Creole Studies at the Intersection of Theory, History, Computation and Education

Course time: 
Monday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 PM
Description: 

Creole studies lie at the intersection of a number of fascinating fields—from studies of language in the mind (theoretical linguistics) to studies of language in society (e.g., sociolinguistics and educational linguistics), including studies of language in time (historical linguistics) which have recently enlisted computational methods (computational phylogenetics).  We’ll touch on all these issues—from the mind to society and education, with a particular focus on my native language, namely Haitian Creole aka “Kreyòl.”  The overarching goal is to gain a deeper understanding of Creole formation and, more generally, language change in language-contact situations, along with a deeper understanding of the related factors that have, to varying degrees, marginalized the study and the use of Creole languages, both in academia and in the “real world,” sometimes with catastrophic consequences for Creole-speaking communities, as in Haiti.  We’ll discuss the ways in which some of these negative consequences can be analyzed as the result of intellectual trumpery going back to the colonial era when European linguists were intent on using various sorts of (pseudo-)scientific theories in order to build walls to separate themselves from, and dominate, certain communities. My enduring hope is that we can usher a new kind of linguistics that can now help turn these neo-colonial challenges into opportunities, so we can build bridges instead of walls, and make the world a better place via more robust theoretical and practical foundations for our field.

Course progression.

1. Setting up the stage with a preliminary discussion of definitions and methodologies. What are “Creoles”?  Are they “exceptional” languages?  How do we decide? (These themes will overlap with our discussion throughout the week.)

2. Overview of hypotheses about processes of Creole formation:  Welcome to the Creole-studies circus!  (This overview will overlap with Wednesday’s discussion.)

3. Overview of hypotheses about the structural outcomes of Creole formation and their structural complexity  (This overview will overlap with Thursday’s discussion.)

4.  Computational phylogenetics in Creole studies and beyond.  Creole typology (or lack thereof?) and family values (or lack thereof?)

5.  Creole languages (and other so-called “local” languages) as technologies for protecting human rights, including universal access to quality education.  Case study: Haitian Creole in Haiti