In honor of Black History Month 2019, the LSA recognizes one of its Honorary Members, Mervyn Alleyne. Born in Trinidad and Tobago on June 13, 1933, he attended Queen's Royal College in Port-of-Spain and the University College of the West Indies, Mona, before receiving his PhD from the University of Strasbourg, France. Soon after, he returned to UCWI as a lecturer, rising to the rank of Professor of Sociolinguistics in 1982. In 1998 he retired from the Mona Campus of UCWI as Professor Emeritus. After his retirement he continued to lecture in the Caribbean at the St. Augustine campus of The University of the West Indies and subsequently at the University of Puerto Rico.

Alleyne’s professional life was devoted to Caribbean linguistics, and to the study of creole languages—although he disputed the adequacy of that label. He was a founding member of the Society of Caribbean Linguistics and served as an Executive of the Society from 1988 until 1994, with tenure as the society’s president from 1990 to 1992.  In addition, he was a founding member of the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, which became the field’s flagship publication.

Alleyne first became interested in language and linguistics due to his early exposure to the variety of languages found on his native island. His initial specialization was in French dialectology and medieval literature. However, he soon realized that sociolinguistics was of greater interest to him and his personal experience with the Caribbean. It was through his realization that he was “sitting right in the middle of this vast reservoir of [language] material” that he changed course from Romance philology to sociolinguistics. 

In many of Alleyne’s works, he pushed back against the mainstream creole hypothesis, suggesting that creole languages arise instead from cultural and linguistic transfer as opposed to arising from the process of pidginization. In his 1980 book Comparative Afro-American: An Historical-Comparative Study of English-Based Afro-American Dialects of the New World, he used data from languages of the Caribbean (in his terms, ‘Jamaican’, ‘Trinidadian’, Haitian’, etc.) to trace a genetic relation to languages of West Africa.

Alleyne viewed his work in linguistics as beneficial to an audience outside the scope of academia. He was hopeful that his works would be used in the context of community development so that people would be more confident and comfortable with their own culture and expressions of culture. Most saliently espoused in his 2002 book Construction and representation of race and ethnicity in the Caribbean and the world, he hoped that his work would convince peoples of the Caribbean that all of their languages and other “expressions of [their] culture” would be recognized as legitimate and worthy of value not only personally but also globally.

Mervyn Alleyne passed away on November 23, 2016. In commemoration of his life’s work, The University of The West Indies (the institution where he spent most of his professional life) in collaboration with the Society for Caribbean Linguistics will hold a conference on 7–8 June 2019. The Mervyn C. Alleyne Commemorative Conference, also titled “The Many Facets of Mervyn Alleyne”, will feature presentations on language and linguistics and also on some of his other interests, such as folklore studies and ethno-botany.

--- Harry Hoy, Boston College

Editor's Note: As the LSA begins planning for the celebration of its Centennial in 2024, we are pleased to publish this brief essay about Mervyn Alleyne. This is the seventh such feature in our new series, “This (time) in Linguistics History,” to be published on a periodic basis via the LSA website. We invite LSA members to submit their ideas and contributions for future history features. The new feature will be coordinated by LSA Archivist Margaret Thomas, in consultation with the LSA Secretariat. The trigger event for this periodic feature could be an important day, week, month or year in the history of the LSA and/or the field of Linguistics. We are happy to publish as many features as often as LSA members are willing to contribute. Please submit your ideas via e-mail to  Margaret Thomas or Alyson Reed.