Thursday, May 15, 2008

linguistics at SIUC: retrospective

When I'm on break, as I am now, I sometimes go to an underground place that I know and love, but feel like very few others know about. It's the web archive records of the old Journal of Pidgin and Creole Linguistics - which, fortunately, saved, at least for the time being, a very interesting slice of the history of linguistics at SIUC.

The Journal, brought to SIUC by Dr. Glenn Gilbert, had at that time a webmaster, Caro Jacques I believe (though these pages list the author as Jeffery Parsell), who patiently put much of what it was doing on the web. Though one now has to know how to find it, as it is gone from all but the archives, short articles from old JPCL's can be found there; longer, more substantial ones also; longer pieces on Creole language in general; obituaries; a glossary of pidgin and creole terms; an index of old JPCL articles; in short, all kinds of stuff. I bring you a couple of examples, both called "Short Notes".
Sanson Pirog, by Derek Bickerton and Marcel Rosalie (Issue 5.1, 1990)
a "Short Note" about fishing-boat songs in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.

IN 20TH-CENTURY CUBA by Armin Schwegler
Issue 15.1, April 2000

There are many reasons to be interested in these documents, besides the fact that they are exactly the kinds of things I like to read. In the second article, there is clearly an academic argument about the survival of Kikongo, an African language, in Cuba and other places in the Americas, as opposed to a better-established theory that what survived was a combination of languages (it's clearly possible that both were right). Not that I know anything, really, about this particular dispute. It's more that I feel that putting it in public was itself an important act- on the cutting edge, one could say, of a general trend of making academic journals public, a trend that is continuing today and that in general is good, I feel, for such conversations. For one thing, people like me can participate, from home, late at night, whereas otherwise I might not have used my precious daytime working hours to go find the place in the library where I could have dug this up. Now if it were on a blog, I could also comment, if I wanted to, but that's another story.

My second point, and this really speaks to the first example, is that the web makes it far more likely that people, some people, any people, linguist people, will actually find anything like this that is quite hard to find- this is what Google is good for. And I happen to know that such songs as these, and accounts such as Bickerton & Rosalie's, are quite valuable in their own way.

And this brings me to the rest of the story. The JPCL was moved to Ohio State soon after these were put on the web; SIUC inadvertantly deleted the file as "inactive" with our permission, as we believed that Ohio State now owned it, and would put it directly on their web (perhaps they did; I'm not sure, but it's not there now); the JPCL, meanwhile, has returned to being an offline, academic journal, available only in libraries and by subscription; but worse, linguistics at SIUC has suffered a decline, and who would even know - besides me, that is - that such cool stuff could be found so deep in the web- with SIUC's name still on it? That's why I'm on this earth, I guess. For that reason, and to ponder the following questions: could more of this be salvaged, and brought to the web where we all could read it? Will SIUC get back into the groove, and realize again what it means to have active, productive Linguistics publications? Will the field of linguistics come to enjoy the explosion of possibilities brought by the connection of world peoples through the new media?

I don't know the answers, sorry for teasing you. Enjoy these, such as they are; thanks again, Caro (or Jeff?), and thanks again to the Web Archive for being there for us when we need it...

PS - though it has taken me a while to get the above links to work (let alone to wrap, I have not made it easy for anyone else to actually do what I do, and go trolling through the caves of the archives. To do that, put the old JPCL address ( into the archive; December of 2001 works well; see what you can find!

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