1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Dell H. Hymes

Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus

  Ph.D. Indiana University 1955

7 June, 1927 - 13 November, 2009

The Reed Magazine: "Ways we speak," an appreciation from Dell's alma mater (Reed College, 1950)

I never know what to say when someone asks what I have done and do. So much of it has depended and depends on circumstances. I have never done anything I would myself describe as theoretical or ethnographic (in a strict sense of either term), although I have often written about ideas, and spent a fair amount of time hanging around Indians. I am interested in what is done in the study of the use of language, oral narrative and poetry, the history of anthropology and linguistics, Native Americans, theology.

Increasingly I have been focussing on the analysis of oral narratives, bringing out what turns out to be organization in terms of lines and groups of lines, verses and stanzas, in effect, not paragraphs. The entry for 'Poetry' in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 9(1-2): 191-3 (2000) addresses this. Such interpretation has proven valuable to members of Native American communities from which such texts have come. But I have also provided a new introduction, somewhat autobiographical, for Reinventing Anthropology, recently reprinted.

What's interesting is real work. I am always interested in combating elitism and narrowness and the playing of 'Western mind games' (as one friend once put it) at the expense of the rest of the world. The justification for the existence of anthropology is to find out about the world, not produce third-rate philosophers. Two vital issues for the field are (a) to ensure that anthropologists are the knowledgeable peers of members of any other discipline concerned with peoples and topics anthropologists study and (b) to justify scholarship in its relation to the interests and abilities of others.


Before retirement, I taught Linguistic Anthropology, Native American Mythology, Ethno-poetics, Native American Poetry (in Anthropology/ English).


I still know something about the history of anthropology and of linguistics, and ethnography of speaking, but am actively concerned mostly with verbal traditions and languages of Oregon and Washington. (Other cases come up, as recently Wintu (Loon Woman), Mohave (Kroeber's texts), Saami ('Lapp'), and characteristics of oral epic (because of gatherings at Turku).

In Memoriam

J. Christopher Crocker
Professor, Emeritus
James Deetz
Professor, Emeritus
Floyd Nelson House
First Chair (Anthropology & Sociology)
Dell H. Hymes
Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus
Virginia D. Hymes
Lecturer, Emerita
Nancy J. Martin-Perdue
Scholar in Residence, Emerita
Charles L. Perdue, Jr.
Professor, Emeritus
Victor W. Turner
William R. Kenan Professor of Anthropology and Religion
Edith Turner
Lecturer Emerita
Edward H. Winter
Professor, Emeritus
Virginia Young
Lecturer, Emerita