U.Va. Professor Emeritus Dell Hymes, Influential Linguistic Anthropologist, Has Died

November 18, 2009

November 18, 2009 — Dell H. Hymes, Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology and English Emeritus at the University of Virginia, died in Charlottesville Nov. 13. He was 82.

An influential anthropologist and folklorist, Hymes' work advanced the field of sociolinguistics, and he founded a subspecialty, ethnopoetics, through his study of Native American storytelling, especially from the Pacific Northwest.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. at Peace Lutheran Church, 1510
Broad Crossing Road in Charlottesville.

Another memorial gathering will be held at the American Anthropological Association's national meeting Dec. 5 in Philadelphia.

Hymes joined the anthropology and English departments in U.Va.'s Graduate School and College of Arts & Sciences in 1987, retiring in 1998.

A native of Portland, Ore., he graduated from Reed College in 1950 and earned his Ph.D. in linguistics at Indiana University in 1955. For the next 22 years, he taught successively at Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania, before coming to U.Va. At U.Penn., he founded the journal Language in Society.

His books include "Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics," "Ethnography, Linguistics, Inequality: Essays in Education, 1978-1994," "In Vain I Tried to Tell You: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics," "Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach" and "Reinventing Anthropology."

He served as president of the American Anthropological Association in 1983, the Linguistic Society of America in 1982 and the American Folklore Society in 1973. He also was a fellow of the American Folklore Society and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Hymes was particularly interested in how different language patterns shape different patterns of thought. He developed a mnemonic device to describe the elements that make up any speech and analyze the speech in its cultural context. He referred to this as the SPEAKING model:

S – Setting and Scene: The setting refers to the time and place, while scene describes the environment of the situation.
P – Participants: This refers to who is involved in the speech, including the speaker and the audience.
E – Ends: The purpose and goals of the speech, along with any outcomes.
A – Act Sequence: The order of events that take place during the speech.
K – Key: The overall tone or manner of the speech.
I – Instrumentalities: The form and style of the speech being given.
N – Norms: What is socially acceptable at the event.
G – Genre: The type of speech that is being given.

Hymes is survived by his wife, Virginia, who is also a sociolinguist and folklorist; four children, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice or a charity of choice.

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