Congratulations to Linguistics PhD candidate Joy Peltier, who successfully defended her dissertation on Monday, March 14. Committee members are Marlyse Baptista (chair), Sally Thomason, Susan Gelman, and Diana Ranson (University of Georgia).

Dissertation title: “Little Words” in Contact and in Context: Pragmatic Markers in Kwéyòl Donmnik, English, and French


Pragmatic markers are multifunctional words or phrases that allow language users to express their attitudes and cognitive states and to organize and coordinate discourse. The forms they take and the functions they perform also index a community’s culture and history, particularly in contexts involving language contact. In this dissertation, I examine pragmatic markers in Kwéyòl Donmnik (an endangered and understudied Creole), in the superstrate with which it has been in contact for over 200 years (English), and in its lexifier (French) as both communicative tools and cultural artifacts. Displayed below are the four Kwéyòl markers I selected to compare with their French and English counterparts.

Kwéyòl Pragmatic Markers

French Counterparts

English Counterparts

konsa ‘so’

(ou) comme ça ‘(or) like that’


ében ‘well’

(eh) ben ‘well’


papa/Bondyé ‘father/God’

bon Dieu ‘good God’ and other similar expressions (e.g., mon Dieu ‘my God’)

oh my God and other similar expressions (e.g., gosh)

la ‘there’



Table 1. Selected pragmatic markers

First, I asked how the discourse-pragmatic functions and distributional features of the selected pragmatic markers in Kwéyòl Donmnik compare with those of their English and French counterparts? I addressed this question by conducting a Kwéyòl corpus analysis and comparing the results with the literature on the English and French markers. The study’s outcomes revealed that many of the Kwéyòl markers’ properties reflect congruencies shared by their French and English counterparts. In addition, when English well and so surfaced in the Kwéyòl data, they were used in ways that exploited congruencies between the English and Kwéyòl markers. English so even performed functions that are unique to Kwéyòl konsa, suggesting a greater degree of integration of so into the Creole itself.

Second, I asked what metalinguistic knowledge speakers of Kwéyòl Donmnik and English have about these markers and how those intuitions and attitudes compared across the two communities and with the results of the previous study. I interviewed Kwéyòl speakers about konsa, èben, and papa/Bondyé and surveyed English speakers about their counterparts so, well, and oh my God. I also asked the Kwéyòl speakers about la ‘there’. Their responses paralleled the results of the corpus analysis and the literature, and there were several commonalities between the two groups’ answers. A key difference, however, was the cultural and communicative value the Kwéyòl speakers attributed to their markers.

Lastly, I gathered excerpts from an English corpus and to construct a fill-in-the-blank task for the same English-speaking participants. My aim was to learn whether they approached so, well, and oh my God as interchangeable, particularly when the markers have functions in common. The results affirmed the non-interchangeability of these markers and suggested that speakers may more closely associate shared functions with one marker alternatives.

In addition to contributing to the linguistic study of Kwéyòl Donmnik, this research’s implications extend across pragmatics and contact linguistics. First, it affirms the status of Creoles as full-fledged, natural languages; like all languages, Creoles have full expressive power, including at the discourse-pragmatic level.  Second, it reinforces the meaningful status of pragmatic markers as tools for linguistic and cultural expression. Third, it demonstrates the value of examining pragmatic markers through multiple methodological lenses, including both interdisciplinary corpus pragmatics and experimental pragmatics approaches and direct elicitation of speakers’ metalinguistic knowledge. Finally, it illustrates the fruitfulness of bridging creolistics and pragmatics by incorporating high-contact languages into pragmatics research.