The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 7th, 2020

DeGraff offering online workshop on Decolonising the Linguistics Curriculum

December 10 is Human Rights Day—to celebrate the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  On that date, Thursday, December 10 2020,10:30AM EST, Michel DeGraff is offering a workshop online at the University of Sheffield, UK, on “Decolonising the Linguistics Curriculum.” The workshop will start with a talk titled:

“Language as the invisible ‘canary in the mine’ in the minefield of human-rights violations”

Please find the abstract and additional information below.



My case study is my native country, Haiti, where Francophonie and francophilia are linguistic “bluest eyes” (in Toni Morrison’s sense) as they are weaponized for “élite closure” (cf. Carol Myers-Scotton) and for neo-colonial violence against equity and human rights (cf. Yves Dejean). In contradistinction, Haiti’s national language (Kreyòl) is the one language that can serve as the linguistic foundation for the democratization of education and development.  Yet, most state and academic institutions and NGOs in Haiti, including world-famous institutions whose stated mission is to promote human rights, linguistic diversity, etc., routinely devalue Kreyòl in favor of French, and they thus exclude the participation of most Haitians—who are typically fluent in Kreyòl only.  Through such linguistic (mis-)practices, these institutions participate in upholding Haiti’s linguistic apartheid  We find such brutally exclusionary practices even at the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice, even in organizations that proudly boast “human rights”, “knowledge”, “liberty” and so on in their titles or mission statements. These organizations will be celebrating “Human Rights Day” on December 10 even as they violate human rights every day of the year. Often times, these organizations are, paradoxically, engaged in producing Kreyòl materials for literacy and human-rights campaigns, for primary education, etc. We’ll look at  UNESCO in Haiti as one spectacular case of such ambivalence vis-à-vis Kreyòl: since the late 1940s, UNESCO has been producing groundbreaking scientific research and educational materials based on the importance of vernacular languages for access to quality education and for human rights and development; yet UNESCO’s leadership in Haiti, more often than not, excludes Kreyòl in its formal proceedings which are typically, with some relatively rare exceptions, conducted and published in French only.  One recent exchange in the “Amis de l’UNESCO” WhatsApp group illustrates the depth of these anti-Kreyòl attitudes: when one inquires about Kreyòl translation—alongside the French, English and Spanish simultaneous interpretation being offered at a forthcoming conference by the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (“AUF”) in the context of Caribbean studies—this inquiry is considered, by UNESCO personnel in Haiti, as “diffamation against AUF.”  Yet there are more Kreyòl speakers in the Caribbean than French speakers; besides, Haiti, where Kreyòl is the single national language, is the 3rd largest Caribbean country. Taken together, linguistic choices, practices and attitudes in most national and international institutions in Haiti have, for the past two centuries, brutally devalued the capital of Kreyòl on Haiti’s linguistic market (in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense), making Kreyòl, in effect, much less attractive than French as a medium and subject matter for teaching and learning.  In a related vein, linguists themselves, from Saint-Quentin in the 19th century to Bickerton and McWhorter in the 21st century, have often mis-represented the history and structures of Creole languages as a class, even mis-classifying them as the world’s “simplest” (read: “most primitive”) languages.  This is what I’ve called “Creole Exceptionalism”.  It is within this complex and ambiguous hegemonic context (social, geopolitical, academic and scientific) that the  MIT-Haiti Initiative engages linguists, educators, policy makers, artists, civil society, etc., near and far  in a historic struggle to open up access to knowledge (and power) for all Haitians through the systematic use of Kreyòl coupled with interactive pedagogy and technology writ large  This Initiative is a model for opening up access to quality education worldwide, especially in the Global South where non-colonial languages are, by and large, still excluded in schools and other formal venues.


More references at:




The announcement from the University of Sheffield:



Questions: g.t.williams@sheffield.ac.uk

Phonology Circle 12/7 - Yeong-Joon Kim (MIT)

Speaker: Yeong-Joon Kim (MIT)
Title: Cluster simplification and correspondence at acoustic boundaries
Time: Monday, December 7th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: In this talk, I discuss the C2 dominance effect in cluster simplification: in intervocalic C1C2 clusters, C1 is a typical target of deletion but C2 is not. This positional asymmetry has been a problem for parallel versions of Optimality Theory, especially when consonant deletion takes place in clusters derived by syncope (Wilson 2001, Jun 2002, McCarthy 2011). For the formal analysis of the C2 dominance effect in cluster simplification and its interaction with syncope, I propose a new approach, based on correspondence constraints for auditory properties within Flemming’s (2008) Realized Input model. Potential benefits and problems of this new proposal will also be discussed in the talk.

Call for papers: FASL 30

Our department will be hosting the 30th meeting of Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics (FASL)! You can find the call for papers, including submission details, below.

* * *

The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is pleased to announce that it will host the 30th annual meeting of Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics (FASL), which will be held virtually on May 13–16, 2021.

Abstracts are invited for talks on topics in formal Slavic linguistics, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, and computational linguistics. Both theoretical and experimental studies that have consequences for linguistic theory are welcome. Submissions are limited to one individual and one joint abstract per author (or two joint abstracts per author).

Both talks and posters will be selected. Each talk selected for presentation will be allotted 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Poster presenters will give lightning talks and then present their poster virtually via Zoom.

Abstracts should be submitted in PDF format through EasyChair, with all non-standard fonts embedded. Abstracts should not exceed 2 pages, which includes the data. An additional third page may be used for references. Abstracts must be submitted in letter or A4 format with 1in or 2.5cm margins on all sides, single-spaced, and in a font no smaller than 11pt. Abstracts should be anonymous. Please make sure that PDF files do not have any identifying metadata.

Conference website: https://fasl30.mit.edu/

Submission link: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=fasl30
Submission deadline: January 25, 2021, 23:59, anywhere on Earth (UTC-12)
Notification of acceptance: March 2021

For inquiries, please e-mail us at: fasl30.mit@gmail.com.

Whamit! Winter Hiatus

Whamit! will be on winter (semi)-hiatus starting next week. While we won’t have weekly postings until the beginning of the spring semester, we will have rolling posts, publishing breaking MIT Linguistics news as it happens. Thanks to all our contributors, editors, and you dear readers. Stay safe and take care!