24.908 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities


Course Meeting Times

Lecture/discussion: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

Caribbean Creole languages result from language contact via colonization and the slave trade. In this course we explore the history of Creole languages from cognitive, historical and comparative perspectives. We evaluate popular theories about “Creole genesis” and the role of language acquisition. Then we explore the non-linguistic aspects of Creole formation, using sources from literature, religion and music. We also look into issues of Caribbean identities as we examine Creole speakers’ and others’ beliefs and attitudes toward their cultures. We also make comparisons with relevant aspects of African-American culture in the U.S.

Throughout our explorations, Haitian Creole (my native language) will provide bench marks as we ask challenging questions both about the Creole languages of the Caribbean and about their history. We will also use the history of Haiti and the making of this history as we ask even bigger questions about the making of theories about Creole languages and their formation. One such question is: What is the relationship between the history of linguistic theories about Creole languages and the socioeconomic and political trajectories of people of color, not only in the Caribbean, but through the Americas and beyond? These are deep questions—sometimes unsettling, sometimes empowering—about “Caribbean identities” as reflexes of world history. Our asking and answering such “big questions” will bear on both local and global issues of crucial relevance to us here at MIT—and beyond, of relevance to our future as wall breakers and bridge builders.

Course Requirements

Oral Presentations

At each class meeting, for a total of 13 sessions, a team of students will be responsible for preparing a brief presentation on the readings, consisting of a background that will frame our discussion with one question per student about how the readings assigned for that particular day approach the aforementioned “big questions” at the center of our class. Students’ questions will be emailed to me in advance by 8PM the tuesday evening before the corresponding class. You will be given guidance on how to prepare these presentations. (See document titled “Guidelines for Framing Discussion”)


You will be required to write three essays this semester and one revision essay, which will be equivalent to a fourth essay. All essays will involve close reading of texts, with linguistic or meta-linguistic analyses. Students will receive feedback about their essay both from the instructor and from their fellow students.

You are required to consult with me as you draft Essay 1 and the revised essay (Essay 4). Drafting and revising are key components of the writing process for both new and experienced writers. This work should not be considered remedial, but instead essential for successful writing. If you fail to consult with me on Essay 1 and Essay 4, these assignments will not be graded and you risk receiving a failing grade. 

Class Participation

Regular and punctual attendance and lively participation in class discussions are central to this course. Students will be expected to provide feedback to each other about their participation in class, especially about class presentations. This participation-related component will comprise 15% of your grade. If you need to miss a class for any reason, you must contact the instructor to arrange a way to compensate for your absence. Each unexcused absence will entail half a letter grade as penalty (being late by more than 10 minutes counts as absence).


Essays 1 through 3 15% each (45% total)
Essay 4 (revision essay) 20%
Oral presentations 20%
Class participation 15%

Course Info

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