Skip to main content

Remembering Richard Allsopp, Ph.D., Lexicographer and West Indian extraordinaire


To harness, by naming, creation around;
To label, unwritten, folk thoughts that abound;
To fight life, with language sole arm of the fighter,
Their tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

- Richard Allsopp, 1923-2009



As professions involved in the daily use, appreciation and embrace of the written and spoken word, journalism and broadcasting in Barbados and throughout the Caribbean owe Richard Allsopp a tremendous debt of gratitude for his devotion of a half-century's work to mapping the English Language as it has evolved in the Caribbean.

His crowning achievement, "The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage", published in 1996 after 25 years of toil, remains as vitally important a reference tool as the "Oxford Concise Dictionary". Indeed, not only do we credit Professor Allsopp for ensuring the entry of authentically Caribbean words into the global English lexicon but for his insistence on the appropriate usage of English in a Caribbean context. He was a member of the editorial board of the "New Oxford English Dictionary".

Professor Allsopp was a friend and supporter of the craft of journalism, by making himself available to us to explain, amplify and educate on language usage through television and radio appearances, press interviews, letters to the editor ,even informal conversations with journalists and producers. Indeed, the BAJ fondly recalls his unveiling of "The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage" at the association's Clennell Wickham Memorial Lecture in 1996.

Dr. Allsopp was not, as some have tried to suggest, a champion of the indiscriminate use of creole languages in formal settings. Indeed, it was his insistence on creating a dictionary of usage, with clear guidelines - standards - on formal, informal, uneducated and educated speech, that bore fruit in the "Dictionary of Caribbean Usage" - which the BAJ believes will remain a landmark in Caribbean linguistics and literature for generations.

There is such a thing, he argued, as Caribbean Standard English: an internationally accepted form of English that contained the peculiar features that distinguish it from the English of New Zealand or Newfoundland or South Africa or or America or Britain. He also reminded us of the importance of appreciating national and regional variations of words used from markets to courtrooms, from parliaments to parlours, and from the northern Caribbean to the southern Caribbean. His essay, "Caribbean English", iin "The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage" should be required reading for journalists, educators and lovers of language and literature in the Caribbean.

His stewardship at the University of the West Indies ensured that hundreds of young Caribbean minds, many of them journalists', engaged in rigorous linguistic and intellectual pursuits that helped to define the Caribbean civilisation. Later in life, he lamented the decline of English usage, not by the abundant use of creole forms, but by the absence of effective teaching in English, particularly the absence of dictation from English Language teaching in primary schools. We share his disappointment.

To his family, especially his widow, Jeannette, herself a noted linguist and lexicographer whose life's journey with Professor Allsopp was one of shared interests, passions, intellect and effort, and his daughter and fellow journalist and broadcaster, Sophia Cambridge, sincerest condolences. Let us hope that Professor Allsopp's life work will be appropriately recognised and memorialised in the years to come. As journalists, we would do well to continue to consult his dictionary as we seek greater understanding not only of a story but the story of our Caribbean.

Popular posts from this blog

Flashback: 2002 - Adventures in Radio Journalism in Antigua

I thought I would reprise what I wrote back in 2002 when I was forced home by the Labour Commissioner of the Antiguan government on Feb. 1, 2002, on trumped-up allegations of working illegally in the country for eight months. I was working as the news and current affairs consultant and trainer for the independent Observer Radio. I also created and anchored a popular Sunday news review programme called The Big Issues - happily still on the air. This was my first statement on my departure and my views on Caribbean media.


Much has been said about my forced exit from Antigua after I went there in April 2001 to train the staff for a new commercial radio station, Observer Radio, which has since become, according to independent survey, the leading quality radio station in the country.

A lot of this comment has been couched in terms of free movement of skilled Caricom nationals and my political skill - or lack of it. Some of it has been brilliantly insightful; too much of it has been partisan …

Remembering Mark D. Alleyne, brilliant communications scholar and fellow journalist

Dr. Mark DaCosta Alleyne, brilliant communications scholar, author, journalist and broadcaster, and former features editor of The Bajan magazine died suddenly on Wednesday, May 20th, in Guatemala City. He was 47.

Mark, associate professor of communications at Georgia State University, died from cardiac arrest at a hospital in Guatemala City, where he had been admitted after apparently developing pneumonia, his long-time friend and former colleague, Reudon Eversley, said. His death was also reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday, May 21st. Mark was overseeing six Georgia State students on a Spanish-language immersion course in Guatemala when he took ill.

He developed pneumonia, was admitted to ICU, then moved to a regular ward on Tuesday May 19th and appeared to be on the mend but went into cardiac arrest during the night and died on Wednesday morning around 9, Reudon said. Funeral services are planned for Atlanta and a memorial service in Barbados.

He was Features Edit…

A Nation's Death by Fire

By Julius Gittens

Derek Walcott's poem, "A city's death by fire", is a poignant and memorable recollection of the Great Fire of 1948 in Central Castries that razed three-quarters of the town. It left 2,000 people homeless, many of them with nothing left but the clothes on their backs.

Accounts from newspapers of the time speak of the gutting of much of St Lucia's history dating back to Amerindian settlement - the destruction of government offices, including the Education Department to the public library, said to contain one of the best reference sections in the West Indies, to private collections of Carib artefacts and papers since settlement.

Walcott, a gangly 18-yea-old on the cusp of literary greatness after meeting the great Frank Collymore that very year, was a stunned witness who all day "walked abroad among the rubbled tales, shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar". His chronicle by candlelight of Castries's death by fire &…