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  • In MemoriamJean-Claude Rivierre, 1938–2018
  • Claire Moyse-Faurie

We would have celebrated his 80th birthday in June 2018.

He left us without warning, to join David, one of his sons, and his wife Françoise Ozanne-Rivierre (see Tryon 2008), an eminent linguist like himself.

At his funeral, one of his nephews aptly characterized his personality in terms of four qualities: timeless, balanced, humble, and straightforward, as somebody who never praised himself for what he had done for the Kanaks, whose gratitude and admiration of him has never diminished over the years. With his in-depth analyses of several Kanak languages of the Far South and of the Isle of Pines, in the form of dictionaries (Paicî, Cèmuhî, Numèè, and Bwatoo), grammars (Cèmuhî), and analyses of sound systems, Jean-Claude Rivierre gave invaluable gifts to the whole New Caledonian community. Equally remarkable and valuable, however, is the legacy he left to the entire linguistics community, in his studies on the genesis of tone, in his comparisons of tonal and accentual systems, and in his work on the appearance of certain complex sounds, rarely attested in the languages of the world, such as aspirated nasal consonants, postnasalized consonants, and labiovelars. Many of these studies were jointly written with Françoise: their cooperation and the passion they shared for their work inspired great respect in those who knew them.

A very important part of Jean-Claude's work was devoted to the transcription, translation, and analysis of orally transmitted stories, myths, or historical tales about the organization and creation of social groups headed by a chief. Most of these recordings were collected by himself during his long stays in New Caledonia, mainly in the central part of the Mainland. Over several decades he also engaged in close collaboration with the anthropologist Alban Bensa, with whom he published several books based on Paicî and Cèmuhî stories.

Mention must also be made of his generous availability for students from different disciplines, who often came from far away just to have the opportunity to meet him and exchange ideas on phonological or ethnolinguistic topics with him.

Jean-Claude Rivierre was born on the 18th of June 1938, in Le Sap, a small village in Normandy. He met Françoise during his last year of high school; they both pursued their education at the University of Caen, where Jean-Claude took a course in Classics (mainly Greek and Latin studies). Then he went to Paris where he took Master's courses in sociology at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. This is where he met the two well-known [End Page 248] personalities who introduced him to linguistics and to Oceanic studies: André-Georges Haudricourt (see Ozanne-Rivierre and Rivierre 1997), an ethnoscientist and linguist, and the ethnolinguist Jacqueline Thomas (see Motte-Florac and Guarisma 2004). They both used to recall how they became immediately aware of Jean-Claude's extraordinary accurate ear and interest for languages, and introduced him to linguistics through André Martinet's courses at the Sorbonne.

In 1964, Jean-Claude became a member of the French National Centre of the Scientific Research (CNRS), first as a member of A.-G. Haudricourt's Cooperative Research Program, which a few years later merged with J. Thomas's own team to give rise to the "Oral languages, field work and description" research team (ER 74). And in 1976, Jean-Claude was one of the founders of LACITO (Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale), a department of CNRS specializing in language description and documentation that he directed from 1991 to 1995.

Jean-Claude's first fieldtrip, which he undertook with Françoise and Nicolas, their one-year-old first child, required a month-long journey by boat from France to New Caledonia, and lasted for more than two years, from January 1965 to May 1967. Under Haudricourt's supervision, Jean-Claude undertook an extensive phonological study of the languages of the Far South of New Caledonia's Grande Terre and the Isle of Pines. This study was the basis for his PhD dissertation, completed in 1970 (EHESS-Paris), and published in 1973. On the same trip, Jean-Claude also spent some time...


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