Vale Richard Keith Sprigg

Randy LaPolla R.LaPolla at
Tue Sep 20 03:16:26 UTC 2011

It is with great sadness that I forward to the Tibeto-Burman list the news of the death of Richard Keith Sprigg, on Wednesday, September 8, 2011.

Besides his scientific contributions to our field and to the fields of phonetics and phonology, Keith will be remembered as a most wonderful mentor to his students and to younger colleagues who came to consult him. His generosity with his knowledge, time, data and in all respects was appreciated by all who came to know him. We will regret his knowledge, humour, kindness, and the bagpipes which accompanied him wherever he went.

Richard Keith Sprigg was born on March 31st, 1922.

He was a pioneer of fieldwork in the Himalayas. In 1949-50 he studied Tibetan in Kalimpong, where he met his future wife, Ray, and in Gyantse. In 1955-56 Ray accompanied him on a six-month expedition from the eastern border of Nepal to Kathmandu. Nepal had only recently been opened to foreigners, and this was still an adventure, from which he brought back a wealth of materials on Limbu, Sherpa, Bantawa Rai, Tamang and Newari. Later trips to India, Pakistan and Sikkim enriched his collection of Tibetan dialects.

His contributions to the study of Tibetan languages, Burmese, Lepcha, and Limbu, to name but a few, are well-known, as well as his use of the Firthian approach to phonology in comparative work and reconstruction in Tibeto-Burman.  A bibliography of his publications up to 1987 can be found in the Festschrift which was presented to him for his 65th birthday (D. Bradley, M. Mazaudon and E.J.A. Henderson, eds, Prosodic Analysis and Asian Linguistics to honour R. K. Sprigg, Pacific Linguistics, 1988).
In 1980, he took early retirement from the University of London in order to settle in Kalimpong, where he could take better care of his then paralyzed wife. There he continued his studies, while playing host to the many scholars who visited him. After Ray's death in 2000, Keith returned to England. One of his important contributions to our field from this later period is his dictionary of Balti (2002. Balti-English English-Balti Dictionary London: Routledge-Curzon). He lived in Crowborough, East Sussex, with his second wife, Elizabeth, who took loving care of him in his later years. To her and to his son David and daughter Maya, we wish to express our heartfelt condolences.

Martine Mazaudon, 19 September 2011
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