Kay Williamson

Kay Williamson (January 26, 1935, Hereford, United Kingdom – January 3, 2005, Brazil), born Ruth Margaret Williamson, was a linguist who specialised in the study of African languages, particularly those of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, where she lived for nearly fifty years. She has been called "The Mother of Nigerian Linguistics"[1] and is also notable for proposing the Pan-Nigerian alphabet.

Kay Williamson
Ruth Margaret Williamson

(1935-01-26)January 26, 1935
DiedJanuary 3, 2005(2005-01-03) (aged 69)
Alma materSt Hilda's College, Oxford; BA in English, 1956, MA, 1960; Yale University, PhD, 1964
OrganizationUniversity of Ibadan, University of Port Harcourt
Known for"The mother of Nigerian linguistics"; authority on the Ijaw languages
Parent(s)Harry Williamson
Harriett Eileen Williamson

Early lifeEdit

Professor Kay Williamson was born in Hereford, England, where she lived for the first 18 years of her life. She was the eldest of six children. Her father, Alfred Henry Williamson, also known as Harry, was the founder of Wyevale Nurseries. Her father and mother, Harriett Eileen Williamson, turned the Wyevale nurseries into one of the largest garden center chains in Europe. Williamson was educated at Hereford girls' high school and St Hilda's College, Oxford, where she took a BA in English in 1956, followed by an MA in 1960.[2]


Her many publications include a grammar and dictionary of the Ijo language, a dictionary of Igbo and numerous articles on diverse topics.[3]

Kay Williamson was known for her concern for social responsibility in linguistics. She was totally convinced that a linguist must help speakers of the languages of her research to produce texts in their languages.[3] She devoted a substantial part of her time to the Rivers Readers Project, an exercise designed to introduce reading and writing in primary schools in about 20 dialects or languages in the predominantly Ijo-speaking area. As a byproduct, several books (including primers, readers, teachers' notes, spelling manuals, and collection of folk-tales) were compiled by Kay and her collaborators.

In 2002, she was appointed UNESCO Professor of Cultural Heritage, University of Port Harcourt, a position she held until her death.

Her unpublished work is being edited by Roger Blench.[4]

Later lifeEdit

Williamson was brought up as a Methodist but became a Quaker in the early 1990s, and subsequently took peace activism very seriously.[5]

She died at the age of 69 in Brazil on the 3rd of January 2005.[6][7]

Major publicationsEdit

  • Williamson, Kay. 1965 (2nd ed. 1969). A grammar of the Kolokuma dialect of Ịjọ. (West African Language Monographs, 2.) London: C.U.P.. 2011: ISBN 0521175267
  • Williamson, Kay, and Kiyoshi Shimizu (edd.). 1968. Benue-Congo comparative wordlist: Volume I. Ibadan: West African Linguistic Society.
  • Williamson, Kay (ed.) 1972. Igbo-English dictionary. Benin: Ethiope Publishing Corporation.
  • Williamson, Kay (ed.). 1973. Benue-Congo comparative wordlist: Volume II. Ibadan: West African Linguistic Society.
  • Williamson, Kay (ed.) 1983. Orthographies of Nigerian languages: Manual II. Lagos: National Language Centre, Federal Ministry of Education.
  • Williamson, Kay, and A. O. Timitimi (edd.). 1983. Short Ịzọn-English dictionary. (Delta Series No. 3.) Port Harcourt: University of Port Harcourt Press. ISBN 978-2321-09-5, ISBN 978-978-2321-09-1
  • Williamson, Kay. 1984. Practical orthography in Nigeria. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1971. "The Benue-Congo languages and Ịjọ". In: Current Trends in Linguistics, Vol. 7, series ed. by T. A. Sebeok, 245-306.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1979. "Small languages in primary education: the Rivers Readers Project as a case history". African Languages/Langues Africaines 5:2.95-l05.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1989. "Niger-Congo Overview". In: The Niger-Congo languages, ed. by John Bendor-Samuel, 3-45. University Press of America. ISBN 0819173754
  • Williamson, Kay. 1989. "Benue-Congo Overview". In: The Niger-Congo languages, ed. by John Bendor-Samuel, 246-274. University Press of America. ISBN 0819173754
  • Williamson, Kay, and Roger Blench. 2000. "Niger-Congo". In: African languages: an introduction, ed. B. Heine and D. Nurse, Chapter 2, 11-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521661781


  1. ^ Bamgbose, Ayo (2005-02-28). "Obituary: Kay Williamson : An authority on Nigerian languages, she devoted herself to education in west Africa". The Guardian.
  2. ^ Bamgbose, Ayo (2005-03-01). "Obituary: Kay Williamson". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  3. ^ a b Bamgbose, Ayo (2005-02-28). "Obituary: Kay Williamson : An authority on Nigerian languages, she devoted herself to education in west Africa". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-06-15.
  4. ^ "Memorial Events for Professor Kay (Ruth) Williamson". Archived from the original on February 23, 2012. Retrieved 2013-06-15.
  5. ^ "Memorial Events for Professor Kay (Ruth) Williamson". rogerblench.info. Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  6. ^ Ndimele, Ozo-mekuri; Horton, Robin (2010-02-17). "Kay Ruth M. Williamson (1935–2005)". Africa. 80 (1): 168–176. doi:10.3366/E000197200900134X. ISSN 1750-0184.
  7. ^ Blench, Roger (2005-07-20). "Kay Williamson, 1935–2005". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 26 (1): 79–80. doi:10.1515/jall.2005.26.1.79. ISSN 1613-3811. S2CID 144451135.

External linksEdit