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 rèt pou 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 de 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 historically Creole-speaking communities in southwest Louisiana, collecting language data with the help of the last 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 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 to be made available to community members, language learners and fellow researchers. I work with friends and colleagues, and community-level and state-level 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. 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 where certain salient features are iconized in the construction of linguistic differentiation and authenticity. Before that, I did 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, 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), weightlifting, meditation, gardening, conlanging and art.