Widdowson, John

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Widdowson, John

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        John David Allison Widdowson (1935- ), folklorist and linguist, has done extensive fieldwork and research in sociolinguistics, dialectology and English cultural tradition in both urban and rural areas of England and Newfoundland. He was born in Sheffield, England and attended Bridlington School, Bridlington, East Yorkshire, England from 1946 to 1954. His secondary education led him to Oxford where he obtained a BA (1959) and an MA (1963) in English Literature and Language. In 1966, Widdowson also completed a study of dialectology in the MA programme at Leeds. Before finishing his thesis, he was offered a teaching position at the English Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).

        Widdowson arrived in Newfoundland in 1962 and continued work on his MA thesis. A research question related to a "proverbial" comparison led him to seek the advice of his colleague, Herbert Halpert. The item he was probing turned out to be the Newfoundland expression "boogieman." During their meeting, Halpert showed Widdowson his collection on "frightening figures." This sparked his interest in this topic, and particularly in Newfoundland folklore.

        Shortly after, Widdowson began taking folklore courses, and while he was the first student to enroll in the doctoral programme in the Department of English, his thesis actually dealt with a folklore topic. During the summers of 1963-67, Widdowson joined Halpert in fieldwork in rural Newfoundland. Their collection of material formed the foundation for the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA). When the Folklore Department at MUN was established in 1968, Widdowson began a series of his annual research fellowships in language and folklore. He completed a PhD in 1972 and, in 1974 was appointed as Head of the Folklore Department and Archivist. He also served as acting Head in 1977-78. In 1985, Widdowson was named honorary research associate in folklore and language at MUN. Although Widdowson maintained a close research association with Newfoundland and MUN , he also spent 30 years as a faculty member of English Language, Folklore and Culture of the University of Sheffield. In 1974, he became the founding director of a research project - the Survey of Language and Folklore -which subsequently, in 1976, became the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language and, in 1997, the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition. He remained director of the centre until he retired in 2001.

        Widdowson was elected to the first executive of the Canadian Oral History Association in 1974 and became the co-director of the Institute for Folklore Studies in Britain and Canada in 1986. From 1987-90, he was the president of the Folklore Society. As well, he became the curator of the Traditional Heritage Museum in 1989 and has been a full member of Folklore Fellows International since 1993.

        Widdowson also published circa twenty books, and over 60 articles in learned journals. Some of the more significant publications with which he was associated include: "If you Don't be Good...:" (1977), an article on verbal social control in Newfoundland; Linguistic Atlas of England (1978); Dictionary of Newfoundland English (1982, revised 1990), with Strong and Kerwin; Studies in Linguistic Geography: the Dialects of England in Britain and Ireland (1985); Studies in Newfoundland Folklore, Community and Process (1991); Survey of English Dialects: The Dictionary and Grammar (1994); and Folktales of Newfoundland (1996). Widdowson was also the founding editor of the journal Lore and Language.

        Widdowson's work earned him several prestigious including: two Certificates of Merit, Regional History Award of the Canadian Historical Association; in 1984 for his contribution to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, and, again in 1987, for Canada's Folklore-Folklife Series. As well, in 1992, he received the Jubilee Award of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Widdowson was given an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Edinburgh in 1999 and by MUN 2000.


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        Created - May 21, 2013


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