Chalk Radio — Episode 7, “Unpacking Misconceptions about Language & Identities with Prof. Michel DeGraff”

MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy professor Michel DeGraff

Episode Notes

“We all hold dear certain attitudes about language,” Professor Michel DeGraff says in this episode centered on his course 24.908 Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities. Those attitudes can be positive for ourselves and for others, DeGraff says, but they can also have negative effects. His goal is to make linguistics accessible to a broader audience, to connect language to issues of culture and identity, and to show how language prejudices are rooted in hierarchies of power. Specifically, he seeks to increase public awareness that the creoles of the Caribbean, like his native Haitian Creole (or Kreyòl), are fully developed languages worthy of as much respect as higher-prestige languages like French or English. To pursue this goal, he promotes dual-language education for Haitian-American students, and he himself speaks Kreyòl in as many public forums as possible — including in the videos on the OpenCourseWare site for his course, and at various points in this podcast itself! At the same time, as he explains, he encourages his students to examine their own backgrounds to see how their attitudes about the languages they speak have been shaped by explicit or implicit attitudes about culture and identity.

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