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Black History Month Picture: Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain

Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, date unknown. Image Courtesy of: Stanford University Libraries Newsletter. Courtesy of : Haitian HIstory Tumblr


Courtesy of Haitian History Tumblr:

Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain (1898-1975), daughter of the Haitian diplomat and intellectual Georges Sylvain (an active member of the Union Patriotique created to denounce the U.S. Marine Occupation of Haiti in 1915), is rarely mentioned in Haitian anthologies about anthropology. Yet, not only was Comhaire-Sylvain considered immensely educated for her time (earning a doctoral degree from the University of Paris in the late 1930s), her studies led her to be one of the first individuals to suggest that Haitian Creole was perhaps more than “badly spoken French,” and a more sophisticated language, mixing words and syntax from different romance and African languages. While her research was largely deemed inconsequential in the 1930s and 1940s, today, it would have been common place.

Aside from studying languages she was also interested in broder anthropological subjects and most notably the place of women in Caribbean and African societies.

In many respect, Comhaire-Sylvain challenged typically Haitian gender roles by refusing the quiet life that was favoured for middle-class women.

She died in 1975, in a car accident while in Nigeria. Her publications include Le Créole haïtien, morphologie et syntaxe (1936), À propos du vocabulaire des croyances paysannes (1938) among others. Her private papers can be found at Stanford University.

[Source: Île en île and “Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain” by Laënnec Hurbon]

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