Dell Hathaway Hymes
Dell Hathaway Hymes Dell Hathaway Hymes, 82, a founding figure in the field of sociolinguistics and Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia, died Friday, November 13, 2009. An innovative thinker, an energetic researcher and writer, and a tireless intellectual advocate, Hymes worked for more than five decades at the intersection of linguistics and anthropology, exhorting linguists to move beyond treating language as a purely formal system and to study its mutual interactions with culture and society. His work has had an impact not only on his own dual fields of anthropology and linguistics but on the study of folklore, literature, and education. Hymes, the son of Howard Hathaway Hymes and Dorothy Bowman Hymes, was born and grew up in Portland, Oregon, where he first developed his lifelong interest in the study of Native American language and culture, conducting his first field research on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon while he was still an undergraduate at Reed College, and beginning friendships and collegial relationships with members of the Wasco, Wishram, and Sahaptin peoples that he would maintain throughout his life. Interrupting his college education, Hymes served in the army in American-occupied Korea, working as a decoder and reaching the rank of staff sergeant, and returned to Reed to graduate in 1950. Hymes and his close friend the poet, Gary Snyder, were the first two Reed students to combine majors in literature and anthropology. Hymes went on to graduate work in linguistics at Indiana University, where he met fellow student Virginia Wolff, n‚e Dosch, whom he married in 1954. He earned his Ph.D. in 1955 with a dissertation on the Kathlamet language, formerly spoken near the mouth of the Columbia River. Between 1955 and 1987 Hymes taught successively at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a member of the departments of Anthropology and Folklore and then served as Dean of the Graduate School of Education for 12 years. In 1987, Hymes moved to Virginia, taking up a joint appointment in anthropology and English, and remained at Virginia until his retirement in 1998. Throughout his life Hymes was a writer of poetry alongside his academic work, and many of his poems have been published. He was also a man of strong political views and engagements, a lover of music and amateur pianist, an excellent joke-teller, and an avid reader across a multitude of fields, in his later years especially including theology and the history of religion. Since he arrived in Charlottesville 22 years ago, he has been a congregant of St. Paul Memorial Church and more recently of Peace Lutheran Church. His love of his native Pacific Northwest was a deep theme not only in his work but in his life, and for more than three decades, while living and working in Philadelphia and then Charlottesville, he spent every summer on Mt. Hood, which lies between Portland where he was born and Warm Springs where he did his fieldwork. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Virginia Dosch Hymes, a researcher and teacher in her own right in linguistics, anthropology, and the study of narrative; a brother, Corwin Hymes; and by four children, Vicky Unruh, Robert Hymes, Alison Hymes and Kenneth Hymes; as well as five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service will take place 1 p.m. Saturday, November 21, 2009, at Peace Lutheran Church, Charlottesville. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice (CCPJ) or a charity of choice.


This obituary was originally published in the Daily Progress.
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Published by Daily Progress on Nov. 17, 2009.
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27 Entries
Jenny; Sorry to hear the sad news of the passing of Dell Hymes. He was a tremendous friend of the Tribal Peoples and his work acknowledged the First Literature of the Americas, the Tribal Folklore/Stories. He will be missed, but never forgotten. Deni Leonard
deni leonard
April 10, 2011
During the late 1960's, it was the work of Dell Hymes that interested me in doing graduate work. I spent part of a year as a visiting graduate student at U. of Pennsylvania taking his courses. Later, he never failed to respond to my questions from the field in S. W. Louisiana. I owe him so much! His death is a great loss to us all.
My condolences to his family.
Dorice Tentchoff
June 13, 2010
Dell Hymes was the most memorable teacher, scholar, and human being I have met. I have fond memories of his last class at the University of Virginia. He introduced us to great poems and a whole new way of appreciating the world. Instead of grades, we received long comments, letters, and lots of sincere advices. What impressed me most was his profound humility. He will always be my model scholar and I will miss him.
Su-kyoung Hwang
March 25, 2010
Thank you to Dell Hymes for expressing for all time what it means to know human language in the fullest sense. I thank him for his inspiration and treasure his contributions.
Terrence Potter
December 1, 2009
As Chair of the Department of Linguistics at Indiana University, I would like to express on behalf of the linguistics community here our deepest sympathy on the passing of Dell Hymes. Dell received his PhD at Indiana in 1955 when Indiana University was at the forefront of the study of Native American languages with the presence of Carl and Florence Voegelin. In 1994 Dell returned to Indiana University being honored by both the University and the Department as a distinguished alumnus. To Virginia and the rest of Dell's family, please accept our deepest sympathies.
Stuart Davis
November 29, 2009
From Dell Hymes I learned two things, I think. First, that all children are special, even after we grow up. We are unique because of the many dimensions along which we differ; but we also have a shared human heritage. Second, that we must listen not only to the person, but to the entire context. These two truths have implications for researchers, but also for managers-and for citizens.
Paul T. Hopper
November 25, 2009
To Virginia, Ken and other family members. Please accept my sympathy for the death of Dell.
Max Davis
(Friend of Ken)
November 23, 2009
Dear Virginia and family: I am extremely sorry and saddened to hear about Dr. Hymes' passing. His informative instruction in the Ethnography of Speaking courses and seminars and insightful and generous guidance always refresh my sweet memories about the old days at Penn. His fatherly images will always be missed and treasured. I will forever be grateful for his patient and profound instruction. Please accept my whole-hearted condolences. With all my best regards.
David S. D. Tseng
November 23, 2009
Dear Virginia: Dell was not only a titan in linguistics and anthropology, and someone from whose work I learned so much, but one of the nicest and most selfless people in academia. But you knew that. He and you are in my prayers.
Anthony Grant
November 20, 2009
Without Dell Hymes' work in sociolinguistics, I would have been hard pressed to find a theoretical basis for my dissertation research. He will certainly be missed, but his academic contributions will continue to contribute to ongoing scholarship. My condolences to his family.
Janet Ahler
November 18, 2009
Dear Virginia and family--Dell was the most brilliant scholar and thinker I have ever known, in any field--and surely one of the kindest and most generous. I treasure our sessions here in Central Oregon and elsewhere, and I know that you are finding comfort in the knowledge that the legacy of the man and his work is broad, deep, and ongoing. All my best, Jerry Ramsey, Madras, Oregon
November 18, 2009
Desejo a Paz de Deus sobre a família dele.
Lennie Bertoque
November 18, 2009
I will be forever grateful that Dell was my teacher and a member of my doctoral committee at UPenn; he was responsible for making Penn open its doors to future minority linguists in the first place. I treasure his memory, especially his committment to issues of language and justice in education. Que Dios bendiga a su familia-- Los acompan~o en el sentimiento.
Ana Celia Zentella
Ana Celia Zentella
November 18, 2009
Dear Ginny,I am so sorry to learn of Dell's death. I have such fond memories of our Indiana days, and now there's only Polly, Denny, you and I. Pat died in 2007 and I've been a widow ever since. Stay well, Dottie Kaschube
November 18, 2009
I am shaken by Dell Hymes' passing. His work in sociolinguistics and ethnography shaped my dissertation on a Tzotzil community in Chiapas, Mexico. I am so grateful that John Singleton, my dissertation advisor, introduced me to Dell at Penn during one of the ethnography in education conferences.
Carol-Jean McGreevy-Morales
November 18, 2009
Dell Hymes' scholarship in linguistic anthropology, social justice, and Oregon languages greatly influenced my life. My condolences to his family.
Joan Gross
November 18, 2009
I am sorry for your loss. It is very difficult to have a love one depart. As a new student entering the field and study of sociolinguistics I will miss his contribution within the field. My prayers are with you and family. B. Jenkins( Brooklyn,NY)
November 18, 2009
I was quite touched to hear of his passing and like many who benefitted from his doctoral committee support, I will always remember the fountains of information he left us in class and at his office footstool, encouraging us to rethink the depth of our work and its connections to the field of education, anthropology, and linguistics. He will be sorely missed but his work and influence is interminable. On behalf of my family, we send heartfelt love and condolences to his wife and children. RKMHopson (Pittsburgh, PA)
November 18, 2009
Ken, Leisl, Zachary & Teaghan,

Rudy, the kids and I are thinking of you. We trust that you will be comforted in the knowledge that friends share your grief. I am happy that I got to spend at least a little time with Dell. I could certainly tell that he was a brilliant man, and an awesome educator! Give a special hug to Virginia. We will be in touch soon.
Angela Beverly
November 18, 2009
may god bless him
robert madera
November 18, 2009
Dear Alison,

I am so grieved to learn of the death of your dear father. May God bless and sustain you in this great loss. I hold you in my heart and pray fervently for all your family. affectionately, Maureen O'Riordan
November 17, 2009
I will miss Dell very much. He mentored me through my first Language in Society article when i was just out of grad school, and later supported me in a battle to keep my professorial position at my university when i became disabled. His work in language and education took a critical bent -- something not always remarked on -- with regard to issues of race, language, and power. His death is a loss to anthropology, linguistics, folklore, Native American language study.
Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo
November 17, 2009
A giant figure in the fields of linguistic anthropology, folklore, and sociolinguistics has departed. I feel particularly saddened because he was my teacher, my supervisor on the Language in Society journal, and a very valuable member of my Ph.D. dissertation committee. He was also responsible for creating and launching the Educational Linguistics program at the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania from which I graduated. He will be missed.
Alicia Pousada
November 17, 2009
I learned much from Dell Hymes and am saddened.
Larry Selinker
November 17, 2009
Dell always had time to talk to and help out a grad student or new kid on the linguistic anthro block. I know from experience. His intellectual and moral passion shaped who we are today. We stand on the shoulders of a warm hearted giant.
Mike Agar
November 17, 2009
November 17, 2009
Dell Hymes forever changed anthropology by reinventing the field of linguistic anthropology. This great scholar and warm kind man will be deeply missed.
Leila Monaghan
November 16, 2009
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