Michel DeGraff is Professor of Linguistics at MIT. His linguistic work mostly concerns Creole languages, with focus on his native Haitian Creole, as he documents various ways in which Creole languages are, structurally and developmentally, on a par with non-Creole languages. From such a perspective, Creole formation is yet another instance of language change in the context of language contact—with Creole languages offering us important data for a deeper understanding of the cognitive and social factors involved in the diachrony of all languages. In a related vein, DeGraff is also collaborating with Prof. Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam) in a triangular comparison of Haitian Creole, Gbe and French. This comparison is documenting and analyzing the complex structures that arise out of contact situations, and the implications of these structures for linguistic theory and theories of language change. To date, the results from such research cast doubts on the still popular scenarios according to which Creoles emerged from Pidgins and, thus, form a distinct type—of “the world’s simplest languages.”
DeGraff’s linguistic work is coupled with the incorporation of Kreyòl and technology in research and education toward sustainable development in Haiti. Some of DeGraffʼs current projects have explored the strategic use of digital tools in Kreyòl to improve Haitian students’ active learning of math and science. The NSF-funded MIT-Haiti Initiative is an interdisciplinary research project combining linguistics, science, math and education. In DeGraff’s view, it is through the innovative, strategic and systematic use of Kreyòl that Haitian students can optimally develop their knowledge in STEM, in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and in second languages.
DeGraff is a founding member of Haiti’s Haitian Creole Academy and a member of Haiti’s National Commission for Curricular Reform, part of the Ministry of National Education and Professional Training.