Peter Martin

Peter Martin
Peter Martin

Peter often seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. When we first met in Brunei in late 1988, he was dropping off Ubong his wife, who was about to give a cookery demonstration to an interested group, on Jalan Subok, in Bandar Seri Begawan. Peter, meanwhile, had another commitment to which he was enthusiastically rushing. The ‘hurry’ that Peter was in reflected his genuine and unrelenting zest for just about everything he was involved in really.

If life is a privilege, then Peter’s life was a continuous celebration of this privilege, most obviously and consistently, through his unwaveringly deep devotion to his family; his unflinching attentiveness towards and concern for his students; and his loyalty and professional commitment to his colleagues and, in particular, his legendary readiness to take on more, much more, than his share of the workload.

Peter Martin was born in Singapore, and grew up in Bradford. After graduating from university, Peter became a teacher, working at primary, secondary and tertiary levels in the UK, as well as in Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. He went on to complete an M.A. in Applied Linguistics; and later read for a Ph.D. at Lancaster University, UK, during his time as an academic at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (1985-1998). Peter’s 1997 Ph.D. thesis says a lot about the man. Not only is it a widely cited work of acknowledged academic scholarship that was judged, at viva, as being a complete and final dissertation, with no - even minor - changes required. His Ph.D. was also rooted in the real world of classroom interaction. Peter was intimately familiar with local language education, in Brunei, and he painstakingly recorded and transcribed hours of classroom data from his observations in primary schools - urban, suburban and rural. In his conclusion, Peter advocates using both Brunei Malay and English in the Bruneian Primary School classroom, wherever this might help to get ‘meaning’ across, his concern being particularly for those who do not have easy access and opportunities to use the English language [outside the classroom] and who he saw as benefitting from a less stringent English-only approach. Peter subsequently moved to the University of Leicester (1998-2005), in the UK, where he established and led the Centre for English Language Teaching Excellence. In 2005, he became Professor of Education and Linguistics, at the University of East London where he set up and led the Professional Doctorate in Education.

Peter’s academic research and his publication output were prolific. His major foci included: multilingualism and relations that obtain between language, culture and identity. His early published work, from his time in Southeast Asia, considered mainly sociolinguistic issues in multilingual settings, in particular: bilingual classroom interaction and language policy, planning and practice. A further strand of research was the sociolinguistics of Austronesian language communities in Borneo, and the compilation of a dictionary of Kelabit, a project that continues, thanks to Peter’s efforts. Peter’s later research focused on complementary schools in England and issues of multilingual classroom ecologies. He completed two ‘Education and Science Research Council’-sponsored studies of multilingualism, in complementary schools, both rated ‘Outstanding’ by the funding council. The first of these studies investigated Gujarati complementary schools in Leicester, while the second extended to Bengali, Chinese, Turkish and Gujarati schools in Birmingham, Manchester, London, and Leicester, respectively [and involved staff at the University of Birmingham, Birkbeck College London, Kings College London and the University of East London].

Peter’s research has certainly increased our understanding of multilingualism, language education, and language in society. Peter was a Fellow of the Borneo Research Council, Advisory Panel Member of the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity, and a member of organisations including the Foundation for Endangered Languages, the Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom (ASEASUK), the National Association of Language Development in the Curriculum, UK (NALDIC), the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL).

Outside of academia, Peter was passionate about classical music, particularly Mahler and Richard Strauss, and would often attend the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera, in London, once he had moved there. He was also a competent pianist, although self-deprecating about his musical skills; and his car radio was constantly tuned to the classical music station, BBC Radio 3. He loved rugby, too, having been both a keen and accomplished player in his younger years, and he actively supported the English club team, Leicester Tigers. He was also a devoted football fan supporting, since his childhood, West Ham United. He also enjoyed the occasional glass of beer, nearly always with friends, a pastime he combined with his love of sport and the outdoors. Outside of family and work, he adored his allotment, where he could engage with his joy in growing his own food. He made excellent chutneys and was frequently giving away jars of his excellent produce. He loved hill-walking, as well, particularly in the Lake District of northern England, and he was walking there with his brother Michael, near Buttermere and Blacksail a few days before he died of a stroke.

In Borneo, Peter’s house frequently had visitors, whether relatives from upriver, local friends and colleagues or, more likely, a combination. And, of course, there were many parties at his family home, at which the food was always exquisite, with a host of wild and local foods on offer, Peter and Ubong both being impressive cooks. A number of times, I was able to visit Peter and his family at Ubong’s village, Long Peluan, in the Upper Baram. Peter was - still is - revered by his relatives, whether Sab’an or Kelabit and rightly so. The number of people he had ‘seen’ through school or helped to get downriver to obtain essential medical treatment, among other forms of assistance, would be hard to enumerate; but he was modest and one only knew of his benevolence through others.

He loved being in Long Peluan, where he found peace and tranquility. He enjoyed relaxing there as he immersed himself among people whom he deeply respected and whom he felt led balanced and rounded lives. This is where, he hoped, he might finally be laid to rest. The suddenness of Peter’s demise was simply numbing. Peter had always been irrepressible – his dynamism and enthusiasm in all that he did, and the time and energy he devoted to those he knew, gave one the feeling that he would continue to ‘zoom’ tirelessly into retirement, just as he seemed to have zoomed into middle-age. There are so many, many people, including: family, friends, colleagues [most of whom were also, almost inevitably, friends such was Peter’s warmth and personal appeal]; ex-students [many of whom became friends during the course of their work with Peter], all of whom will ensure that the memory of Peter remains intact. In the meantime, Peter’s research has increased our understanding of multilingualism, language education, and language in society. Furthermore, his teaching has stimulated and enriched the learning and lives of generations of students.