The Ring

In memoriam: Dr. Geoffrey N. O’Grady

Sun, 2009-02-01 15:00

Dr. Geoffrey N. O’Grady died on Dec. 28, at home in Victoria, just before his 81st birthday. He came to the linguistics department at the University of Victoria in 1965, becoming involved in the study of various Indigenous languages on Vancouver Island and teaching phonetics and historical sound change.

He is regarded as a pioneer and leading scholar of Australian Aboriginal languages, and his linguistic research and teaching career are a tribute to the languages of First Nations peoples around the world. As a young man, he spent six years as a “jackaroo” in the Australian Outback on a vast sheep station. Riding and camping with his Aboriginal mates, he began learning their rich and intricate languages and dialects. He was eventually adopted into the Nyangumarta tribe and spoke their language fluently. While working on his BA at the University of Sydney, he conducted field trips to record and transcribe Indigenous languages. His endeavours in alphabetizing Nyangumarta resulted in a literacy program and a Nyangumarta newspaper that is still published. He completed his PhD at Indiana University, where he began a lifelong collaboration with Ken Hale of MIT, beginning with fieldwork in Arizona on HopiTewa and culminating in a series of studies on the classification of the Pama-Nyungan languages of Australia and reports to the Australian government on bilingual education. At the University of Alberta from 1963–65, O’Grady extended his work to northern Canadian First Nations languages. After his retirement from UVic in 1993, the Australian National University honoured him with an international festschrift. Geoff will be remembered for his class and charm, his easygoing nature and gift for humour and wordplay, his great modesty, his outstanding linguistic talent, his generosity and wonderful rapport with his students, and a total lack of artifice. Donations in his memory may be made to the Geoffrey N. O’Grady Scholarship in Linguistics, to assist UVic graduate students doing linguistic research, c/o the University of Victoria Development Office, PO Box 3060, Victoria, BC, V8W 3R4.

Submitted by Dr. John Esling, chair, Department of Linguistics