by Emeritus Professor Malcolm Ross, Pacific Linguistics, ANU.
Emeritus Professor Darrell Tryon, longtime researcher into the languages of Vanuatu, the Solomons and the Loyalty Islands, died in Canberra on Wednesday 15th May at the age of 70. Darrell had been battling melanoma for some months, but the suddenness of his passing comes as a considerable shock to his colleagues at the Australian National University and elsewhere.
Darrell was born and grew up in New Zealand, where he completed his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. He studied French, became a fluent speaker, and an abiding interest in French South Pacific affairs was one of the continuing threads of his career.
Darrell is known among Oceanic linguists particularly for his association with the nation of Vanuatu and for his research into its languages. In fieldwork started in 1969 he collected extensive wordlists from communities throughout Vanuatu and worked out the first set of hypotheses about relationships among the country’s languages, presenting these first at the First International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics in Honolulu in 1974, then publishing both the wordlists and his findings in a compendious Pacific Linguistics volume (C-50). The 292-item wordlists from 179 communities, the vast majority collected by Darrell himself, remain a major source of Vanuatu lexical data.
In 1983 Darrell published a similar volume for the languages of the Solomon Islands, based on wordlists collected by himself and Brian Hackman. Most of his ongoing linguistic research, however, concerned Vanuatu, and he published numerous papers on Vanuatu-related linguistic topics.
Darrell’s magnum opus, the result of several years of work, was the Comparative Austronesian Dictionary, an edited five-volume work published by Mouton de Gruyter in 1995, that contained annotated wordlists for 1310 meanings organized by semantic domains in 80 Austronesian languages, 40 of them Oceanic. Each list was compiled by a specialist in the language, who also provided a short introduction to the language, and the work as a whole was introduced by articles written by Darrell.
For more than 20 years, from the early 1980s, Darrell was also heavily involved in the Vanuatu Fieldworker Programme, which once a year brought together at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre men who were interested in recording the traditions of their communities. Eventually these fieldworkers, most of whom had limited formal education and worked together using Bislama, the lingua franca of Vanuatu, numbered fifty or so. All were resident in their home villages, and each annual meeting focussed on a single cultural topic. The materials collected in this way were archived at the Cultural Centre in Port Vila. Until around 2009 these annual meetings were conducted under Darrell’s leadership.
Alongside his linguistic activities Darrell had an abiding interest in history, and the book Pacific Pidgins and Creoles, co-authored with Jean-Michel Charpentier (2004), combined these two interests in an insightful way, turning some of his colleagues’ assumptions about the history of Pacific pidgins upside down.
In the decade or so before his retirement in 2007 Darrell was heavily involved in university administration and for part of this time was the Deputy Director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University. His involvement in the wider work of the school strengthened his interests in the governance and sociology of the countries of the South Pacific, and many of his more recent publications have been in this area. He was variously a Constitutional Adviser to Vanuatu Government and a member of the Council of the University of New Caledonia. In 2004 he was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Government, in recognition of his contributions to French language and culture, especially in the Pacific, and for his work in fostering bilateral relations between Australia and France.
Darrell will be greatly missed by colleagues and students at the ANU and by his many friends in Vanuatu, France and elsewhere.
[You may read other tributes to the late Professor Darrell Tryon by another of his colleagues at The Australian National University, Professor Brij Lal (Pacific and Asian History) and on the website of the Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra. Please note that the ANU will host a commemorative ceremony for the late Prof. Darrell Tryon at University House Common Room, The Australian National University, at 11am on 11 September 2013.]