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Like the several hundreds from GT, one other extraordinary son of the soil comes to mind, as he 'comes of age’. He is no less a person than Dr. Stanley Reginald Richard Allsopp, the Barbados-based distinguished wordsmith/lexicographer/retired teacher, an intellectual who still knows his ‘writes’. And moreover, just a few days ago, received yet another accolade from the Most High ... indeed, he turned the 'big-80.'
Consequently we, of the English-speaking Caribbean and its environs, should be proud to wish Dr. Allsopp many happy belated returns this week since he safely reached the four-score milestone with all his faculties intact and a brand new publication about to grace the shelves of Caribbean bookstores everywhere.
We already know the British-trained educator as the linguistic pioneer who fearlessly delivered the 697-page `Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage’ in 1996.
If all goes according to plan, Allsopp, a proud naturalised Barbadian for close to 40 years, will be releasing `A Book Of Afric Caribbean Proverbs’ in June this year. His publishers, this time, will be Arawak Publications headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica.
As most of us know, a proverb is described "as a gem of utterance sparkling with message that the hearer would like to remember, and therefore probably retains, in that form;" and, according to the author, this Collection "seeks to recognise wisdom in the powerful simplicity of the proverbs in their Creole form. Each is then followed by a restatement in Standard English for clarification or pedagogical use, a rendering in rhymed verse for the reader's entertainment, and further explanatory notes, the whole making an enlightening, perhaps new road in the literature of orality."
This particular 300-page book brings together a selection of about 1300 Anglophone Creole proverbs preserved as the guidance-lore of the millions of enslaved forebears of today's Caribbean Afric peoples - the author's preferred term for all international peoples of the African diaspora. Their ways of thought and expression, characterised by the common orality and life-ways of the sub-Saharan cultures from which they had been uprooted, surfaced in parallel imagery in the similarly structured Creoles which, across the region, they had invented out of the conceptual rootstock of original African languages. That imagery flourishes in their proverbs.
In more defined terms, this Collection is promised to be the first scholarly cross-referencing of the entire Anglophone field of Caribbean proverbs in some 22 territories from Guyana to the Bahamas and Belize.
The former Queen's College (QC) principal, whose longevity in heart beats has been based, in part, "on the pursuit of creative advancement with a spiritual involvement," toils daily, oblivious of concern for deserved national accolades as they would appropriately relate to the importance and authenticity of his craft as a lone outstanding Caribbean wordsmith.
On turning 80, he gladly reminds, too, that liquor loving, smoking, being a part of the jet set, and getting involved in politics were ills he never fell for. His life's contentment and vast contribution nearly always embraced the world of academia.
In 1958, he was the first person to be awarded the Sir Alfred Victor Crane Gold Medal for the 'most outstanding contribution to Education in British Guiana.' This is special to him not only because he was born in Guyana, but also, and more importantly, he is one of only two such persons so far to have been so honoured.
He became a founder-member of the College of Arts and Science, Barbados (later Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI)); and its first ever Vice Dean.
Between 1965 and 1971, he was the first (and only) Chairman of Division of Survey Courses and Social Sciences, Cave Hill Campus, UWI, Barbados.
In 1970, Allsopp established Linguistics as a new discipline at Cave Hill Campus; and seven years later, he was appointed the first ever Reader in any discipline at Cave Hill [Reader in English Language and Linguistics]; and from 1984 until the present, he has been the first and only West Indian to be invited to join the Editorial Board of the Oxford English Dictionary.
In the world of public service, he headed the Alliance Francaise - both in Guyana and in Barbados; advised the Tobago House of Assembly on a Language Study Centre in 1981; and was an External Examiner and Referee to the University of Guyana (until 1996).
All his life he may have been poor at competitive sport due to visual depth perception disability, and he may possess an ignorance of music that has plagued him to the point where it pains whenever he becomes conscious of the 'shortcoming,' but the dignified six foot scholar has taken time out to search for and gingerly document that oneness of language which holds the Caribbean together in a way like none other colossus.
As Director, Caribbean Lexicography Project, author, Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage O.U.P. 1996), UWI, Dr. Allsopp is as active as a fit elderly Olympian. While he admits that practical badminton is passé, he still drives his car and goes shopping on a regular basis.
On a lighter note, within the confines of his study, there are two pieces of correspondence which he holds dear to his heart: one sent to him on May 10, 1997 by William J. Clinton, former President of the United States of America, and the other by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales in November of 1998.
The contents of both expressed personal gratitude and appreciation for his thorough and intense production of the Dictionary. The usefulness of the volume was particularly identified in Clinton's two memorable paragraphs.
Dr. Allsopp, the son of a strict bookkeeper father and a homemaker mother (both middle-class and long-livers), remembers the benefits of his hardworking father's philosophy: "Moderation in all things including religion; paddle your own canoe, keeping the family on board, shod and dry; and shoving off hangers on."
And, whenever the Master calls, some decades down the road, he wants to be remembered "as a scholar who managed to bring some enlightenment and respect for Afric heritage in the Caribbean, and contributed something to understanding Caribbean oneness."
Allsopp, who confessed that if he had to live his life over again, he "would seek a marriage partner far more wisely since divorce hurt me and my family psychologically," is happily married to distinguished multilingual lexicographer and former University of Guyana professor Jeannette Eileen Allsopp (nee Mercurius); and has four children.
On behalf of old Queen's College scholars and teachers [everywhere] of the late 1950s and early '60s vintage, I say: Soppy, have a very Happy (now belated) 80th (on January 23rd) - the same birthday of Sir Arthur Lewis and Professor Derek Walcott of St. Lucia; and President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana.