1943-05-16

Linguist JOHN HOLM was born (d: 2016); Holm produced a landmark study, a two-volume “Pidgins and Creoles” which traced the socio-historical evolution of the two language forms. While hitchhiking through Mexico and Central America in his teenage years, Holm heard black Nicaraguans on the Caribbean coast, speaking a non-Spanish language that seemed familiar to him. They called it “Pirate English”, a reference to its probable origin on pirate and British Navy ships.

Holm was born in Jackson, Michigan and studied German, Spanish and Russian in high school. He attended the University of Michigan, obtaining a B.S. degree in English. He went on to attend the Sorbonne to study French and to teach English at the University of the Andes in Bogota, Colombia. He obtained a Master’s in teaching English as a foreign language from Columbia’s Teachers College and a doctorate in linguistics from University College, London, writing his dissertation, a history, descriptive grammar and dictionary of the “pirate English” he had heard as a young man along the Miskito Coast.

He insisted that pidgins and creoles be regarded as languages in their own right, not debased versions of the source languages. He died in January 2016 and is survived by his husband Michael Pye.