Word meanings do not emerge in a vacuum. They are revealing of speakers’ value systems and the sociopolitical logics under which they emerged. Colonial European languages, such as English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, and to a lesser extent German and Danish have left a decisive mark on the world’s languages. Yet sometimes the meaning of European words have been reinvented outside of the European context, most dramatically so in creole-speaking communities. Creole languages are the products of a radical reinvention of linguistic, cultural and political systems, and in that sense, creoles based on European words hold the key to understanding the extent of European colonial and postcolonial influence in the world. Creolisation studies bring together conceptual semantics with migration studies, ethnolinguistic diversity studies, and the history of sociopolitical relations. If properly understood, creolised words can lead us to a deeper understanding of the basic human capacity for “reinvention”.
Carsten Levisen teaches linguistics at Aarhus University, Denmark. He is the author of Cultural Semantics and Social Cognition (De Gruyter Mouton, 2012), and a postdoctoral researcher in the Cognitive Creolistics research group, funded by the Velux Foundation. His research and teaching includes Scandinavian languages, World Englishes, ethnolinguistics, and most recently, the creolisation of languages, cultures and societies. His main interest lies in the cultural semantics of sociality constructs, ethnopsychological constructs, and cognitive values.
To view the flyer for this event please see: European Words Reinvented.