LINGUIST List 23.2265

Fri May 11 2012

Review: Language Documentation; Sociolinguistics: St-Hilaire (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 11-May-2012
From: Joshua Nash <>
Subject: Kwéyòl in Postcolonial Saint Lucia
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at
AUTHOR: Aonghas St-HilaireTITLE: Kwéyòl in Postcolonial Saint LuciaSUBTITLE: Globalization, language planning, and national developmentSERIES TITLE: Creole Language Library 40PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Joshua Nash, Discipline of Linguistics, University of Adelaide, Australia


Saint Lucian Kwéyòl is a worthy example to examine within creole languagestudies when assessing the relationship between sociolinguistic considerationsof languages in the postcolonial world and the implementation of (creole)language policies. Because of its size, cultural history, and linguistic past,this small island nation and its current political and linguistic situationprovide an example relevant to other small, endangered, and ‘unappreciated’languages in the world, how language choice, education, and policy form a strongstatement about identity relations, and how languages can be managed within aglobalized world. St-Hilaire’s summary of these issues is relevant not only tocreolistics, language planning, sociolinguistics, and studies in languagechange, but also to research into the linguistic effects of colonization and(French and Caribbean) postcolonial studies. More specifically, because of thefocus on French colonial history, French sociolinguistics, and populationmovements in the Caribbean, this volume should appeal to French languagelinguists and (Caribbean) creolists. There are, however, several serioustheoretical problems with the book.


This volume is intelligently presented and, as the Table of Contents attests,provides a concise yet comprehensive description of the sociolinguisticsituation in the Caribbean vis-à-vis colonial languages and non-standardvarieties relevant to Saint Lucian Kwéyòl. However, the method of academicscaffolding presented in the Table of Contents, which bears strong resemblanceto a PhD thesis, makes for overly short chapter subsections and an oftencumbersome, fragmented read. The result leads to a more serious criticism: thevolume’s reiterative and repetitive style and the absence of a clear theoreticalquestion and purpose throughout.

Despite the comprehensiveness of the topics covered, certain discussions such asChapter 1’s lengthy examination of Caribbean language politics and policy andtheir relationship to globalization make the initial sections of the volumerepetitive. The presentation of factual statements, which are otherwise wellreferenced, indicates that although the author has read widely on these topics,he has not synthesized a strong statement on the relationship of these presentedfacts to what will follow in the subsequent chapters.

St-Hilaire uses Saint Lucian Creole to demonstrate how “the elevation of thesocial status of Caribbean creole vernaculars is one way to restore a positiveidentity” (p. 30). This sociolinguistic position argues that language andcultural politics are at the heart of language planning policies within amodernised and globalized Caribbean. Using several examples of colonial andpostcolonial Caribbean language policies, the author sets the historical scenein the first chapter for what lies ahead. The factual and overly formal natureof the chapter with no empirical analysis is not to be expected for asociolinguistic study of a marginalized creole, however.

The detailed description of Caribbean and specifically Saint Lucian colonizationpresented in Chapter 2, although at times a little drawn out and matter of fact,sets the (socio)linguistic background of the book. This chapter presents largenumbers of facts and statistics about Kwéyòl in education, migration practices,and political views but very little by way of an integrated argument about theimplications of what is presented. Chapter 3 ‘Kwéyòl cultural nationalism’provides a brief history of postcolonial political and linguistic changeoversand specifically the role of Kwéyòl in boosting national self-esteem andattitudinal change. St-Hilaire’s account appears more as a historicaldescription and information presentation rather than a linguistic argument oranalysis. It is here that some detailed data analysis relating to the perceived(sociolinguistic) status of language varieties on Saint Lucia could have beenpresented in terms of language in use. By the end of this chapter, it is unclearwhat the author has accomplished other than to describe that a revival of Kwéyòlhas occurred in parallel with a (postcolonial) cultural revival in Saint Luciaand other parts of the Caribbean.

In Chapter 4, ‘An Anglophone country in an English-speaking world’, St-Hilaireclaims that while many changes have taken place in Saint Lucia sinceindependence in 1979, and although Kwéyòl now has a higher social and emblematicstatus than previously, (standard) English is still the language of power,education, and politics. Again, apart from some lengthy discussions abouturbanization and migration, the argument presented in the form of data andhistorical facts comes across as a fait accompli -- i.e. Kwéyòl does fare wellin some political and sociolinguistic areas, not so well in others. Chapter 5,‘Francophonie and Créolophonie’, provides the most interest for French languagestudies. A description of the Francophonie as a concept and specifically SaintLucia’s participation in the cultural and linguistic formation of the(Caribbean) Francophonie is given. The social status of the various Frenchcreoles in the Caribbean is outlined in comparison with the Indian Ocean Frenchcreoles, with discussion of general orthographic conventions in Caribbean Frenchcreole media and the establishment of a Saint Lucian Kwéyòl orthography. Whilethis information is warranted, further implications need to be addressed inorder to relate the role of French in Kwéyòl to the topic of Chapter 6,‘Government and democracy’. This chapter focuses on status planning of Kwéyòland its changing political status as a national language of Saint Lucia and itslinguistic implications. In this discussion and the foci of Chapter 7,‘Literacy, the schools, and higher education’, Chapter 8, ‘The mass media’, andChapter 9, ‘The changing status of Kwéyòl’, St-Hilaire does little more thanpresent secondary research into Kwéyòl corpus planning, grammar and dictionarycreation, literacy, and the increased tolerance of Kwéyòl in schools. Somehistory about the social role of Kwéyòl in television and the print media inSaint Lucia and monitoring perceived changes in attitudes towards Kwéyòl is alsogiven.

The final three chapters address the influence of English (Chapter 10) andFrench (Chapter 11) as lingering colonial languages and perceptions ofsociolinguistic change and conclude the work (Chapter 12). Anecdotal evidenceof perceptions of Kwéyòl speakers vis-à-vis the colonial influence of French andEnglish are given. The final chapter, ‘Conclusions and language planningimplications’, summarizes the work and its implications are presented. Much ofthis chapter is repetition of information presented elsewhere. This has resultedin a comprehensive bibliography, which should be of use to some scholars, and isone of the major contributions of the book.

Although not essential to the argument of the work, a mention of the role ofcreole toponyms, creole place names, and processes of creole place-naming increating and maintaining introduced colonial or indigenous connections to landthrough language would have been welcome. The significance of place names increole speech communities was put forward by Berleant-Schiller (1991), andalthough not a major point of interest to the work, considering ‘creoletoponymy’ and ‘creole place-naming’ on Saint Lucia as a means of understandingpostcolonial national development and linguistic change may have provenworthwhile to St-Hilaire’s argument.

A major conceptual criticism: there are no obvious links between the chapters,and the book as a whole lacks a coherent thread, research question, anddevelopment of a theoretical core. In addition, there is a lot of repetition ofconcepts, information, geographical divisions, and language groups, which makesthe reading of this book tedious. As a sociolinguistic study focusing onlanguage planning and nation building, the topic of this volume in principle iscommendable. However, the absence of any technical analytical methods common insociolinguistic research and creolistics does this work a great disservice.Throughout large sections of the book the reader is left with the feeling ofhaving been presented fact after fact relating to Saint Lucian political andlinguistic economy rather than reading a study that is at its base a linguisticstudy and particularly a creolistic study in John Benjamins’ well establishedCreole Language Library.

Reflecting on the concepts presented in the title of this book, ‘languageplanning’ is the key which should have drawn ‘Kwéyòl’, ‘postcolonial’,‘globalization’, and ‘national development’ together, especially consideringthis work was directed towards a French language studies and creolisticsaudience. Because this work does not critically account for how it has addedtheoretically to language planning studies nor to postcolonial readings oflanguage and cultural change, it remains unclear how this volume contributes tocreolistics and French language studies in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Thisbook was unsuccessful at sustaining a cogent theoretical point and researchcontribution and thus failed to live up to its potential.


Berleant-Schiller, R. 1991. Hidden places and creole forms: Naming the Barbudanlandscape. Professional Geographer 43 (1). 92-101.


Joshua Nash is an Australian Research Council research associate in the Discipline of Linguistics at the University of Adelaide where he completed his PhD in 2011. His research focuses on synthesising ecological approaches to the study of language with Indian perspectives on spirituality, ecology, and ethnography. He has conducted linguistic fieldwork on Norfolk Island, South Pacific since 2007 and environmental fieldwork in Vrindavan, India since 1998.

Page Updated: 11-May-2012