24.908 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities


Please submit each essay as an MS Word file, by default. I’m also open to multi-media “essays” for social action and in-the-world teaching—to be negotiated in advance.

Essay grading rubric (PDF) 


For each essay:

  1. Follow these general writing guidelines (PDF)
  2. Length of essay: 1,000 words TOTAL, including title and bibliography. 
  3. Include your name, the course, the date and a title on the first page. Be sure to double-space, use a normal 12-point font and 1-1.25 inch margins. 
  4. Number your pages. 
  5. Quote and analyze specific passages from the chosen text to support your argument. 
  6. Please support any assertion with specific references to readings, and make sure that your citations include page numbers and bibliography as necessary. 
  7. Cite quotations correctly. Consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. This is the industry standard. Parenthetical quotations are fine for a short paper like this. 

Essay Assignment 1

Write your linguistic autobiography. In other words, trace the development of your own speech variety or varieties. Of course, to do this, you’ll need to also trace some of your family history, especially those of your parents, siblings (if any) or any other relatives, care-takers, acquaintances and/or peers whose speech varieties have influenced your own in some way or another.

What will be most important, in the context of this class on “Creole languages & Caribbean identities”, is for you to identify and share specific details—especially personal and socio-economic factors—that you think may have shaped your language patterns and your and others’ feelings and attitudes toward these patterns. Relevant biographical data may include: place of birth, where you grew up, what language(s) and language attitudes you’ve been exposed to. Please share any relevant events that, as you remember them, may have influenced, or challenged or affirmed, your identity in some decisive or memorable fashion. Since you’re not professional linguists (yet?), it’s perfectly OK to describe patterns in your speech varieties in everyday language, without any linguistic technical terminology. The most important issue here is your own meta-linguistic reflection about your own language patterns, its acceptance (or lack of acceptance) by others, how these patterns have shaped your identity, and so on.

If you feel that you need extra guidance, please look at the guidelines of this somewhat similar assignment from a UC Berkeley class, Field Assignment: Linguistic Autobiography or Interview (PDF)

And here are some linguistic autobiography examples, in different styles and various lengths. But I think yours will be much more interesting, in light of the discussions that we’ve been having in class:

Essay Assignment 2

This essay is about the power (or lack of power?) of translation in Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. As you know, this novel is written in English, but it also uses Spanish and Kreyòl phrases, often with side-by-side English equivalents or, rather, approximations. Here’s your prompt: What relationship does the novel establish between these three languages? This prompt will require you to practice close reading. As an answer to the prompt, generate a thesis that is supported by a close reading of selected passages in the novel where Spanish or Kreyòl or both are used, alongside English.

The overall goal of this essay is to analyze the linguistic choices in The Farming of Bones in light of the issues discussed in class and in all the readings to date. Select at most 3 passages such that you have an interesting sample of both Kreyòl and Spanish phrases to work with, then provide a coherent analysis of the author’s linguistic choices in these passages. Your essay should teach us something about the author’s use of English vs. Kreyòl vs. Spanish and how these choices help convey the morale of her story and give us a deeper understanding of the issues that we’ve been discussing in class about language, identity and related matters, including “authenticity” as debated by Chinua Achebe and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Feel free to share any insights derived from your own personal biographies, as sketched in your first essay, and from your own story of ancestry and migration—migration in space and migration among languages and identities (or absence of identity if relevant, as some of you pointed out in your linguistic autobiographies).  

It’s crucial that you make explicit reference to relevant passages in the class readings—as many passages as are relevant—and that you cite these passages appropriately.

Essay Assignment 3 

This is a “Bring Your Own Prompt” (B.Y.O.P.) essay. We will discuss topics and guidelines individually.

Essay Assignment 4

This essay is a revision of a prior essay.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments with Examples
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