I learned that my dear friend, Harland Kerr, died today in Australia—he was 91. We first met Harland and Marie in 1958 when Harland was the Principal of the summer SIL session at Belgrave Heights, in Melbourne, Victoria. Harland had received his PhD in Agricultural Science at the University of Sydney a few years earlier.

The Kerrs went to PNG in July of 1958 (we had arrived there in early March)—both of us had learned from the Lutheran Mission of a new language area opening up in the Southern Highlands and received permission from the Ialibu government office to do a survey there in August. We spent 10 days visiting Kewa and Wiru areas and made preparations for living in village areas approved by the Australian government officers at Ialibu.

Then we were together on an assignment in Rabaul in New Britain to prepare language learning lessons in Tolai, an Austronesian language. Harland and Marie had worked in Austronesian language in the Philippines for two years, prior to their assignment in PNG, so he was very familiar with similar language structures.

Harland wanted to learn Wiru monolingually and did not want the people to know that he understood or spoke Tok Pisin. I was therefore the main spokesman on our surveys, including the one in 1960 when we accompanied a government patrol into the heart of the Wiru area. During this survey Harland found the village where he and Marie would live.

Harland was an intense and brilliant linguist and language learner. His science background and his anthropological knowledge provided him with insights and methodology that were far beyond the average linguist in scope or wisdom. I learned a great deal from him.

Though the languages we studied were adjacent to each other, the trails were not and we rarely visited. Harland stayed with us in Muli for a week or so on one occasion and I accompanied two single women on a walk to the Kerr’s first village location, but that was the extent of our visits. We did, however, write often, and visited when we were both at Ukarumpa, our center.

Over the years Harland developed a linguistic theory and analysis that was profound and penetrating. His linguistics was built on the work of Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev and SIL linguists Kenneth Pike and Richard Pittman, but it was unconventional in many respects. He could see the cultural and linguistic symbolism that lay beneath the linguistic forms, although he relied on hard evidence for his theory.

Harland and I often discussed his theory and he incorporated many insights from the Kewa language (and elsewhere) into his writings. For a couple of years we skyped regularly and on two occasions he (and Marie) spent time with us while we lived at Kangaroo Ground.

Because of the weighty nature of his insights and claims, Harland was reluctant to publish his theory, although he gave a preview of it in an article he wrote honoring Frank Anderson. He also published on his views on the wider relationship of Wiru and Highland languages.

The administrators of SIL did not always support Harland, especially in relation to a simple matter of choosing /t/ instead of /r/ in the Wiru orthography—hence he wrote the language name as Witu and this caused conflict over the matter between some missionaries in the Wiru area.

As an agriculturalist, Harland helped the Wiru to establish coffee as a cash crop in their area and, as an artist and teacher, Marie helped train artists and teachers. The Wiru literacy program was an outstanding success.

The Wiru Foundation provided help for many Wiru people and Harland was accompanied by one of them to Canada and the Holy Land. His ventures are recorded on the website—see Yapeta’s story from 1960 at https://witumowituda.wordpress.com. The website also outlines his theory and research on the Wiru Grammar of Culture.

To give some idea of the scope of his interests, note the following publications (but consult the Wiru website for the full range of his contributions):

1964 – Specific and Generic Lexical Contrast in Pronominal Systems, in Papers on
the Languages of the Australian Aborigines
, In R. Pittman and H. Kerr eds., pp. 119-128. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies’

1965 – The Case-Marking and Classifying Function of Cotabato Manobo Voice
Affixes, Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. IV: 15-47.

1966 – A Preliminary Statement of Witu Grammar. (Unpublished M.A. Thesis,
University of Hawaii, Honolulu), Ts. 150 pp.

1973a – The Proto Kainantu Kinship System of the East New Guinea Highlands, in H.
McKaughan, ed. The Languages of the Eastern Family of the East New Guinea
Highland Stock
, (Anthropological Studies in the Eastern Highlands of New
Guinea, Vol. 1): 769-799, University of Washington Press, Seattle.

1973b – Subject Morphemes in the Tairora Verb Complex: Obura Dialect, in H.
McKaughan, ed. The Languages of the Eastern Family of the East New Guinea
Highland Stock, (Anthropological Studies in the Eastern Highlands of New
Guinea, Vol. 1): 598-624. University of Washington Press, Seattle.

1975 – The Relationship of Wiru in the Southern Highlands District to Languages of
the East New Guinea Highlands Stock, in S. A. Wurm, ed. New Guinea Area
Languages and Language Study Vol. 1. Papuan Languages and the New Guinea
Linguistics Scene
. 277-294.

1987 – A Theory of Language Organisation Based on Hjelmslev’s Function Oriented
Theory of Language, in Perspectives on Language and Text Essays and Poems
in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday
. Edgar
Conrad and Edward G. Newing eds. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns.

1988a – Cotabato Manobo Grammar in Studies, in Philippine Linguistics Vol. 7
Number 1:1-123. Linguistic Society of the Philippines Summer Institute of
Linguistics, Manila (originally a section of the thesis presented in 1957 to
Sydney University, Department of Anthropology, in partial fulfilment of
requirements for the award of a Diploma of Anthropology)

Harland was deeply devoted to Marie and his family. He could see God’s work clearly in his life as he sometimes reviewed his past struggles and his future hopes with me. He was also ecumenical in spirit and had a continuing and practical love for the Wiru people.

Harland was certainly one of the most brilliant men I have ever met: his interest and advanced knowledge of plant genetics, comparative linguistics, theology, language and cultural symbolism was remarkable. I feel privileged to have been his friend for so many years.
September 26, 2017