Nichols, Patricia Causey

Nichols, Patricia Causey

Date Updated



Linguistics & Language Development

Academic Rank


Year Retired from SJSU


Educational Background

Winthrop College (University), 1958, B.A., English

University of Minnesota, 1969, M.A., English

San José State University, 1972, M.A., Linguistics

Stanford University, 1976, Ph.D., Linguistics

Dissertation Title

"Linguistic Change in Gullah: Sex, Age, and Mobility"

Teaching Experience

Hampton (VA) City Schools 1958-1960;

CA Community Colleges 1969-1972;

San José State University 1973-2000;

U of South Carolina 1980-1981.

Administrative and Professional Experience

Coordinator, English Education, 1986-1990;

Coordinator, Secondary Education Intern Program, 1998-2000


California Education Round Table -Task Force on K-12 English Standards;

SJSU Board of General Education;

President, SJSU Emeritus Faculty

Selected Publications

Voices of Our Ancestors: Language Contact in Early South Carolina, U of South Carolina Press (2009; 2022 pb, e-bk).

"Creole Languages: Forging New Identities" in Language in the USA eds. Finnegan & Rickford, Cambridge U Press 133-152 (2004).

"Pidgins and Creoles," in Sociolinguistics and Language Teaching, eds. McKay & Hornberger, Cambridge UP 195-217 (1996).

“Identifying the Languages and Cultures of Our Students,” Murray, Nichols, & Heisch, in Diversity as Resource, ed Murray, TESOL Publications 63-83 (1992).

"Language in the Attic: Claiming our Linguistic Heritage," in Diversity as Resource, ed Murray, TESOL Publications 275-293 (1992).

"Networks and Hierarchies: Language and Social Stratification," in Language and Power, eds Kramarae, Schulz, & O'Barr, Sage Publications 23-42 (1984).

"Black and White Speaking in the Rural South: Difference in the Pronominal System," American Speech 58, 201-215 (1983).

Personal Commentary

Woodrow Wilson Dissertation in Women's Studies 1974-1975.
Rockefeller Postdoctoral Fellowship, UNC, Comparative Cultures of the South 1992-1993.

My introduction to SJSU was as a graduate student in English during the sixties, completing two papers for my M.A. at the U of Minnesota. When I began to teach writing classes in local California community colleges in the early seventies, I saw many male students being drafted into the Vietnam conflict if they could not maintain good grades. Looking for help for students who spoke and heard in their homes different languages or dialects of English from those spoken in the classroom, I took more night classes at SJSU in its small program in linguistics. When I saw an announcement that a woman from Nigeria was being hired to teach a class in her native Yoruba, I enrolled for a second M.A. in that program. One of my SJSU professors had introduced me to Lorenzo Dow Turner’s study of the creole Gullah, which is spoken in my native South Carolina. I was hooked because I knew Yoruba was one of contributing languages to this creole still spoken from the northern coast of Florida to the southern coast of North Carolina. Rebecca Agheyisi, completing her dissertation at Stanford in the pidgin English that she had spoken on the playground with her Nigerian schoolmates, recognized the connection between between this pidgin English and the creole Gullah. With her help I was admitted to the linguistic program at Stanford University and completed my Ph.D dissertation on Gullah. Financial help from from the first round of Woodrow Wilson dissertation grants in Women’s Studies (1974-75) made this possible because it included babysitting funds for children left at home with my husband while I did six months of field work in coastal South Carolina. During that time my volunteer work in a just-integrated SC elementary school led to further insights about academic achievement, and even more came with a weekly night class I offered in writing for prospective college students on an all-Black island.

My initial appointment at SJSU was a part-time position in the School of Education, supervising prospective elementary teachers from Palo Alto to Gilroy and observing students of European or Asian background in the northern area of Santa Clara County, African-heritage and some Asian students in the eastern, and primarily Latin American-heritage students in the southern. The observations served me well when I was later put in charge of the Teacher Education program in the English Department. It also led to the creation of an Ethnic American Literature class required for all prospective English teachers. After the fall of Saigon in 1974, SJSU received a great number of young Vietnamese and Chinese students for whom academic English was not part of daily life. Few of us had the linguistic backgrounds needed to help with their transition, and we embarked on a decade-long effort to learn more about our students’ backgrounds. We took surveys of writing classes and learned that students of all backgrounds who had been read to as children — in any language — performed best in an academic setting. Gradually a case was made for a new department of Linguistics and Language Development (LLD). The chance to concentrate for a full year on language contact in South Carolina came from a Rockefeller Postdoctoral Fellowship at UNC in Comparative Cultures of the South (1992-93) soon after I joined the new LLD department as a founding member. All my experiences at SJSU teaching and learning from a multicultural student body had expanded my research perspectives. In summer visits back to the site of my original SC research, I had already come to realize that the linguistic history of my native state could never be understood without looking at the social connections between three major ethnic groups in the early colony. I had done interviews of an all-White community to match those done on an all-Black island, so I used the year at UNC to learn what I could from my colleagues there about Indigenous communities and made weekly visits to an Indigenous school near the NC/SC border located very near my home county. Voices of Our Ancestors (2009) was finally completed when I retired from teaching and has recently been re-issued (2022). Although it is about my native state, multicultural insights gleaned at SJSU over many decades helped make possible what the publisher has labeled, “the first detailed linguistic history of South Carolina.”

Transitions to Retirement Project Interviews


Nichols, Patricia Causey