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  • In Memoriam, Terry Crowley 1953-2005
  • john Lynch

Early in the third week of January this year, Oceanic linguists and other colleagues and friends received with utter disbelief the devastating news of Terry Crowley's sudden death at his home in Hamilton, New Zealand, on the weekend of January 15-16.1 There had been no warning signs, no immediately preceding period of hospitalization, no known illness to give us warning. A fit fifty-one-year-old non-smoker (some might say virulent anti-smoker), jogger, moderate drinker, careful of what he ate, he died suddenly from a severe heart attack.

Terry made major contributions in a number of areas: to descriptive studies of Vanuatu languages; to the study of Bislama and, more generally, to creole studies; to the study of the history of the Oceanic languages; to literacy and other sociolinguistic and applied studies in the Pacific; to theoretical and historical linguistics; and, in his younger days, to Australian Aboriginal linguistics. He was, perhaps, the most prolific publisher among all Oceanic linguists. In a reference written in support of his application for a full professorship, Andrew Pawley said of his productivity: "I don't know how he does it. The quantity is staggering.... And the quality is uniformly high. His books are meticulously researched and well written, several are based on his own extended fieldwork, and all will stand for a long time as important reference works."

At the time of his death, he was directing a rather large research project on the languages of Malakula, and was himself actively involved in working with about half a dozen languages on that island, most of them moribund. His sudden death has cut short what should have been another fifteen or twenty years of that same productivity, as well as taking away a friend and admired colleague. David Walsh summarized the situation in an email message to me: "He was a good linguist and a good bloke—there's no bloody justice in the world!"

The Early Years.

Terence Michael Crowley was born on April 1, 1953 (a date he did not advertise widely!) in Billericay, just east of London. The family emigrated from England to Australia when he was about seven years old, and settled on a dairy farm outside the rural Victorian town of Shepparton, some 200 km. northwest of Melbourne. He was dux [valedictorian] of Shepparton High School in 1970.

The following year, he enrolled in a Bachelor's degree in Asian Studies at the Australian National University (ANU). In a personal memoir in Don Laycock's memorial volume (Dutton, Ross, and Tryon 1992:21-22), Terry says that he was interested in languages as a high school student, and in 1968 wrote to Stephen Wurm at the ANU to [End Page 223] see if there were jobs for such people. A reply came back from Don Laycock (Stephen being, as usual, out of Canberra) assuring him that there were such jobs, and sending him a copy of one of his books on Sepik languages (Laycock 1965), inscribed: "To Terry Crowley, with best wishes for a possible career in linguistics." Prophetic words indeed!

During his bachelor's program, he became interested in Australian Aboriginal languages, under the guiding hand of R. M. W Dixon. His thesis was on the dialects of Bandjalang (now Bundjalung), and was published as Crowley (1978a). He completed his bachelor's degree with first class honors in 1974, winning the University Medal in linguistics, and for the next year or so worked as a Research Assistant in Bob Dixon's department at the ANU, again concentrating his efforts on Australian languages.

He enrolled in PhD studies in 1976 in that same department. Given that he had majored in Bahasa Indonesia during his undergraduate studies, he was keen to do his doctoral research on an Indonesian language. However, I recall him saying that there were some strained relations between Indonesia and Australia around that time, and this caused difficulties in getting a visa. Accordingly, he decided instead to come to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and to do his doctoral research on the language spoken on the island of Paama. He was awarded his PhD...