My major scholarly interests include the morphosyntax of English-based creole languages, issues of identity and gender in postcolonial societies, and endangered languages.
As an English literature major, I researched the 1930s social background for the novels of a Scottish writer, George Blake, who documented the hard times of shipbuilding workers in Greenock and Glasgow, Scotland. I thus discovered working-class Scottish dialects, and the importance of linguistic analysis in literature. My career eventually focused on linguistics, and the search for answers to such questions as: Why, and how does language change? How is language variation determined by social background, identity, gender? Why are language practices so important to our representation of self? Such sociolinguistic issues are a necessary part of the curriculum in the courses I routinely teach, including the Analysis of the English Language, Introduction to Language and Society, World Englishes, Social Variation in American English, and Language and Gender.
Following my initiation to linguistic theory, I specialized in pidgins and creoles- the mixed (African/Indo-European) languages of minority, marginalized populations that were transported to the New World during colonization. I conducted extensive fieldwork in several rural communities of the Caribbean coast of Central America, where English-based creoles are spoken by Creoles (Afro-Caribbean people). Research on the creole continua took me to Belize (previously British Honduras), and the Bay Islands of Honduras. I also studied the effect of gender roles and ethnic identity on language development. I have written several articles in major encyclopedias on the Central American creoles, and I have engaged in an important international project: the Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Languages (Apics), sponsored by the Max-Planck Institute in Amsterdam and Leipzig. The project spans most documented pidgins and creoles around the world and include 60 authors (I am responsible for the Belizean Creole section). The work is completed uniformly through an electronic website which covers a comprehensive range of linguistic features and social aspects of the language. It will make it possible to compare all documented contact languages very easily and will be a useful tool to linguists and anthropologists.
In addition I have investigated the related issue of African-American English (possibly the outgrowth of an earlier creole). In cooperation with members of the Minneapolis African American community, I have completed an analysis of habitual aspect usage in a group of children.
My interest in language universals led me to investigate Chinese –one of the oldest known contact languages- and linguistic variations in Beijing Mandarin (Putonghua), Southwestern Mandarin Chinese (as spoken in Wuhan, Hubei), and in Wu. Focusing on aspects of discourse, I studied the acquisition of standard varieties by speakers of nonstandard dialects in China, and compared them to pragmatic processes observed in creole communities
Parallel to my interest in creole languages, I developed an interest in Garifuna, an Arawak-based language spoken by Afro-Indians (Garinagu) living in Belize and Honduras besides Creoles, Mestizos, and Amerindians. I am currently writing a dynamic grammar of Garifuna, which has now become an endangered language. I investigate the sociolinguistic processes and factors that lead to language attrition, working with local communities on issues of language maintenance and revitalization.
- Ph.D.: Linguistics, Indiana University, 1975
- Endangered languages (Garifuna in Belize and Honduras)
- Belizean creole (Central America)
- Creoles and other contact languages
- African-American English, Chinese-English Pidgin English
- Garifuna (Belize and Honduras)
- Chinese language variation
- Language, gender and identity