The impact of Dr Fox’s loss on Amerindian studies is incalculable

Dear Editor,
On behalf of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, I write to express our dismay at the untimely death this week of Dr Desrey Fox, Minister within the Ministry of Education, Guyana.

Although Amerindian languages have been the focus of linguistic research in the Western world for more than a century—indeed, such research was central to the development of Descriptive Linguistics in the 20th century—very little of this research has been conducted and published by scholars who are native speakers of Amerindian languages.  Dr Desrey Fox was one of a handful of scholars in this category worldwide, and the impact of her loss to Guyanese and Caribbean and South American Amerindian studies is incalculable.

Dr Fox was first recruited from Waramadong to the Amerindian Languages Project at the University of Guyana in 1976 by Dr Walter Edwards, the Project’s founder and director (a member of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, who is currently professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, USA).  The project was, at the time, merely a daring idea, supported by a modest grant from the Upper Mazaruni Development Project. Her responsibility was to provide data to prepare a description of the Akawaio language, but as Dr Edwards reports, she soon became the lead

research assistant and participated with other Amerindians (Lawrence Anselmo, Elsie Govia and others) and contemporary UG students (including Daizal Samad and Kean Gibson) in preparing dictionaries, bulletins, radio programmes, and articles on seven of the Amerindian languages in Guyana from the Carib, Warrau (Warao) and Arawakan families. It was an exciting time and Desrey was Dr Edward’s main Amerindian colleague who was a native speaker of Akawaio.  She quickly acquired the linguistic knowledge and research techniques needed to do the work. After Dr Edwards left Guyana in 1980, Dr Fox carried on the work of the Amerindian Languages

Project, under the administration of various directors.  Subsequently, she set out to pursue her own academic career, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the University of Guyana, a Master’s degree in Environmental Anthropology at the University of Kent at Canterbury (UK), and a PhD in linguistics from Rice University (Texas, USA).  Her dissertation, representative of her contributions to Amerindian linguistics, was entitled: “Zauro’no dok Akawaio Yau: Variants of Akawaio spoken in the village of Waramadong.”

The Society for Caribbean Linguistics extends its deepest sympathies to family members and friends of Dr Desrey Fox.

Yours faithfully,
Jo-Anne Ferreira, on behalf of John Rickford and
the Society for Caribbean Linguistics

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