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  • In Memoriam, Darrell Tryon, 1942–2013
  • Andrew Pawley

Darrell Tryon, Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, died in Canberra on May 15, 2013, aged 70.1 His contributions to Pacific linguistics and language studies were diverse and prolific. Although best known for his pioneering work on languages of Vanuatu, the Solomons, and the Loyalty Islands, he did research on hundreds of languages in half a dozen areas of the Pacific islands and Australia and was a highly productive author, who (discounting new editions and translations of French or English original editions) wrote or coauthored 20 books, edited or coedited another 23, and wrote over 100 articles and a stack of book reviews, as well as jointly supervising some 30 doctoral theses.

A fluent speaker of French, he also maintained an abiding interest in French South Pacific affairs. In 2004, he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government, in recognition of his contributions to French language and culture, especially in the Pacific, and for his work in fostering relations between Australia and France.

Darrell and I were almost exact contemporaries, beginning our careers in the 1960s on opposite sides of the Tasman. He was a New Zealander who came to Australia to pursue a career in linguistics, I was an Australian who moved to New Zealand. We were both fortunate in entering academia in a decade when universities were expanding at an unprecedented rate. It was at the first international conference on Austronesian languages in Honolulu in 1974 that I first met Darrell, a tall, softly spoken fellow with a military mustache. Over the years, we corresponded and met regularly at conferences, and I made much use of some of his publications, but I got to know him much better after moving to the Australian National University in 1990. Ironically, although I was his Head of Department for 17 years, Darrell was also my boss for much of that time, in his capacity as Convenor of the Division of Society and Environment in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS). He often gave wise counsel on matters ranging from handling temperamental support staff to obtaining School funds to run conferences. Our conversations sometimes drifted from academic matters to cricket, a game we both loved.

There are many kinds of linguists. There are, for instance, theoreticians who sit in their armchairs and look for universal properties of language structure and language change. There are comparative-historical linguists, who sit in their armchairs and try to reconstruct the historical development of languages. Then there are those who gather primary data by fieldwork or from other sources. Among the gatherers of primary data are those who undertake field surveys of some or all the languages of a region and those who do in-depth analysis and description of the grammars and lexicons of particular languages. And there are sociolinguists, who pay particular attention to the social contexts [End Page 524] and functions of linguistic usages. Except for the first category, Darrell was all of these, in some measure: he did field surveys, and in-depth descriptions, and both comparative-historical and sociolinguistic work.


Darrell was born in Christchurch on July 20, 1942, and grew up there. He completed a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Canterbury in 1963, majoring in French and Classics, followed by an MA with 1st class honors in French in 1964. In his student days, he was a useful cricketer and rugby player, and later in life he continued to play golf (handicap two) and tennis.

Darrell’s first love at University was the French language, with a particular interest in eighteenth-century French literature. One might have expected him to go on to a career as a scholar of French language and literature, but fate led him in another direction. Before entering university, he had spent time in New Caledonia teaching English at the Polytechnic in Nouméa. There he became fascinated by the diversity of indigenous languages spoken in New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands (about 30 languages, all belonging to the Oceanic branch of Austronesian), and in due course he decided to do a doctorate in...


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