Hymes, Dell H.

Alternative names
Birth 1927-06-07
Death 2009-11-13

Biographical notes:

Dell Hathaway Hymes, an anthropologist, linguist, and educator, is best known for his studies of the language and culture of Native Americans at the Warm Springs reservation in Central Oregon.

From the guide to the Introduction to Swadesh Book, The Origin and Diversification of Language, 1971, (American Philosophical Society)

Dell H. Hymes is a linguist and folklorist.

From the guide to the The language of the Kathlamet Chinook, 1955, 1955, (American Philosophical Society)

Dell Hathaway Hymes, an anthropologist, linguist, and educator, is best known for his studies of the language and culture of Native Americans at the Warm Springs reservation in Central Oregon. He was born in Portland, Oregon on 7 June 1927, the son of Howard Hathaway and Dorothy (Bowman) Hymes. After two years of military service (1945-1947), Hymes received his undergraduate degree from Reed College (1950) and went on to study linguistic anthropology under Carl Voegelin at Indiana University. Thus was the beginning of his lifelong linguistic study of the Wasco tribe. His dissertation, The Language of Kathlamet Chinook (1955), was drawn from texts recorded and published by Franz Boas. After his marriage to Virginia Margaret Dosch in 1954, Hymes continued his post-graduate work with Harry Hoijer at UCLA. Between 1955-1960, he taught social anthropology at Harvard University and then went on to teach anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley (1960-1965).

Hymes' long association with the University of Pennsylvania began in 1965 as a professor of anthropology. Over his twenty-two year tenure at Penn he was a professor of folklore, linguistics, sociology, and education with a promotion to Dean of the Graduate School of Education (1975-1987). He also served on various committees at Penn including the Committee on problems of War and Peace, the Christian Association, the Committee on Language, Culture and Society, and the Haney Foundation Editorial Committee.

Hymes' first published work was in historical linguistics, Language in Culture and Society (1964). He believed that those who studied both linguistics and anthropology need to develop an opinion on the relation of language to culture. All of Hymes' works has been a response to finding a relationship between the two. He argues that linguistics should be based on a conception of language as social phenomena. As a result of this perspective, Hymes became a principal proponent of the emergent field of sociolinguistics. His other edited works include The Use of Computers in Anthropology (1965), Studies in Southwestern Ethnolinguistics (1967), Pidginization and Creolization of Languages (1971), Reinventing Anthropology (1972). Some later published works include Foundations of Sociolinguistics (1974), Language in Education: ethnolinguistic essays (1980), In Vain I Tried to Tell You: essays in Native American ethnopoetics (1981), American Structuralism (with John Fought, 1981). He returned to his historical perspective with the work Essays in the History of Linguistic Anthropology in 1983. With John Gumperz, he edited Directions in Sociolinguistics: the enthnography of communication (1986) that views speech as a part of a broader cultural system of communication action.

Hymes was also very active in professional organizations. With his strong interest in combating elitism and to ensure that anthropologists maintain knowledge of other societal disciplines, he has served on many executive boards. He has had a career-long association with the Social Science Research Council as one of the founding members of the Committee on Sociolinguistics (1963-1980). He served as president of the American Folklore Society (1973-1974), the Linguistic Society of America (1982), the American Anthropological Association (1983), and the American Association of Applied Linguistics (1986).

In 1972, Hymes founded the journal Language in Society and served as its primary editor until 1992. Other associate editor services include work with The Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (1966-1993), American Journal of Sociology (1977-1980), Journal of Pragmatics (1977-), and Theory and Society (1976-1996). In 1987, Hymes accepted the position of professor of Anthropology and English at the University of Virginia and became emeritus in 2000. He continues to work on Native American languages focusing on the analysis of oral narratives in verse. Dr. Hymes and his wife, Virginia, presently reside in Charlottesville, Virginia. They are the parents of Robert Paul (adopted), Alison Bowman, Kenneth Dell and Vicki (stepchild).

From the guide to the Dell H. Hymes Papers, 1947-1992, (American Philosophical Society)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Anthropology, ethnography, fieldwork
  • Takelma language--Texts
  • Cathlamet dialect


  • Anthropologists--United States


not available for this record