The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Linguistics and Social Justice Seminar 10/19 — Jo-Anne Ferreira

You are invited to participate in our discussion this week, Tuesday, October 19, 2-5pm EST, on “Linguistics and Social Justice: Language, Education & Human Rights”  (MIT Linguistics, Graduate Seminar, 24.S96).  Please contact Michel <degraff@mit.edu> for information about Zoom link and readings.  NB: We are committed to creating an inclusive and accessible environment in our seminar. If you need assistance for accommodations or accessibility in order to fully participate, please email degraff@MIT.EDU so that we can work out adequate arrangements.

This Tuesday, Jo-Anne Ferreira will lead the discussion on:

Resistance and Revitalisation: French Creole in Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela

Venezuela and Trinidad share a maritime boundary in the Gulf of Paria, and are only seven miles or eleven kilometres apart at the nearest point. The Gulf area has been a point of linguistic exchange between the two areas since pre-Columbian times with speakers of Amerindian (especially Warao, to this day), European (Spanish, French, and English) and Caribbean Creole (French-lexified and English-lexified) languages going back and forth. Neither was ever colonised by France, yet both share a French Creole and speakers and advocates in both spaces have been attempting to overturn past wrongs against sociolinguistically oppressed populations.

In multilingual but French and French Creole-dominated Trinidad of the 19th century, speakers of French and by extension French Creole were the targets of a “full‐scale policy of ‘Anglicisation’” developed and implemented by the British government in the 1840s to govern and control Trinidad, seen as linguistically unruly (Brereton 1993: 37). French Creole was mostly ignored by Venezuela until the Chavez government’s attempts to document and protect minority languages and cultures (Indigenous, Creole, European), affording language rights to all.

This presentation will focus on French Creole in western Trinidad and eastern Venezuela (mostly Estado Sucre in which the Paria Peninsula is located, although French Creole is also spoken in El Callao in Estado Bolívar), on the acts of resistance that have led to the survival of this language in hostile spaces, and on recent and current efforts to save and revitalise the language in both places. I will discuss how an official English-only policy and an unofficial Spanish-only policy affected education in both places, and represent a virulent and malevolent attack on language rights and language justice of large sectors of two populations, with long-term effects, and how revitalisation acts complement and fortify ancient acts of resistance against such injustice, planned or unplanned.