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Tribute to Mervyn C. Alleyne (1933-2016)

The Society for Caribbean Linguistics recognises Mervyn C. Alleyne on his passing and conveys our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

Mervyn Alleyne’s international significance as a Caribbean scholar and linguist cannot be captured in a simple listing of his academic achievements. Not only was he a scholar who brought important new ideas to debates in the study of creole languages, but he also inspired and encouraged many others and acted as role model and mentor for younger linguists. His commitment to the study of language in the region became, if anything, even clearer upon his retirement from the Mona Campus, when he continued to teach and enthuse students, first at the Mona campus of University of the West Indies, then at the St. Augustine campus in his home country, and finally at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. As he put it, it didn’t feel like work to him, because he loved what he was doing.

He was a founding member of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, and served on the Executive of the Society from 1988 to 1994, during which time he was our President from 1990 to 1992. He was always a much anticipated speaker at our biennial conferences, and a well-loved companion at the social events which formed part of the meetings.

Mervyn was also part of the team that initiated the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, which became the field’s flagship journal, and its companion monograph series, the Creole Language Library. His own books and articles continue to be read widely as his ideas have taken on a life independent of their creator’s

Mervyn Alleyne has played a special role in all our lives, and we will miss him very much.

Silvia Kouwenberg (Prof), President, SCL, on behalf of the SCL Executive Committee (2016-2018), and the entire Society.

The Many Facets of Mervyn C. Alleyne: A Commemorative Conference was held at the UWI, Mona Campus, Jamaica from
07-08 JUNE 2019.

This conference was designed to commemorate the life and work of Professor Mervyn Coleridge Alleyne, a distinguished scholar who died on November 23, 2016, aged 83. He is one of the earliest scholars of Caribbean origin to engage in the discipline of Linguistics and has made original and valuable contributions to that discipline as well as to a range of others associated with the study of the Caribbean. The conference took place at the Mona Campus of The University of The West Indies, the institution with which he had been associated practically all of his adult life.



Mervyn Coleridge Alleyne: A Life Well Lived

by Lawrence D. Carrington and Ian E. Robertson

The stellar contributions to Caribbean linguistics made by Mervyn Coleridge Alleyne will indefinitely resonate among language and identity scholars in the region and his presence will be missed for a long time.

At the start of his academic career, Alleyne taught French dialectology and French medieval literature. He acknowledged the influence of the anthropologist Sidney Mintz on his transition from Philology, French Dialectology and Medieval French Literature to Linguistics more broadly, the field in which he became a pioneering academic and scholar.

Alleyne was a fervently Caribbean person and it was not long before he applied his skills and the discipline earned from exposure to French dialectology to address problems of what he later termed “oppressed languages of the Caribbean.” For him, “Caribbean” included the “Francophone and Hispanic” Caribbean. The vision embraced in his definition has eroded, albeit slowly, the linguistic parochialism that has characterised academics in the Anglophone (or English-official) Caribbean.

His seminal work, “Comparative Afro-American,” exposed the major areas of similarity across the languages described as “creole” by other linguists. He himself did not consider the term “creole” adequate for the languages it attempted to describe. For Alleyne, the similarities were brought on by the circumstances and experiences of the persons who speak these languages rather than by their exemplifying an exotic typology. He used the national names for these languages – he insisted that he spoke “Trinidadian” even though he lived virtually all of his adult life outside of the country of his birth; Jamaicans spoke “Jamaican,” not Jamaican Creole; and Haitians spoke “Haitian,” not Haitian Creole. It was a statement of empowerment through language.

Alleyne had an abiding disrespect for orthodoxy, a fiercely protective attitude towards the African heritage in Caribbean languages and a facility with argument that was difficult to defeat. He was supportive of creative and imaginative thinking, tolerant of views contrary to his, gentle in his rebuke and resolute in his personal beliefs and perspectives. He treated all persons with considerable respect for their humanity even though he might have been very opposed to their expressed positions.

His graduate students were marked by his mentoring. He urged them to go for the extra bit of information, to answer the fringe question that could embarrass their certainty about an analysis. One could grow impatient with him but the insights that came from responding to his skepticism were always rewarding, making his resistance a motivator for the improvement of one’s work. He was not easily diverted from his positions but after the argument, he lived comfortably with your own decision to be different.

Alleyne’s conviction that understanding acculturation processes was critical to understanding Caribbean languages led him to explore themes beyond linguistics. His 1988 “Roots of Jamaican Culture” added a new dimension to his scholarship, a dimension that found equally powerful expression in his 2002 publication “The Construction and Representation of Race and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and the World.”

This illustrious Emeritus Professor of The UWI, was born in Trinidad and Tobago on June 13, 1933 and died on November 23, 2016. He was schooled at Mucurapo EC School (now St Agnes EC School) and Queen’s Royal College, and entered the then University College of the West Indies (UCWI) on scholarship in 1953. After completing a Bachelor’s degree, he proceeded to a doctoral degree (Docteur d’Université, DU) at Strasbourg University in France. He returned to the Caribbean as a lecturer at the UCWI in 1959, rising to the rank of Professor of Sociolinguistics in 1982. He retired from the Mona Campus of The UWI in 1998 as Professor Emeritus. Although based primarily at The UWI for the majority of his career, he wasa frequent long-term visiting faculty member at other universities, notably the State University of New York at Buffalo, Indiana University at Bloomington, University of Amsterdam, and the University of Puerto Rico, Stanford University, the then Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, and was the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor at Kansas University.

Following his retirement from Mona, Professor Alleyne taught for three years at the St. Augustine Campus of The UWI until 2003, after which he began a new career at the University of Puerto Rico where he functioned until 2014. He was also the Humanities Scholar (2007) at the Cave Hill campus of The UWI.

He was a member of the advisory committee on the “Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage” and served on several campus and university committees. He had a central role in establishing the language laboratory at the Mona Campus and charted the way for the programme in Caribbean Dialectology. The Society for Caribbean Linguistics, of which he was one of the first members (1972) and of which he was a former President (1990- 1992), conferred honorary membership on him in 1998 n recognition of his outstanding scholarship and his contribution to the disciplines under its purview. He was also one of the founders of the “Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages,” and was also an honorary member of the Linguistic Society of America (1997).

Mervyn Coleridge Alleyne lived a rich and meaningful life as an academic and influenced many people.

Lawrence Carrington is Emeritus Professor of Creole Linguistics of The UWI and was Professor Alleyne’s first PhD student in the 1960s

Ian Robertson is a retired Professor of Linguistics at the St Augustine Campus

(Source, January 2017)

The following is based largely on the tribute paid to Mervyn C. Alleyne in Pauline Christie's Dedication in Caribbean Language Issues Old and New - Papers in honour of Professor Mervyn Alleyne on the Occasion of his sixtieth birthday (edited by Pauline Christie, Kingston: UWI Press, 1996) for “his outstanding contribution to Caribbean language studies over the past three decades.” This is a volume published as “a mark of appreciation to a Caribbean scholar by Caribbean scholars” (xv).

Mervyn Coleridge Alleyne was born in Trinidad on 13 June 1933. He attended Queen's Royal College in Port-of-Spain and later won a scholarship to the fledgling University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica which he entered in 1953.

After graduating from Mona, Alleyne obtained a PhD from the University of Strasbourg, France. He returned to Mona as a lecturer in 1959 and has been one of the longest serving members of staff at the University of the West Indies. He has been Professor of Sociolinguistics since 1982, and Professor Emeritus upon retirement. He was president of SCL from 1990 to 1992, an honorary member since 1998, and an honorary member of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) since 1996.

It is as a pioneer in Creole Studies, however, that Alleyne has made his real mark. He was one of the few Caribbean born participants in the second ever International Conference on Creole Languages held at Mona in April 1968, the proceedings of which were published in 1971 in Pidginization and Creolization of Languages edited by Dell Hymes. His paper “Acculturation and the Culture Matrix of Creolization” elaborated some of the themes which were to characterize his later work, namely his disagreement with the idea that creoles necessarily develop from prior pidgins and his not unrelated view that the considerable variation manifested among them can be explained by differing degrees of acculturation among Africans who came in contact with Europeans. In his opinion, such variation existed from the inception of these languages. To use his own words, "From the outset a kind of linguistic syncretism took place out of the clash with West African languages of certain West European languages in their full morphological and syntactical forms. The precise nature and degree of this syncretism depends on the way in which the cultural situation developed in each area in the Caribbean and elsewhere." (1971: 170).

Alleyne repudiates the use of the term creole, arguing that its meaning is unclear. He carefully avoided it in his book Comparative Afro-American (1980), arguably the most quoted source on the relevant varieties. In addition to its detailed comparison of structural aspects of Sranan, Saramaccan, Jamaican, Guyanese, among others, this work reveals, not for the first time, his preoccupation with the Black experience as a whole, and with the autonomy of Black culture. His fascination with the correlations between the linguistic picture and other aspects of culture, such as religion, is again manifested in Roots of Jamaican Culture (1988).

A committed substratist, he considers it axiomatic that in change arising out of the kind of language contact that existed between African and European, “there will be transmissions or continuities from the native languages of the people undergoing linguistic change” (1980: 139), even if in some instances these are eventually discarded.


The Interdisciplinary Scholarship of a Caribbeanist: A Tribute to Dr. Mervyn Alleyne

Recorded live on October 20, 2011 12:09 PM ET. Length 137:19 AUDIO ONLY

"The Interdisciplinary Scholarship of a Caribbeanist: A Tribute to Dr. Mervyn Alleyne" was a discussion panel organized by the Institute of Caribbean Studies, which was held on Oct 20, 2011 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in Amp. Manuel Maldonado Denis (CRA 108) of Carmen Rivera de Alvarado (CRA) Building, Faculty of the Social Sciences, UPR-RP.

Dr. Nicholas Faraclas, English Dept and Linguistics Graduate Program, UPR-RP, Dr. Silvia Kouwenberg, Linguistics Dept., Univ of West Indies, Mona, Jamaica (via Skype), Dr. Lowell Fiet, English Dept, , UPR-RP, and Dr. Mervyn Alleyne, English Department and Linguistics Graduate Program, UPR-RP, participated as panelists. Dr. Don Walicek, EnglishDept, UPR-RP, served as presenter and moderator. The activity will be held on Thursday, Oct 20, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in Amp Manuel Maldonado Denis (CRA 108) of Carmen Rivera de Alvarado (CRA) Building, Faculty of the Social Sciences, UPR-RP.


Internet Archive



Selected Publications

1961a. Language and society in St. Lucia. Caribbean Studies 1 (1): 1–10.

1961b. Caribbean language study. Caribbean Studies 1 (1): 19–20.

1963. Communication and politics in Jamaica. Caribbean Studies 3 (2): 22ם61.

1965. Communication between the élite and the masses. In The Caribbean in Transition , edited by F. Andic and T. Matthews. Rio Piedras: University of Puerto Rico Press.

1966. La nature du changement phonétique à la lumière du créole français d'Haïti. Revue de Linguistique Romane 30 : 279–303.

1969. L'influence des dialectes régionaux français sur le créole français d'Haïti. Revue de Linguistique Romane 33 : 254–69.

1971a. Acculturation and the cultural matrix of creolization. In Pidginization and Creolization of Languages , edited by Dell Hymes, 169–86. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

1971b. The linguistic continuity of Africa in the Caribbean. In Topics in Afro-American Studies , edited by Henry Richards, 12–28. Buffalo: Black Academy Press.

1972a. Panorama de la lingüística y enseñanza de idiomas en el Caribe. Caribbean Studies 12: 5–14.

1972b. Langues créole-dialectes néo-romans ou dialectes néo-africains. Actes du 13e Congrès International de Linguistique et Philologie Romanes: Résumés de Communications , 1081–89. Québec : Presses de l'Université Laval.

1975. Some aspects of the traditional non-formal system of communication in the Caribbean. In Communication and Information for Development Purposes in the Caribbean Area , 11–16. International Broadcast Institute.

1976. Dimensions and varieties of West Indian English and the implications for teaching. In Black Students in Urban Canada , edited by V. Doyley, 35–62. Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation.

1979. On the genesis of languages. In The Genesis of Language , edited by Kenneth C. Hill, 89–107. Ann Arbor: Karoma.

1980a. Comparative Afro-American — An Historical-Comparative Study of English-Based Afro-American Dialects . Ann Arbor: Karoma.

1980b. Introduction to Theoretical Orientation in Creole Studies , edited by A. Valdman and A. Highfield. New York: Academic Press.

1982. Theoretical Issues in Caribbean Linguistics . UWI, Mona: The Language Laboratory.

1984. Epistemological foundations of Caribbean speech behaviour. Caribbean Journal of Education 10 (1): 1–7.

1986. Substratum influence: guilty until proven innocent. In Substratum vs. Universals in Creole Genesis , edited by P. Muysken and N. Smith, 301–15. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

1987. Predicate structures in Saramaccan. In Studies in Saramaccan Language Structures , edited by Mervyn Alleyne, 71–78. UWI, Mona: Folklore Studies Project.

1988. Roots of Jamaican Culture . London: Pluto Press.

1993. Continuity vs. creativity in Afro-American language and culture. In Africanisms in Afro-American Language Varieties , edited by Salikoko Mufwene, 167–81. Georgia: University of Georgia Press.

1996. Syntaxe Historique Créole . Paris: Karthala/Presses Universitaires Créoles.

2002. The Construction and Representation of Race and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and the World . Kingston: UWI Press. 2004, with Arvilla Payne-Jackson. Folk Medicine of Jamaica . Kingston: UWI Press.


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