24.919 Topics in Linguistics: Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities

Spring 2004

Haitian creole.
Haitian creole. (Image courtesy of OCW.)

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive bibliography.

Course Description

The Creole languages spoken in the Caribbean are linguistic by-products of the historical events triggered by colonization and the slave trade in Africa and the "New World". In a nutshell, these languages are the results of language acquisition in the specific social settings defined by the history of contact between African and European peoples in 17th-/18th-century Caribbean colonies.

One of the best known Creole languages, and the one with the largest community of speakers, is Haitian Creole. Its lexicon and various aspects of its grammar are primarily derived from varieties of French as spoken in 17th-/18th-century colonial Haiti. Other aspects of its grammar seem to have emerged under the influence of African languages, mostly from West and Central Africa. And yet other properties seem to have no analogues in any of the source languages.

Through a sample of linguistic case studies focusing on Haitian Creole morphosyntax, we will explore creolization from a cognitive, historical and comparative perspective. Using Haitian Creole and some of its Caribbean congeners as test cases, we will evaluate various hypotheses about the development of Creole languages and about the role of first- and second-language acquisition in such development.

We will also explore the concept of Creolization in its non-linguistic senses. Then we will address questions of "Caribbean identities" by examining a sample of Creole speakers' attitudes toward the Creole language and the corresponding European language and toward the African and European components of their ethnic make-up.

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.

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Prof. Michel DeGraff

Course Meeting Times

One session / week
3 hours / session