Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
University of Cambridge
Hello! Éy laba!
I'm Oliver, a PhD student in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Cambridge. My research focuses on endangered languages, specifically on how they change over time as people shift to speaking other languages or attempt to halt this shift by (re-)learning the endangered language. I work on my own heritage language, Louisiana Creole, which is a spoken by (probably) less than 8 000 people who live mostly in southwest Louisiana, USA. I hope that my PhD can make a contribution to our understanding of how endangered languages change, as well as a positive impact on the documentation and revitalization of Louisiana's gumbo language.
Mô nom çé Olivier (Mayeux des Avoyelles), m'apé étidjé pou mô PhD dan Linguistics a Cambridge, a Langlatèr. Pou mô PhD, mo war komen langaj no parl pe chanjé ékan moun rèt pou parlé yéchènn langaj é komans parlé in nòt ('language shift'), ou byin ékan moun fé kishoj pou chonbo yê langaj an vi ('language revitalization'). Pou konné pli pou tou ça-la, mo gèt komen moun apé parlé kréyòl dan Lalwizyan jou jòrdi é konpar ça èk koman moun t'apé parlé kréyòl lontan pasé. Ina pa in ta de moun ki stìl apé parlé kréyòl, pitèt mwenk 8 000 moun. Mo swèt mô PhD pe édé nouzòt konné pli pou nochènn bèl langaj k'apé gònn: langaj gonbo, kouri-vini, kréyòl.
A summary of my PhD
My doctoral research—funded by the AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership and supervised by Professor Mari Jones—focuses on morphosyntactic, phonological and lexical change in Louisiana Creole, a highly endangered French-lexifier creole. To conduct a diachronic analysis, I am currently building a corpus of comparable texts spanning the 19th to the 21st Century, which will be analysed using the quantitative and computational techniques of corpus linguistics. I conduct fieldwork in historically Creole-speaking communities in southwest Louisiana, collecting language data with the help of the last speakers of the language. Another dimension of my study is to investigate how ongoing language change in Louisiana Creole is impacted by the community of 'new speakers', learners of the language who arise as a result of revitalization.
Potential contributions of my PhD
The theoretical contributions of this study are threefold. First, creole languages have generally been excluded from discussion of language endangerment and revitalization and their linguistic behaviour in contexts of intensive language contact is not fully understood. Especially, contact between a creole its lexifier is widely discussed within the 'decreolization' paradigm: this perspective is seldom integrated into mainstream accounts of contact and change and, as a result, the effects of contact between a creole and a non-lexifier language remain under-investigated. Louisiana Creole—historically in contact with French (its lexifier) and English (a non-lexifier)—is a good candidate for investigating the sociolinguistic consequences of intensive language contact on a creole grammar. A second contribution of this doctoral research is derived from its corpus-based perspective: corpus methods have sometimes been overlooked as a tool for studying language obsolesence, the particular kind of linguistic change which arises as a result of endangerment. Frequency may play a significant role in language change. As corpus analysis itself is typically informed by frequency, it is a promising methodology for testing quantitative hypotheses about language change. Third, the role of new speakers as potential agents of grammatical change is an under-investigated phenomenon at the intersection of psycho- and sociolinguistic perspectives on language contact. Besides these theoretical concerns, this research also aims to make a modest contribution to the documentation and revitalization of Louisiana Creole through the development of tools and resources (e.g. the corpus, part-of-speech tagger) to be made available to community members, language learners and fellow researchers. I recognise that there is in practice no ideologically neutral stance on language endangerment and work with community and governmental organisations who promote Louisiana Creole.
My MPhil dissertation here at Cambridge examined the morphosyntax of new speakers of Louisiana Creole using a corpus built from web data. Before that, I did a BA in Korean and Linguistics with Yoruba at SOAS, University of London, UK with a year studying Korean language and culture at Korea University (고려대학교) in Seoul, South Korea. I grew up between Scotland and Nigeria, a childhood I blame for my subsequent obsession with all things linguistic.
I am one of the graduate convenors for the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group, where we run a regular seminar series and a postgraduate workshop.
In my spare time I enjoy learning languages, drumming with Cambridge Samulnori (케임브리지 사물놀이), weightlifting and art.