A few weeks ago, I met with my potential PhD project advisor to discuss possible projects. I left that meeting with one really great lead on a project and with the assignment to do some research. Friday, Dr. Huber and I met again and laid down a time line for my research project.
What happened when Blacks from Africa were imported to America and put to work on plantations? How did they communicate with Blacks from other countries and therefore languages? How did they communicate with their White masters? What seemed to happen most of the time is that a new language sprouted up between all these people groups that was a mixture of the first languages of the slaves and the English of the American people. This happened especially if there was a high concentration of Blacks.
Another interesting influence on language growth and development is isolation. When a group of people is separated from other by mountains, water (like on islands), or otherwise difficult terrain, like swamps, the language tends to thrive untouched by outside influences. A quite famous example of this is Basque, which is spoken in northern Spain. Basque is classified as a “language isolate,” which means that it does not have any language relatives (German and English are “language relatives”).
I am going to be looking at a dialect of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) called Gullah or Sea Island Creole English, which originated during the late 1600s and 1700s. As one of its alternate names indicates, Gullah is spoken on Sea Island, Georgia, which is, as an island, isolated from the mainland. My goal is to find direct evidence that Gullah was formed through the process of creolization, and not some other way. I will be examining archives to look for historical evidence of the language and the people who used it.
My goal is to have located and read a great deal of background research by the beginning of our summer semester (in American, we’d call it the spring semester). I will dedicate one week of the 6-week semester break to identifying and contacting potential sources: libraries, archives, and collections of language samples. Then, once I understand the issue more fully and have identified potential sources, I will write an application for the GCSC at Justus-Liebig-Universität. The GCSC will help with funding and presentation of my research.