Michel DeGraff, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT-Haiti Initiative

2017 Linguistic Institute Public Lecture:

July 4, July 14, November 18, July 14... Revolutions across space and time

As a Haitian linguist, my Forum Lecture scheduled on France’s Bastille Day, soon after the celebration of U.S. Independence Day, makes me think of “revolutions across space and time.”  Indeed, underlying one of my current projects is the urgent need for a “revolution” in linguistics. What I have in mind is the need to bridge one gap between our core universalist-egalitarian assumptions in linguistics and the power-knowledge hierarchies at the root and, still, at the core of Creole studies and the consequences thereof in the lives of Creole speakers.  Think of the “Pidgin-to-Creole” dogma in most of our introduction-to-linguistics textbooks and what such dogma implies for the status of Creole languages and their speakers in the “real world” beyond academia.  My revolutionary struggle (a tall order, it seems, even among well meaning “progressive” and “liberal” colleagues) is to inspire a new sort of linguistics whereby our academic research can help make the world better by bringing about the sort of linguistic equality that is a precondition for socio-economic and political equity.  In this Forum Lecture, I’ll share some of my research agenda where linguistics drives on-the-ground projects (such as the MIT-Haiti Initiative: http://haiti.mit.edu) that engage technology, pedagogy and local languages—such as my native Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) as a full-fledged normal language that belies the “Pidgin-to-Creole” dogma and its problematic theoretical, empirical and sociological corollaries.  The ultimate goal is to enlist research and education for sustainable development and equal opportunity for all.  The benefits of such “revolution” will span space and time as well, keeping in mind the too many communities (some 40% of the world’s population according to UNESCO) whose native languages are still excluded in classrooms—these are the very languages that we linguists so love studying in our field work, research labs and journal articles.

Date: 7/14/2017

(For more details on DeGraff’s biography and research, see http://mit.edu/degraffhttp://haiti.mit.edu and http://facebook.com/mithaiti)

LSA 2017 - Michel DeGraff - Public Lecture July 14th


The 2017 Linguistic Institute at the University of Kentucky Lexington featured seven public lectures by leading linguists in a variety of fields. The videos of the lectures, courtesy of the Institute's techincal team and organizers, are available on the original Institute website and have been generously shared with the LSA.