How does language use and suppression mirror societal power? What impact has colonialism had on the Haitian Creole language and its role in Haiti’s development? And how can linguists succeed in promoting the use of Creole languages, and elevating their prestige in the eyes of native speakers and their governments?
Michel DeGraff, a Haitian linguist and tenured professor at MIT, is interested in these questions and more, using his work to try and understand how languages like Haitian Creole come into being, and how new varieties emerge due to the contact of diverse populations throughout history.
Through his studies, and his own life growing up in Haiti and being forced to use French during his education, Michel believes that educating young people in their home language is essential for their freedom, well-being, and development.
In this video, he tells us why he set up the MIT-Haiti Initiative after the country’s devastating earthquake and discusses the challenges and successes in his research and teaching about the development and structure of Haitian Creole and other Creole languages, and his bringing Haitian Creole, alongside modern pedagogy and educational technology, into Haiti’s school system.
Michel DeGraff is a professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative. He is also a founding member of the Haitian Creole Academy. His fields of scholarship are linguistic theory, Creole studies and the relationship among linguistics, ideology, education, human rights, and development.