Dr. Thomas Perry's Retirement

May 18, 2018

On Tuesday, May 16th, staff and faculty in the Department of Linguistics gathered in the Diamond Alumni Center to celebrate the retirement of Dr. Thomas Perry. Tom has worked at SFU for the past 39 years in many positions including: founding Chair of the Department of Linguistics, founding Director of the Department of Cognitive Science, Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics, and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Many faculty and staff members have expressed high praise for Tom's work ethic, influence, and accomplishments in the department.

"Tom was a wonderful person to work with." - Silvana Di Tosto


Administrative Work

Tom earned his PhD in 1975 in Linguistics at Indiana University. He has held previous appointments at the University of Vienna from 1973 - 1974, and the Technical University of Berlin from 1974 - 1978. His areas of research are formal models of phonological systems, syllable parsing, timing patterns in speech, and language policy as it relates to endangered minority languages.

In 1979, Tom was hired into the Department of Languages, Literature, and Linguistics (DLLL) in the German division. In 1987, the DLLL was broken up into three new departments: Linguistics, French, and Spanish & Latin American Studies.

Tom then served as the founding chair of the newly created SFU Linguistics Department, hiring Nancy Hedberg as the department's first tenure-track hire. Shortly after, Dr. Perry managed to hire Paul McFetridge, Donna Gerdts, Zita McRobbie, Murray Munro, and Juan Sosa. They joined the original set of faculty members: Richard DeArmond, Jim Foley, Hector Hammerley, Neville Lincoln, Wyn Roberts, and Ross Saunders.

In 1995, Tom left the position of Department Chair to become Associate Dean. During this time, foreign language instruction was consolidated into the Language Training Institute (LTI) and placed in the Linguistics Department. Trude Heift was hired to direct a common computerized language lab, and Dean Mellow was hired as an applied linguist. Tom supported the department by acquiring laboratories so that new hires could focus on empirical methods in linguistic theory.

In 2009, Tom returned as the Department Chair for six more years, hiring three faculty members, overseeing the transfer of Marianne Ignace into Linguistics, and hiring Silvana Di Tosto as the Chair's Secretary. Tom continued to acquire the department more space to open up new laboratories.

In 2015, Tom started winding down to retirement, following Nancy Hedberg's appointment as Department Chair. His official retirement date is August 31, 2018.

The Department's Success

In 2016, the external review report recognized the department's strength in several areas: linguistics theory, applied linguistics, experimental linguistics, computational linguistics, sociolinguistics, and indigenous language documentation and revitalization.

"Taken together, the faculty have a research profile that would rank among the best in Canada, and is arguably on par with the three top linguistics programs of McGill, University of Toronto, and UBC. Based on the faculty research strength, SFU's linguistics department could be considered among th etop five in Canada." - External Review Report, 2016.

After a number of retirement, and the recent hiring of Peter Jacobs, the Department consists of 17 faculty members, 6 staff members, over 250 majors and minors, 20-25 linguistics graduate students, as well as a new group of more than 30 indigineous students completing a new MA in the Linguistics of a First Nations Language.

The strikingly successful outcome after only 30 years as a linguistics department is in largue part due to the skillful administrative hard work of the Dr. Perry. We are sad to see him leave, but very much look forward to continue interacting with him even after he is officially retired.

Continuing Work

Tom's research interests include First Nations language revitalization, german phonology, phonological theory, and endangered languages education. Although Tom's recent work has focused on aspects of German phonology, such as stress, weight, and rhythm, he hopes to continue as an adjunct professor so that he can continue his work in the SSHRC partnership "First Nations Languages in the 21st Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward”. He hopes to see his field recordings of Coast Tsimshian integrated into the project's Coast Tsimshian corpus and lexicon.