ROBERT BROCK LE PAGE
is with sadness that the Society for Caribbean Linguistics announces the
passing of Professor Robert B. Le Page on Thursday 12 January 2006. Prof. Le
Page died of a stroke and was in his late 80s. Prof Le Page was the second
Vice-President, third President of the SCL (1978-1980) and honorary member of
the SCL since 1982. He was Emeritus Professor of Language at the University of York where he supervised many a fine
thesis on West Indian language by up and coming (British) West Indian and
Prof. Le Page was a pioneer in the development of Creole linguistics. The SCL took pride and pleasure in publishing Prof Le Page' memoirs, Ivory Towers: The Memoirs of a Pidgin Fancier, in 2002, as well as the SCL's 9th Occasional Paper in 1978, 'Projection, Focussing, Diffusion,' or, Steps towards a Sociolinguistic Theory of Language, illustrated from the Sociolinguistic Survey of Multilingual Communities. Stages I: Cayo District, Belize (formerly British Honduras), and II: St. Lucia (OP No.9, Jul 1978).
Prof Le Page will continue to be remembered and honoured by many, including his many former students who held him in the highest regard, and the SCL wishes to extend sincerest and heartfelt condolences to all his loved ones and friends. The funeral of Robert B. Le Page was held at St. Paul's Church, Heslington, UK on Thursday 19 January 2006.
The following is based largely on the tribute paid to Robert B. Le Page in Pauline Christie's Dedication in Due Respect - Papers on English and English-Related Creoles in the Caribbean in honour of Professor Robert Le Page (edited by Pauline Christie, Kingston: UWI Press, 2001).
To anyone observing the population of the South London borough of Eltham today, the Caribbean connection is obvious. But its complexion was very different in the 1920s when young Robert Le Page was growing up there. Nothing about his early upbringing suggested that he would ever have much contact with Caribbean speakers, let alone devote most of his career to their language. He received his secondary education at Christ's Hospital, a private school in Horsham, Sussex , to which he had won one of the very few open scholarships available, and, on leaving school, was apprenticed to a firm of chartered accountants. However, his budding career there was cut short after four years by the outbreak of World War II. Young Le Page joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and served in it for the duration of the war.
In 1945, after his discharge from the Navy, he took the first steps in the direction which was to take him eventually to Jamaica . He registered for a BA degree in English Language and Literature at Keble College, Oxford University and, after graduating in 1948, became a teaching assistant at the University of Birmingham and a tutor at Oxford, while working on a PhD thesis on Early English prosody.
September 1950 saw Le Page taking up a position as an assistant lecturer in the Department of English at the new University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica . His interest in Early English verse soon paled before a growing fascination with the Jamaican vernacular. During his second year in Jamaica , Manfred Sandmann, Professor of Modern Languages, aware of this development, introduced him to Frederic Cassidy, a visiting Fulbright scholar from the University of Wisconsin. Cassidy, who was soon to become Le Page's collaborator and close friend, had been born in Jamaica and had spent his early years there. What is more, he had a deep interest in dialectology. Not long after that meeting, Philip Sherlock, then Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Mona and Head of the Extra-Mural Department, passed on to Le Page the entries in a competition which had been organized by the Gleaner newspaper in 1944 for the "best list of dialect words and phrases." These further stimulated his interest. Together with Cassidy, he started collecting "dialect" words and later Old Witch and Anansi stories among the Maroons of Accompong.
In 1953, Bob Le Page launched a relatively informal linguistic survey of the British Caribbean with financial assistance from the Commonwealth Fund of the Carnegie Foundation. Soon afterwards began the collaboration with Fred Cassidy which was to result eventually in the Dictionary of Jamaican English, published by Cambridge University Press in 1967 (second edition 1980). To better equip himself for his new ventures, he took courses in linguistics at the University of Michigan, United States . He also benefited from the assistance of other scholars who shared his broad interest, chief among them David DeCamp, a Fulbright scholar in Jamaica in 1957, Beryl Loftman Bailey, a Jamaican working towards a PhD on Jamaican Creole at Columbia University, New York, who had come home for a short while to do fieldwork, and Jack Berry, a British-born Africanist. Help was forthcoming, too, from Louise McCloskey, who had had training in dialect survey work at the University of Edinburgh. She worked as his research assistant for a year. The survey took him all over the region collecting data and at the same time familiarising himself with West Indian life and also with a cross-section of those who were normally part of it. The experience was to serve him well in later years.
In 1959, Le Page convened the first ever international conference on Creole language studies at Mona. He was then also putting together an account of Jamaica 's settlement history. It was published in 1960 in a volume entitle Creole Language Studies I: Jamaican Creole, which also included transcriptions and analyses by DeCamp of recorded stories told by a Maroon, Emmanuel Rowe. This is the first attested use of the label, "Jamaican Creole." It was patterned on the term "Haitian Creole," which had been used by Professor Robert Hall for his description of that variety, published in 1953. In 1961, a second volume appeared, Creole Language Studies II. This contained proceedings of the Mona conference, edited by Le Page.
After ten years, Bob Le Page left Jamaica to become professor of English at the University of Malaya. Four years later, he returned to England to head the Department of Language at the new University of York. This department was to a large extent his own creation. Among other things, students specializing in linguistics were exposed to Creole. There came a succession of graduate students from the Caribbean, most of them assisted by scholarships arranged through Professor Le Page's efforts. Before long, York had become known throughout the country - and internationally - as a centre for Creole studies.
Le Page's direct involvement with the Caribbean did not end with his resignation from the University College, Mona. He was partly responsible for the second international conference on Creole language studies at Mona in 1968, out of which came the seminal volume, Pidginization and Creolization of Languages, edited by Dell Hymes. He was also one of those instrumental in the establishment of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, of which he was elected president four years later. In the early 1970s he directed a survey of multilingual communities concentrating on Cayo District, British Honduras (now Belize ) and St. Lucia . The research was to form the basis for Acts of Identity, which appeared in 1985, produced jointly with Andrée Tabouret-Keller of the University of Strasbourg, France. He encouraged the introduction of courses in linguistics at the University of the West Indies, which had become, in 1962, a degree-granting institution in its own right, and was, for some years, the external examiner for the courses taught. York graduates in linguistics have been among the members of the teaching staff on all three campuses over the past three decades.
Professor Le Page retired in 1988, but remained active until recently as Professor Emeritus at York. On his retirement, he generously donated copies of the tapes and other documentation from his surveys of multilingual communities to the Department of Language and Linguistics at Mona.
Forty years after the first international conference on Creole languages in 1959, we pay special tribute to Robert Brock Le Page, a pioneer.
Rispek juu! "Respect is due."
R.B. LE PAGE: SELECTED PUBLICATIONS