Kenneth L. Hale (1934-2001)
Ken Hale died at home in Lexington, Massachusetts on October 8, 2001.
Ken worked on languages all over the world. But SSILA folk, of course, knew him as an Americanist, a career he began in 1948 when, as a teenager, he learned Hopi and Towa. From the late 1950s Ken published major work in every branch of our field. He made foundational contributions to the comparative historical linguistics of Uto-Aztecan, Kiowa-Tanoan, and Misumalpan. He published basic descriptive work, always oriented toward fundamental theoretical problems, on dozens of Native American languages, especially Navajo, Hopi, Tohono O’odham, and Ulwa of Nicaragua. He made major theoretical contributions in semantics, phonology and syntax that were continually fresh over the 40 years of his career; for many years Ken was the "universal" in "universal grammar."
In recent years he was a leader in alerting the world to the problem of language endangerment. In addition to major publications on this issue, he made immense practical contributions, in encouraging work on endangered languages by students everywhere, in developing pedagogical materials, and, especially, in training, working with, and encouraging native-speaker and community-based linguists both inside and outside the academic world. Those he mentored and worked with include Florentino P. Ajpacajá Tum, Albert Alvarez, Hazel Dean-John, Jessie Little Doe Fermino, Lolmay Pedro García Matzar, Salome Gutiérrez, Lorraine Honie, Abanel Lacayo Blanco, Laverne Masayesva Jeanne, Alyse Neundorf, Valentín Peralta, Waykan Benito Pérez, Ellavina Tsosie Perkins, Paul Platero, Pakal Rodríguez Guaján, Enrique Sam Colop, Irene Silentman, Mary Helen Taptoe, Gregorio Tum, Lucille Watahomigie, Josie White Eagle, Mary Willie, and Ofelia Zepeda. In the 1980s he participated in a distinguished effort to build community-based language development programs for endangered languages in Nicaragua. The many short courses and workshops he gave around the world included courses for native-speaker linguists in Guatemala in 1988 and 1994. The Maestría in Linguistics at the Universidad de Sonora in Hermosillo, an important new program specializing in Native American languages in Mexico, owed much to Ken’s tireless volunteer teaching.
Ken’s unfailing and extraordinary generosity as friend and colleague to all who crossed his path in the Americanist world was one of the foundations of our sense of scholarly community.