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 their grammars change over time as people shift to speaking other languages or attempt to halt this shift by (re-)learning the 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 projé, mo war komen langaj no parl pe shanjé kan moun arèt parlé yéchènn langaj é komans parlé in nòt ('language shift'), ou byin kan moun fé kishoj pou chonbo yê langaj vivan ('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 d moun ki stìl apé parlé kréyòl, pitèt mwink 8 000 moun. Mo swèt mô PhD èd 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. I am currently analysing a diachronic corpus of comparable texts spanning the 19th to the 21st Century. I conduct fieldwork in Creole-speaking communities in southwest Louisiana, collecting language data with the help of the last native speakers of the language. Another dimension of my research is to investigate how ongoing language change in Louisiana Creole might be impacted by its small community of 'new speakers', learners of the language who have arisen through the language revitalization movement.
Potential contributions of my PhD
The goal of my doctoral research is to describe in quantitative and qualitative terms how Louisiana Creole has changed under the respective influences of its lexifier (French) and of the now-dominant non-lexifier language (English). This research aims to bring discussion of language variation and change in creole languages beyond the creolistics-specific notion of 'decreolization' in order to integrate creole languages into a wider framework of language contact. At the same time, my research aims to shed light on how the phenomena of language endangerment and revitalization can be situated within studies of language variation and change. Beyond these theoretical concerns, I hope my work can make a wider impact and can contribute to the revitalization of Louisiana Creole, which is also my heritage language: working with colleagues, friends and community organisations I have collaborated on the development of a semi-standardized orthography, an online dictionary and a language primer.
My MPhil dissertation here at Cambridge examined the morphosyntax of new speakers of Louisiana Creole using a corpus built from web data. A quantitative analysis uncovered that new speakers' morphosyntactic production is influenced not only by processes of L2 acquisition and L1 transfer, but also by the language-ideological considerations. Certain salient features are iconized in the construction of linguistic differentiation and authenticity and this may lead to innovative morphosyntactic forms and, perhaps, language change. Before I came to Cambridge, I took a BA in Korean and Linguistics with Yoruba at SOAS, University of London with a year studying Korean language and culture at Korea University (고려대학교). I grew up between Scotland and Nigeria to an English mother and a Louisiana Creole father, a childhood I blame for my obsession with all things linguistic as well as my strange accent.
I am one of the graduate convenors of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group - we run a regular seminar series and an annual postgraduate workshop. This year, I am also co-organising the Eighth Cambridge Conference on Language Endangerment.
In my spare time I enjoy learning languages, drumming with Cambridge Samulnori (케임브리지 사물놀이), powerlifting, meditation, conlanging and art.