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Dr.Richard Allsopp

Dr.Richard Allsopp








Dr. Stanley Reginald Richard Allsopp (Richard), linguist and lexicographer, passed away in Barbados from failing health in June 2009. He is likely to be remembered mainly as the author of the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (Oxford University Press 1996). However, we should also recall Richard’s role as one of the pioneers of creole studies and as a long-standing father figure for his colleagues in the field. He was one of only three Caribbean-born scholars present at the first international conference on creole languages held in 1959 at the then University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. A year earlier, his MA dissertation from the University of London on pronominal forms in the vernacular of his native Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana) had been the first detailed treatment of a specific English-related Caribbean language variety. He followed it in 1962 with a PhD dissertation on expressions of state and action in Guyanese Creole.

Richard was a founding member of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics (SCL) on its establishment in 1972. His conference papers during the 1970s and early 1980s bear further witness to his role as a pioneer. His paper entitled ‘Some suprasegmental features of Caribbean English and their relevance in the classroom’ (UWI/UNESCO Conference, Trinidad, 1972) was one of the first to discuss the significance of tone in Caribbean language. ‘The case for Afro-genesis’ (SCL Conference, Guyana, 1976, revised and reprinted as SCL Occasional paper #33, 2006:  see provided the first recorded use of the term ‘Afro-genesis’, in addition to stressing the importance of the African contribution to Caribbean language.  (See also “The Afrogenesis of Caribbean Creole Proverbs” SCL Occasional paper #34, 2006, and A Book of Afric Caribbean Proverbs, Arawak 2004, which includes an estimated 1300 sayings.) In ‘The creole treatment of passivity’ (SCL Conference, Aruba, 1980, later published in Carrington et al. eds., 1983), he again embarked on a topic that had previously escaped serious attention.

Dr. Allsopp was especially passionate about the need to recognize Caribbean standards in English, particularly with regard to the lexicon, where contrasts in usage across the language spectrum are somewhat less sharp than in the morphosyntax. His concern with finding an appropriate norm for Caribbean educators, one more realistic than the traditional exclusively British model, was the main motivation for his Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (1996). The publication of the dictionary marked the culmination of more than two decades of meticulous research. The dictionary includes data from eighteen Caribbean territories and citations from over a thousand written sources, in addition to speech recordings.  A related Caribbean Multilingual Dictionary of Flora, Fauna, and Foods in English, French, French Creole, and Spanish (Arawak, 2003) was published by Richard’s wife, Jeannette Allsopp.  She was  his close collaborator in later years, and she has continued the work of the Caribbean Lexicography Project at UWI Cave Hill, Barbados.   Richard Allsopp’s final supplement to the Dictionary, entitled New Register of Caribbean English Usage was published by the University of the West Indies Press in 2010.

Before Richard Allsopp entered the field of linguistics, he had a distinguished career as a school teacher in his native Guyana. Indeed, in 1958, he had been awarded the Crane Gold Medal for the most outstanding work in education in that country.  From 1962-63 he served as the local principal of Queen’s College, the leading boys’ school in Guyana, and influenced the career of  at least two students there (John Rickford and Ian Robertson) who were to go on to become linguists.  (See Kyk-Over-Al 48, 1998, edited by Robertson, which includes A Tribute to Richard Allsopp and articles by Craig, Devonish, Rickford, and others that mention Allsopp’s influence.) Five years later, Richard took up the position of Lecturer in English at the newly-established College of Arts and Science in Barbados, which soon became the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. There he developed the Use of English course taken by all first-year students and, in later years, was also responsible for the design and teaching of both an undergraduate course in Field Linguistics and a graduate course in Lexicography. After his official retirement, Dr. Allsopp remained on the campus as Honorary Research Fellow and Director/Coordinator of the Caribbean Lexicography Project, his brain-child. In 2003,the University conferred on him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters, in appreciation of his contribution to Caribbean culture and scholarship, an unusual award to a member of its own community. His status as a lexicographer was also recognized outside the Caribbean. He was the first and only West Indian invited to serve on the Editorial Boards of The Oxford English Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary. Given that he was one of the last surviving members of the group of scholars who came together at that historic creole conference at Mona, Jamaica, in 1959, Richard Allsopp’s passing signals the end of an era in the study of Caribbean language.

Further information about Dr. Allsopp’s life and accomplishments may be found on this page of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics he helped found.

–Modified from an adaptation by John R. Rickford from an obituary by Pauline Christie, Professor Emerita, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, in Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 25.1 (2010).

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