Speaking ‘American’ in Samaná: Migration, Freedom, and Belonging


ACLS Fellowship Program


English and Linguistics


In the nineteenth century, before the abolition of slavery in the United States, thousands of African Americans migrated to Haiti. They were motivated by the prospect of living in a free society and various incentives provided by Jean-Pierre Boyer’s government, including financial support and land to farm. In one of the settlements, the town of Samaná (today part of the Dominican Republic), community members passed on the language of their ancestors, African American English, for more than 150 years; they also had significant contact with speakers of Spanish and Haitian as well as other groups, and some became bilingual. This interdisciplinary project puts concepts from third-wave sociolinguistics in dialogue with insights from creolistics and sociohistorical linguistics in order to explore how their spoken language, linguistic ideologies, and ideas about belonging changed over time. It culminates in a call to re-envision both ‘Samaná English’ and sociohistorical approaches to language.