Linguistic Diversity at Duke: A Look into Jacques Pierre's Dedication to Haitian Creole

By Rhiannon See // February 21, 2024

Jacques Pierre is a Lecturing Fellow in French, Haitian Creole, and Culture in the Department of Romance Studies and Core Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies within the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University. “I was born and raised in Haiti, my forever beloved land,” said Pierre. “I grew up in an environment full of charming and lovely people who taught me how to be considerate to others, especially the marginalized ones. I am a Creolist in words and deed and will remain that for the rest of my life.” 


Duke University and other prestigious institutions became accessible to Pierre thanks to his expertise in Haitian Creole, which he credits as a key factor in his life journey. “I will take the language with me wherever I go to share it with others. It is my linguistic heritage and therefore my soul language,” said Pierre. “Without the formation of this language, my ancestors, who were physically and mentally shackled, would have never been able to communicate with each other to put an end to slavery in the colony of Saint-Domingue. As long as I have breath in me, I will unreservedly promote it wherever I step.”


Pierre has been at Duke University for 13 years. His favorite Duke memory is his appointment as a co-director at the Haiti Lab. Pierre says that the Haiti Lab has given him an opportunity to make Haiti more visible through several kinds of events for the Duke community by hosting Haitian artists, guest speakers, and a Haitian film series. To amplify the voices of scholars and Creole advocates, Pierre has interviewed individuals from Trinidad & Tobago, Saint-Lucia, Mauritius, and Seychelles to encourage others to discover the linguistic similarities and differences between the Creole spoken in Haiti and those mentioned. “...I am always happy whenever I step into my classroom to share my language with the students,” said Pierre. In addition to his teaching, Pierre has written different articles in Haitian Creole, English, and French to shed light on the importance of Haitian Creole to building a well-rounded education in Haiti. 


Memonèt, a word game Pierre created, was featured in the 2016 IFLE journal from the U.S. Department of Education, an accomplishment he considers to be a highlight of his career. He also cites numerous influences on his life. “My parents taught me how to navigate the world,” he said. “[I’m also inspired by] all the brave men and women who fought to make Haiti a land of freedom, and by scholars, authors, and singers whose works have left a mark on the world.” Examples Pierre cites include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther-King Junior, Cheik Anta Diop, Maya Angelou, Suzanne Sanité Belair, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines and his revolutionary army.


Throughout his career, Pierre has encountered some challenges concerning the Creole language and the university. He believes that many don’t consider the language of Creole to be developed and that the efforts done by Creolists and educators to promote the language are undervalued due to this. Pierre also laments the Haitian government’s lack of official documents in the Creole language, hindering the widespread use of what cements all Haitians together. “It is a nonstop fight to encourage a lot of my peers to embrace their linguistic identity,” said Pierre. After a decade of working at Duke, he also notes that it is not always easy to be a minority on campus with many faculty members remaining silent about certain issues. However, Pierre is a firm believer that, “You have to be in the institution to bring issues to the table so that the institution can systematically address them for its betterment.”  


Jacques Pierre is a linguist, lexicographer, translator, and professor who has dedicated years of his life to the education of others in a diverse array of spaces. His contributions to the community at Duke over the years prove him to be a vital member of the university. If you would like to see more of Pierre’s work, he is currently working on two books of poems (one in Creole and the other one in French), a novel about several aspects of vodou in Creole, and a short history in Creole about Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the founding father of Haitian independence.