Online workshop: "Decolonising the Linguistics Curriculum"

Student studying

In honour of Human Rights Day on December 10th and to celebrate the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on Human RightsMichel DeGraff is offering an online workshop at the University of Sheffield 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."

10th December 2020

Link to join

Schedule of the day:

3:30-:4:30 Talk by Prof DeGraff: 'Language as the invisible "canary in the mine" in the minefield of human-rights violations'

4:30-4:50 Questions regarding the talk

4:50-5:00 Comfort Break

5:00-6:00 Workshop discussion: Decolonising the Language and Linguistics Curriculum


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.

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