This quote from an article will soon appear in a newspaper in Belize (Central America). The literal English translation would be: ‘
The Belize Kriol project [is] big on Doctor Ken Decker!’
On 20 November 2014, Ken Decker will defend his PhD research into orthographies and the sociology of language, in which he focuses on the orthography of the creole language of Belize, which is known as Belize Kriol.
For the last 200 years, linguists have been convinced that writing systems should be an accurate reflection of the way a language is spoken. However, in some cases the community that uses the language does not agree. Even in the Netherlands, changes to traditional spelling tend to cause a commotion. This can be a very sensitive subject, particularly with languages that are not politically dominant (referred to as minority languages).
The way a minority language is written is considered very important. The aim of Decker’s thesis is to find out how writing systems are embedded in a language community. He chose to study the creole language of Belize, which is based on English. Opinion in the Belize language community about the way the language should be written is divided. Some people think that the system should resemble English, while others want to emphasize the distinctive character of the creole language.
Decker’s research shows that the attitude taken by the language community is a determining factor when implementing a writing system. Furthermore, the way a language is spoken has less impact on the way it is written than previously thought. It is important to involve the language community when developing a spelling system and to make compromises. In addition, it is important to allow plenty of time for developing and modifying spelling, as constant revision is needed and inconsistencies are never completely resolved.
Kendall (Ken) Decker was born in Herdershorn, Kentucky in the United States, on 14 April 1955. He first encountered the language development work carried out at the SILL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) international after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Education (1981) at Purdue University (US). It became a huge source of inspiration for him. He spent a few years conducting research at the institute before taking a Master’s degree in Linguistics at the University of Texas in Arlington. After graduating, he and his wife Sandy moved to Belize, where they both started research into Belize Kriol in 1993. His involvement with the development of Belize Kriol was the first stage of the PhD research that he is defending on Thursday 20 November.
The population of Belize is enthusiastic: ‘[Ken Decker] finish op ih disertayshan pahn how fi goh bowt di mek wahn spelin sistim (orthography) fu wahn langwij. Ken stodi ga lat bowt di Bileez Kriol langwij, wahn hoal chapta pahn tap. Tank yu Ken!’
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