Carla Martin

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University


2011-2012: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Sounding Creole: The Politics of Cape Verdean Language, Music, and Diaspora

Project Description

Sounding Creole: The Politics of Cape Verdean Language, Music, and Diaspora

This project focuses on sociolinguistic attitudes toward the Cape Verdean Creole (CVC) language, particularly as these attitudes are negotiated through Cape Verdean music in Cape Verde and the diaspora. The central question is: How do music and language sustain one another and bind together Cape Verde and its large diaspora, both socially and sonically? The project investigates musical dialogues that are conducted in CVC by artists and audiences and that promote an overwhelmingly positive image of CVC in Cape Verdean culture. It explores the boundaries of “Creole Exceptionalism,” the widespread and often harmful belief that “Creole languages form an exceptional class on phylogenetic and/or typological grounds” (DeGraff 2005:533). I extend DeGraff’s impeccable critique and “Foucauldian genealogy” of Creole Exceptionalism in linguistic scholarship to a critique in the Cape Verdean public and academic spheres and in anthropological and ethnomusicological scholarship. Considering the numerous forces working against CVC, studying its celebrated role in music can provide insight into their mutually sustaining bond. My dissertation, based on research conducted in Cape Verde, Europe, and the US, will present one of the first full-scale ethnographies of a Creole language and also the first musical ethnography focusing primarily on the relationship between language and music. This research aims to proliferate postcolonial approaches to the study and representation of Creole languages, art forms, and societies. Its broader implications include potential progressive social development (through education, social enfranchisement, and political participation) for Creole-speaking communities.

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