By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
JOHN Alexander Holm, who co-wrote the Dictionary of Bahamian English and is a former lecturer at the College of The Bahamas, died in Azeitao, Portugal on December 28 after reportedly battling prostate cancer.
He was 72 years old.
Mr Holm, a native of Jackson, Michigan, co-wrote the first dictionary of Bahamian English with Alison Watt Chilling while serving as English and German linguistics lecturer at the College of the Bahamas from 1978-1980. The dictionary, which was published in 1982, serves as an official guide for the amalgamation of the various English, European and African elements that helps comprise the Bahamian vernacular.
Mr Holm, who has been hailed as a pioneer in linguistics, was reportedly instrumental in emphasising the contributions of non-European languages to creoles - as opposed to viewing creoles to be reduced forms of European languages, with minimal contributions from non-European sources.
According to the New York Times, he also reportedly insisted that pidgins and creoles be regarded as languages in their own right, not debased versions of source languages.
Sarah Thomason, a linguist at the University of Michigan and an associate editor of the Journal of Historical Linguistics, reportedly said of Mr Holm: “Pidgin and creole studies had generally been dismissed, largely because creole languages in particular were thought to be spoken almost exclusively by poor people of colour and were considered to be bastardized versions of the European languages that contributed their vocabularies.
“By publishing careful empirical studies of creole and semi-creole language structures, and by publicising these languages in ‘Pidgins and Creoles,’ John helped create one of the most exciting subfields of linguistics.”
Mr Holm was born on May 16, 1943, to a Danish father and a German mother, and studied German, Spanish and Russian in high school.
In 1978, Mr Holm was awarded a doctorate in linguistics from University College, London. His research took him back to Nicaragua in 1976 to study the Creole English of that country’s Caribbean coast, the language he had first encountered in 1961 as “Pirate English.”
That was followed by a brief stint at the College of the Bahamas, where, after being in constant contact with Creole speakers, he, along with Alison Shilling, constructed the first dictionary of Bahamian English. After that venture, Mr Holm reportedly produced the two-volume “Pidgins and Creoles,” which traced the historical overview of pidgins and creoles and characterises more than 100 pidgins, creoles and other restructured language varieties.
In 1980, Mr Holm began teaching English and linguistics at Hunter College in New York, while continuing to work on Caribbean and Central American English, with two edited volumes and numerous articles.
In his last decade in New York he taught in the PhD programme in linguistics at the City University of New York’s Graduate Centre. He later accepted a post as chairman of English linguistics at the University of Coimbra in Lisbon, where he reportedly created a department of creole linguistics.