Karin Speedy’s interdisciplinary work on New Caledonia initially focused on Pacific-Indian Ocean connections through the 19th century sugar industry and labour trade and their impact on the emergence of Tayo, the Pacific’s only French-based Creole language.
Speedy’s archival, socio-historical and linguistic research demonstrated an unknown contact history between Kanak and Reunionese immigrants, signifying that Reunion Creole was an input language into Tayo.
In addition, Speedy drew attention to other key factors in Tayo’s development: the important contribution of Melanesian languages and the roles the Marists, mission school-educated girls and local pidgins played in its evolution.
Underlining the ethnic/social diversity of Reunionese immigrants and unveiling the complex identities of “Malabar” indentured workers, Speedy revealed a new chapter in New Caledonian migration history.
Putting a human face to this forgotten Creole-speaking group and furthering our understanding of their Pacific aspirations, Speedy restored their place in local history and in turn advanced new paradigms in the linguistic development of Tayo.
Related projects on the Pacific Labour Trade, including critical work on Georges Baudoux’s writing and a new study on Frenchman Didier Joubert’s role in the kidnapping of South Sea Islanders, have stemmed from her primary project.
Speedy’s research has been integrated into the New Caledonian school curriculum. She consulted on the Lexique illustré en Tayo (Académie des Langues Kanak), has attracted PhD candidates, research grants, and been invited to present papers, write and review articles, books and proposals.
In 2013, the New Zealand Federation of Alliances Françaises awarded her the prestigious John Dunmore Medal.