Douglas Gifford

Professor Douglas Juan Gifford (1924 – 1991) founded CAS in 1969 as the Centre for Latin American Linguistic Studies.  The centre had been a long-standing dream of his, inspired by the St Andrews Survey Expeditions to Peru that he organised and led in 1965, 1967 and 1969.  As he wrote in his 1969 Expedition Report:

I have also been working towards the very tangible result of my work in Peru, and that is the setting up of a Centre for Latin American Linguistic Studies, which has now been approved by the Senate and University Court.  This, the first linguistic centre as such for the study of dialectology and Indian languages in South America, will aim at running courses for graduates coming from outside this University. Already we have increased our teaching staff on the Latin American linguistic side, and this year people will graduate with — I confidentally hope — a very good knowledge of Quechua. (Special Collections, Gifford papers, University of St Andrews). 

Born on 21 July 1924 in Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Gifford lived in Argentina, Spain and England before going up to Oxford to read Spanish and French at Queen’s College.  In Oxford he met his future wife, Hazel Collingwood (Letters to Hazel 2005).  However, WWII interrupted his studies, and he served in the Intelligence Corps in Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany before he was able to resume his education at Oxford.  In 1950 he was appointed a Lecturer in Spanish at the University of St Andrews, where he gained prominence as a brilliant and charismatic lecturer with a diversity of interests.

In 1965, Gifford organised the first University of St Andrews Andean Expedition to Peru, stimulating a life-long interest in Quechua language and culture.  For his second Andean expedition in 1967, he was joined by Leslie Hoggarth, a Methodist missionary and Quechua linguist, who offered his services to Gifford after seeing a notice of the expedition in the newspaper.  Gifford would lead a total of seven research expeditions to the Andes and Central America, where he conducted linguistic and ethnographic research on a variety of topics, including Andean vernacular Spanish, religion, shamanism, mythology, craft production, food and hygiene.  This following excerpt from his 1969 Expedition Report provides a sense of the hard work involved, including an evening in the Cuzco police station:

This early part of the period under review was devoted to preparing questionaires, getting the tape recorder and equipment ready.  After that I left on the 28th July for Peru with my colleages. Travelling first to New York, and then straight to Lima, we spent a short time in the capital making contacts and so on.

            After a three days we took the train which goes over 15,600 feet high to the town of Huancayo in Central Peru.  From there we pushed on, going by Andean bus through the ups and downs of the Andes themselves.  After five days of very wearying journey, we fetched up at 2.30 of a morning in the main square in Cuzco. We immediately fell asleep on the benches in the central square, being too tired to think of anything else.  However, the police thought otherwise, and the rest of the night was spent in the police station.

            From Cuzco it was a matter of another few hours journey over a pass of some 13,000 feet down to the Vilcanota Valley, where our expedition was to be based.  The locality was Calca, or rather near Calca in a cottage (empty except for three trestle tables) on a mission farm.  The centre was perfect from many points of view.  As I was primarily interested in studying dialect, there was a market town nearby where an immense amount of material could be collected.  I was also in the most superstitious part of the Andes as far as magical beliefs were concerned, and there was ample material for my study on curative prayers and magic.

            The next few weeks were spent taping Indian speech in the morning when I went down to the market, and the grinding business of transcribing while the memory was fresh, in the afternoons.  The material collected was considerable.

            From Calca we could also make dialect forays in other directions — to the Lake Titicaca region, to the jungle and so on.  After a while, we had become very adept at travelling in all kinds of transport always without exception with a bunch of Indians in the back of the lorry or a pick-up truck.  The Indians themselves were very friendly indeed, and were very good at giving information of a general type, if rather reticent over magical prayers, etc. (Special Collections, Gifford papers, University of St Andrews). 

Gifford inaugurated CAS’s publication series on South American linguistics and culture, and he published the following books on Latin America, based on his research during the St Andrews Expeditions.

Serrano Speech: Notes on the Mestizo Dialect of S. E. Peru.  St Andrews: Centre for Latin American Linguistic Studies, 1969.

A Study of the Washing Habits of Two Locations in Latin America: Antigua, Guatemala and Huantura, Peru.  St Andrews: St Andrews Centre for Latin American Linguistic Studies, 1973.

Carnival and Coca Leaf: Some Traditions of the Peruvian Quechua Ayllu (co edited and translated with Pauline Hoggarth).  Chatto and Windus, 1976.

Warriors, gods and spirits from Central and South American mythology.  Illustrations by John Sibbick.  London: Lowe Press, 1983. (published in Spanish in 1986)

Tradition and change among the grass roots of Callawaya indigenous medicine (co-authored with Elizabeth Lancaster); St Andrews: St Andrews Centre for Latin American Linguistic Studies, 1988.