articles in English!

Caribbean archaeologists have been faced with the "language problem" for a long time. From its inception, the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology (IACA) included translation of talks at its Congresses. IACA was started by archaeologists working in the Lesser Antilles and thus translation initially was limited to French and English; Spanish was added when archaeologists from the Greater Antilles and Venezuela began to participate. Beginning in 1993 with its 15th Congress, IACA requested that authors provide abstracts in Spanish, French, and English for manuscripts submitted to the Congress Proceedings; the paper itself is published only in the original language. Currently there is no Congress translation or Proceedings abstract in Dutch, the fourth Caribbean language, since Dutch archaeologists present their research in English and sometimes French. There are no countries using Portuguese among the Caribbean islands.

There has been a tendency in the past for an archaeologist to conduct research on an island where his or her own language is the norm. Thus, French-speaking archaeologists worked in the French West Indies; Dutch-speakers in the Netherlands Antilles; Spanish-speakers in Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico; and English-speakers mainly in the British West Indies and U.S. Virgin Islands. Note that it is the language ability of the archaeologist, rather than nationality, that is the key here. Hence, a Canadian citizen fluent in French could do research on a French island. However, even when they were bilingual, few Dutch archaeologists worked on Spanish islands, few French on Dutch islands, few Spanish-speakers on British islands, and so forth.

Recent years have witnessed a move toward international cooperation and collaboration by Caribbean archaeologists, with a combined Dutch-French team working on Guadeloupe; a multinational (Aruban-Dutch-French-American-Cuban) project on Aruba; British and Dutch students doing research in Puerto Rico; Canadian students at field schools on Antigua run by an Antiguan who is a graduate student at a Canadian university; Cubans and Americans jointly studying Cuba's prehistory; and Americans, French, and West Indians working on the British island of Montserrat.

Yet even more important in the long run is the accelerating trend toward professional, graduate-level training in archaeology and museology for West Indians at universities in North America and Europe. What unfortunately remains largely absent at universities within the Caribbean are undergraduate courses in archaeology and anthropology. To a large extent, the Caribbean organizations that initially created and continue to foster local interest in archaeology are the historical societies, museums, national trusts, and similar associations concerned with heritage preservation.

David R. Watters
Carnegie Museum of Natural History


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