Dell Hymes (1927-2009)


Research Interests

  • Anthropology, Native American mythology, ethnopoetics

Notable Ideas



Dell Hathaway Hymes is a sociolinguist, anthropologist, and folklorist whose work has dealt primarily with languages of the Pacific Northwest. Hymes earned his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1955, and took a job at Harvard University.

Even at that young age, Hymes had a reputation as a strong linguist; his dissertation, completed in one year, was a grammar of the Kathlamet language spoken near the mouth of the Columbia and known primarily from Franz Boasís work at the end of the 19th century.

He has been President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1982, the American Anthropological Association in 1983, and the American Folklore Society - the last person to have held all three positions. Hymes was a founder of the journal Language in Society. He later joined the Departments of Anthropology and English at the University of Virginia, where he became the Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology and English, and from which he recently retired.

Contribution to Linguistics

He was one of the first to call the fourth subfield of anthropology "linguistic anthropology" instead of "anthropological linguistics." The terminological shift draws attention to the field's grounding in anthropology rather than in what by that time was already become an autonomous discipline (linguistics).

As one of the first sociolinguists, Hymes helped to pioneer the connection between speech and human relations and human understandings of the world. Hymes is particularly interested in how different language patterns shape different patterns of thought.

Central Knowledge

Main Publications

  • The Ethnography of Speaking, pp.13-53 in Gladwin, T. & Sturtevant, W.C. (eds), Anthropology and Human Behavior, The Anthropology Society of Washington, (Washington), 1962.

  • Language in Culture and Society (ed.) (1972) Reinventing Anthropology. 1964.

  • Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. 1974.

  • Language in Education: Ethnolinguistic Essays. 1980.

  • In Vain I Tried to Tell You: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1981.

  • Essays in the History of Linguistic Anthropology. 1983.

  • Ethnography, Linguistics, Narrative Inequality: Toward an Understanding of Voice. 1996.

  • Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics. 2003.

Categories: People