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bulletHonorary Members > Pauline G Christie

Focus on Creolists: Pauline Christie

Velma Pollard (UWI, Mona, Jamaica)

The Carrier Pidgin: A newsletter for those interested in pidgin and creole languages (Vol. 21, No. 1, January–April 1993)

Among the passengers leaving from Port Antonio, Jamaica, on the SS Jamaica Producer bound for London in September 1950, was a slip of a girl, Pauline Christie. She had proved herself the most promising female of her cohort and so had won the Jamaica Scholarship for Girls, which entitled its holder to a university education in Britain. Pauline was headed for Edinburgh and an honours degree in French Language and Literature (with Latin and Moral Philosophy).

Friends who shared those Edinburgh years remember her as a game soul for any kind of fun, in addition to remembering her as a scholar. The Master's degree from Edinburgh included a year at the Sorbonne. Then it was London University for a year doing a postgraduate Certificate in Education, which included practice and observation in various areas of London and in Wales. Christie was preparing herself, if unconsciously, for a career beyond French and Latin, a career in Language.

Back home, Pauline returned to St. Andrew High School, her alma mater, to teach French and Latin. She had been an extraordinarily effective Head Girl there and was to be an extraordinary teacher. Past students remember a thorough, knowledgeable and interesting facilitator. Some who continued to university admit that her ability to make the languages come alive had everything to do with their decision to pursue them further. But more than that, she had a way of making each student feel her individual concern. Miss Christie never taught a class, they say; she taught thirty-five separate girls. And she was for many of them in a colonial girls' school, a role model, someone they could identify with, proof at last that they could achieve, as she had, if they made the effort. One past student confesses that, even today, she feels herself wondering every time she sees Dr. Christie whether she has in fact done her best, made the most of her own life. Such has been the influence of this teacher.

After ten years or so the knowledge lust or wanderlust took hold of her again. A Commonwealth scholarship facilitated postgraduate work at the relatively new York University in England. The intention was to continue in the field of teaching foreign languages. But that was not to be. The language department was offering a course in Linguistics. It attracted her interest and changed the course of her academic life.

It was an exciting time at York working with Robert LePage, who had returned from several years in Jamaica and who had already published a number of articles and was preparing a dictionary (with Cassidy) on the language of Jamaica. Caribbean Language Studies was only just emerging as a serious research concern. Christie was to be among the first in a line of Caribbean language students who would do post-graduate work at York. Donald Winford, Colville Young, Hubert Devonish, Kean Gibson, and Alison Irvine would follow.

Research for the doctoral dissertation took Pauline to Dominica, where she blended with the environment and became just the returning daughter of any family down the road. The dissertation, “A Sociolinguistic Study of Some Dominican Creole Speakers” remains one of the few linguistic studies of Dominica French Creole, which is the first language of a large proportion of that population.

Dr. Christie spent two post-doctorial years at York, first as Research Fellow and then as Temporary Lecturer. The earlier assignment took her to Cayo District, Belize for seven months as part of a research team headed by LePage and Tabouret-Keller. This research was to be the first of two studies which formed the basis for what would eventually become Acts of Identity (LePage and Tabouret-Keller 1985). Her task was to converse with children (280 of them) over “formal” as well as “homely” topics. There was nothing challenging about this exercise for someone who as prefect, headgirl, and teacher had distinguished herself for her humility and her ease in interacting with junior girls. What was truly challenging was the physical discomfort attendant on the exercise, where roadways and waterways satisfied minimal transportation needs and accommodation left much to be desired. Still, Dr. Christie's York years were very productive, and the contacts made during this period remain current.

Dr. Christie returned to Jamaica in the early seventies and joined the staff of the Faculty of Arts and General Studies at the University of the West Indies, teaching Linguistics. The Department of Language and Linguistics was only just being talked about. She became a foundation member and one of the chairpersons of the Senate Sub-committee on Linguistics, which led to the establishment of a full department.

Friends from the high school years remember Pauline Christie for her unruffled analytical approach to problems, and above all, her unquestionable integrity. Women she taught in school remember how she gently forced them to excellence. Students she lectured to at the University of the West Indies talk about the effort she exacted, requiring them not to waste her time. Colleagues have noted the tremendous impact she has had on students in terms of motivating them. A senior colleague considers her the best teacher the department has had.

It is that same integrity and that requirement of excellence that Dr. Christie has brought to bear on her linguistic research over the years. Her conclusions are careful and well documented. Hypotheses remain just that as long as they have not been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, almost as if she is terrified of misleading a whole generation. In a field like Creole Studies, where there is the opportunity for so much adventurism, this is an invaluable trait.

Dominica French Creole, Dominica English Creole, Jamaican Creole and Jamaican English are the areas of Caribbean Language Studies that have engaged Pauline Christie's energetic mind over the years.

Pauline has also served in administrative positions and has sat on various university and non-university committees at home and abroad. She has been head of the Department of Language and Linguistics and is currently Dean of the Faculty of Arts and General Studies. In addition she has given long hours of public service as a member of the English Language Committee of the Council for Caribbean Examinations (for which discussions began shortly after she returned to the Caribbean). She has served on the Executive Committee of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics and has been Secretary and President. She is a member of the International Group for the Study of Language Standardizatino and the Vernacularization of Literacy, a group convened by Prof. Robert LePage, and is one of the few Caribbean-based members of the Society for Pidgin and Creole Languages [sic]. And always she has been a helpful and accessible colleague with a great sense of fun and a ready and infectious laugh.

Dr. Christie has managed, in spite of administrative pressures, to prepare several learned papers for conferences and has kept up a steady stream of publications, including countless book reviews. The selected bibliography below attests to this. It is noteworthy that, although her research interests are (inevitably) creole studies, she has been responsible for the theory courses in linguistics. In recent years, as she has been given administrative responsibilities, these courses have had to be taught by “imported” scholars.


1973 (with R.B. LePAGE et al). Further report on the Survey of Multilingual Communities: Survey of Cayo District, British Honduras. Language and Society 3(1), 1-32

1977. The question of English and education in Jamaica. Torch 25(3), 27-29.

1979. Ethnolinguistic groupings in Cayo District, Belize: some implications for the teaching of English. Carib 1, 39-49.

1979. Assertive no in Jamaica Creole. In M. CUTHBERT and M. PIDGEON (eds.). Language and Communication in the Caribbean (Barbados: Cedar Press).

1980. The language situation in Jamaica. Polyglot 2 (Birbeck College, London: microfiche), 1-4.

1982. Language maintenance and language shift in Dominica. Caribbean Quarterly 28(4), 41-51.

1983. Language and social change in Jamaica. Journal of Caribbean Studies 3(3), 204-226.

1983. In search of the boundaries of Caribbean Creole. In L. CARRINGTON et al (eds.), Studies in Caribbean Language (Port-of-Spain, Trinidad: Society for Caribbean Linguistics), 13-22.

1986. Evidence for an unsuspected habitual marker in Jamaican. In M. GÖRLACH and J. HOLM (eds.). Focus on the Caribbean (Amsterdam: John Benjamins), 183-90.

1988. Focus on creolists: Douglas Taylor. The Carrier Pidgin 16(2), 1 and 5.

1989. Questions of standards and intra-regional differences in Caribbean examinations. In O. OTHEGUY and R. GARCIA (eds.). English across Cultures: Cultures across English (Amsterdam: John Benjamins): 243-262.

1990. French Creole: the French connection reviewed. In J. GREEN and W. AYRES-BENNETT (eds.). Variation and Change in French: Essays Presented to Rebecca Posner on the Occasion of her Sixtieth Birthday (London: Routledge), 134-147.

1990. Language as expression of identity in Dominica. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 85, 61-69. 1991. Modality in Jamaican Creole. In W.P. EDWARDS and D. WINFORD (eds.). Verb Phrase Patterns in Black English and Creole (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), 223-239.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the editors of The Carrier Pidgin (ISSN: 0739–3474)



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