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  • What We Mean When We Say 'CREOLE'An Interview with Salikoko S. Mufwene
  • Michael Collins (bio)
Abstract

Salikoko S. Mufwene is an internationally renowned theorist of language evolution, language contact, and sociolinguistics, among other subjects. He sat for the following interview on April 7 and April 8, 2003, during a visit he paid to Texas A & M University in College Station to lecture on controversies surrounding Ebonics. Mufwene's ability to dazzle audiences was just as evident in Texas as it had been in the city-state of Singapore, where I first heard him lecture. His ability was indeed already apparent early in his life in Congo: Robert Chaudenson of the Université d'Aix-en-Provence reports that in 1973 "Mufwene received a License en Philosophie et Lettres (with a major in English Philology) from the National University of Zaire at Lubumbashi (with Highest Honors). The same year he also obtained his Agrégation d'enseignement moyen du degré supérieur (with Honors). Let me comment a bit on the significance of these diplomas, especially for readers who are not familiar with (post)colonial Africa. That the young Salikoko, born in Mbaya-Lareme, would find himself twenty years later in Lubumbashi at the University, with not one but two diplomas, should in itself count as an obvious sign of intellectual excellence for anyone who is in any way familiar with the Congo of that era. Salikoko must have seriously distinguished himself among his peers: at that time, overly limited opportunities and a brutally elitist educational system did entail fierce competition." For the rest of Chaudenson's remarks, and for further information on Mufwene, see http://humanities.uchicago.edu/faculty/mufwene/index.html. The following interview picks up where Chaudenson leaves off.

Salikoko S. Mufwene is an internationally renowned theorist of language evolution, language contact, and sociolinguistics, among other subjects. He sat for the following interview on April 7 and April 8, 2003, during a visit he paid to Texas A & M University in College Station to lecture on controversies surrounding Ebonics. Mufwene's ability to dazzle audiences was just as evident in Texas as it had been in the city-state of Singapore, where I first heard him lecture. His ability was indeed already apparent early in his life in Congo: Robert Chaudenson of the Université d'Aix-en-Provence reports that in 1973 "Mufwene received a License en Philosophie et Lettres (with a major in English Philology) from the National University of Zaire at Lubumbashi (with Highest Honors). The same year he also obtained his Agrégation d'enseignement moyen du degré supérieur (with Honors). Let me comment a bit on the significance of these diplomas, especially for readers who are not familiar with (post)colonial Africa. That the young Salikoko, born in Mbaya-Lareme, would find himself twenty years later in Lubumbashi at the University, with not one but two diplomas, should in itself count as an obvious sign of intellectual excellence for anyone who is in any way familiar with the Congo of that era. Salikoko must have seriously distinguished himself among his peers: at that time, overly limited opportunities and a brutally elitist educational system did entail fierce competition." For the rest of Chaudenson's remarks, and for further information on Mufwene, see http://humanities.uchicago.edu/faculty/mufwene/index.html. The following interview picks up where Chaudenson leaves off.

Part 1

COLLINS: Can you comment on what Robert Chaudenson has called "the brutally elitist educational system" in Congo?

MUFWENE: Well what he means by the "elitist system" is that the educational system was very competitive, at least at the time when I went to university. If there were 100 students beginning the first year at the university, four years down the road there might be just 20 graduating from that particular class. So it was a very competitive system and most of the people were already leaving . . . at the end of the first year and by the end of the second year, some people would just get discouraged and drop out of the system. And so he meant that the fact of going through the system and [End Page 425] graduating with distinction was...

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