Dr William Jennings

Qualifications: BSc, BA, MA, PhD Auckland

([email protected])


French; History; Linguistics

Creole linguistics; French-New Zealand contacts; French literature; 17th and 18th century French history; early French Atlantic exploration.

Research Interests

William Jennings has research interests in two strands: French colonial history and literary innovation. The first strand focuses on creole languages, especially the early interactions between Native Americans, Europeans and Africans in the French Caribbean. The interest extends to the nineteenth-century Pacific, from where French missionaries sent home detailed descriptions of people and places in New Zealand in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. The second strand involves the work of Nobel laureate Andre Gide (1869-1951) and of Amélie Nothomb (b. 1967), both literary innovators concerned with identity.

Recipient of the 2017 John Dunmore Medal: Dr William Jennings

Through his research and publications, Dr Jennings has made an important contribution to knowledge of nineteenth-century French expansion in the Pacific.  He has drawn particularly on the correspondence of the first French Marist missionaries in New Zealand and Oceania. He has contributed to the on-line Oceanian Archive, and assisted and encouraged students and other researchers to translate into English the writings of early Marist missionaries (1836-54). These translations, available on the Society of Mary website, provide new historical sources. Dr Jennings' own publications show the wealth of material to explore and the significant potential of this resource.

The John Dunmore Medal is awarded annually in recognition of major contributions to knowledge and better understanding of the part played by the French people and French culture in the scientific, economic, historical and cultural development of the Pacific.

Royal Society of New Zealand

Recent book

William Jennings & Stefan Pfänder (2017). Inheritance & Innovation in a Colonial Language: Towards a Usage-Based Account of French Guianese Creole. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

This book takes a fresh approach to analysing how new languages are created, combining in-depth colonial history and empirical, usage-based linguistics. Focusing on a rarely studied language, the authors employ this dual methodology to reconstruct how multilingual individuals drew on their perception of Romance and West African languages to form French Guianese Creole. In doing so, they facilitate the application of a usage-based approach to language while simultaneously contributing significantly to the debate on Creole origins.  This innovative volume is sure to appeal to students and scholars of language history, creolisation and languages in contact.

eBook ISBN          978-3-319-61952-1

DOI                       10.1007/978-3-319-61952-1

Hardcover ISBN   978-3-319-61951-4

Recent Publications

  • Jennings, W. (2021). Ataï and Sandja: Non-archival objects. In Second Annual Archives Workshop.

  • Jennings, W. (2021). Health, medical practice and slavery in the Colonial Caribbean. In University of Waikato, New Zealand [Virtual].

  • Jennings, W. (2020). Dibia's People: Life for enslaved people on a French colonial plantation in 1690. In Joint Society for French Historical Studies Conference and George Rudé Seminar in French History and Civilisation. Conference held at University of Auckland, New Zealand and disseminated online.

  • Jennings, W. (2020). Dibia’s People: Life and death on a sugar plantation in 1690. In Waikato Archives Workshop.

View all research publications by William Jennings

Papers Taught