I cannot explain why Ken’ s path and mine keep crossing; but I can tell others a little bit about the role God has used this very unique individual to play in my life.
In 1986-87 when I took a sabbatical leave to come to the African Studies Centre, Boston University from Nigeria, I had two research interests that I wanted to pursue: (a) making a dictionary of Yoruba ideophones; (b) the syntax and semantics of verb serialization, in that order. I went to Boston University because that was where I had my strongest link, and not, as I later found out, where my academic challenges would be best met.
If anybody had told me at that time that Ken Hale would be the person to meet the two needs, either then or later in life, I would disagree. Although his Warlpiri antonymy had been cited in class during my graduate years early in the 1970s, I had no contact with him.
Through a friend, I was taken to Ken Hale at MIT (1986-87) to participate in the weekly Lexicon Project seminars. I had no official link with either MIT or the Lexicon Project. I was looking at the man from the distance. Gradually, we warmed up to each other. One afternoon, I got a chance to present something on Yoruba verb serialization. Did I excite the MIT audience? I was not sure. During that year, one of my former students applied to the Linguistics programme at MIT; Ken became his great mentor. My time was up and I returned to Nigeria, in frustration that I could not work on the ideophones, and I did not secure a satisfactory outlet for my work on verb serialization.
The following year, when I returned to Boston University for the African linguistics conference my handwritten MIT presentation on verb serialization was ready. A friend word-processed it and gave it Ken Hale to be circulated as Lexicon Working Papers # 28. The outlet had come.
In 1996-97, I took another sabbatical leave. This time around, Ken Hale brought me to MIT not only as a visiting scholar but as a language consultant in his field methods class. There was ice on the ground in Boston on January 28, 1996 when he and a friend came to pick me up at Logan Airport. He became my host, and I became his guest. I shared his office, his ideas and resources for eight months. He and Sally invited me to their home and they came to where I resided. When I told him that I would want to compile a dictionary of Yoruba ideophones, he arranged for the Department to loan me a laptop and thus commenced the dictionary project, which was my first research interest in 1986-87.
From the small seed that Ken had planted in 1996 has grown the much bigger project of the first electronic dictionary of contemporary Yoruba now being funded by the Linguistic Data Consortium of the University of Pennsylvania. The Yoruba language would remain eternally indebted to Ken. Had he not brought me to the USA, nothing would have happened.
That is the kind of scholar-man that Ken Hale is. The memory of him is always sweet. The Yoruba people say: didun ni iranti olododo (sweetness is the remembrance of the righteous).
Yiwola Awoyale, (Nigeria),
Univ. of Penn Linguistic Data Consortium.
Congratulations on your retirement!
Thank you for the help and inspiration you provided when I began my research of Miskito. Your guidance helped me get started on a path that has led me to my current dissertation work. Although we’ve never met, I know that you have been important in inspiring my work, and I have appreciated your continued patience and interest in my progress. You are a truly great linguist and a compassionate human being!
With gratitude and admiration,
I wonder if Ken remembers the day as near as damned to exactly 50 years ago when we went from Canelo down to the Mexican border town of Nogales. We wandered around with what I thought was no purpose only to realize that, indeed, there was one – to talk to as many people in as many languages as the town had to offer.
Two incidents stand out; the first involved a peddlar of what I neither remember nor does it matter, what does was his pedigree, a sailor who had been around
We then moved on to buy a calf skin. Obviously to the merchants in the shop this blond kid with his Eastern friend were manna from heaven. The younger of the merchants headed up the ladder to the top shelf to fetch down a “choice” skin, gloating to his partner down below [in secret] in Spanish just how “choice” a piece it was and just what a fancy price it was sure to bring. In the end a specimen hide was acquired at a very fair price. You can decide just how “fair” and to whom.
And lastly tell him that I hope I will see him at Roxley this summer,
. . . . Ciao,
When I first asked Ken Hale to take me down to Nicaragua to do fieldwork, he told me of bandits and robberies. That was in 1994 and I’ve been lucky to never see a bandit (although I’ve heard of them again and again). What I have indeed experienced is Ken’s unfailing support for anything I was doing (or trying to do) and confidence in me, my work, my linguistic (and personal) intuitions.
He has been mentor and teacher. Teacher in the old way, magister. The person that teaches you the trade, the trade of linguistics. In the old way, by ‘just doing it’, the way he likes. The way I like. Both in doing fieldwork and in doing theoretical work. Without forgetting the ‘ethics’ of the trade… something less and less people like to talk about these days (I mean the real one, not the administrative one). He has the rare characteristic of not ‘needing’ [:)] to impose his opinion, however strongly he feels he’s right –something I myself find difficult at times…:)
And he has that even rarer of properties: respect, respect for the ‘other’. No matter whether the ‘other’ is a first year student, an accomplished linguist, or a member of a struggling community in Nicaragua. And I know that first hand. He has always treated me, as a person and as a linguist, and my ideas, personal or linguistic, with respect.
I owe him to have let me in and taught me about something that has provided me with probably the most pleasurable moments I’ve had while doing linguistics: Nicaragua. Working side by side with you, Ken, has been and is a pleasure. Thanks!
with profound gratitude for what I learned from you, as an inspiring teacher, as a great scholar, and most importantly, as an outstanding human being.
Di vos kenen Kenen zaynen beemes yekhide-zgule: veynik ver se hot dem skhus tsu kenen a lamed-vovnik.
They used to say that “Australia rides on the sheep’s back.” Well, a lot of my linguistic career could be said to be riding on Ken Hale’s back, My MA thesis was on a language – Warluwarra – which he had recorded briefly and written some phonological and grammatical notes on, which helped me to get started (and some correspondence along the way helped further). A few years later, on one of his visits to Australia, we had a brief conversation about Antekerrepenh phonology in which, acknowledging that the vowels were the main problem, he suggested that there might be only two. I followed this up and it led to my first international publication (and, in my slow way, some counter-universal discoveries in later years). And again and again I have found in his fieldnotes something to give me a lead or fill in a gap. I have encountered Ken only rarely in the flesh, more often on paper or, in recent years, on email, and have found him an unfailing source of help (even if it means hunting up some long-lost fieldnotes), encouragement and praise.
Enjoy your retirement, or “retirement”, Ken.
Good luck and good health, Gavan Breen.
p.s. I would like too to put in an apology for Robert Hoogenraad. He has been run off his feet lately trying to defend his job in particular and bilingual education in general from the attack of a predatory government (on top of doing his normal work), and as he needs his toes to type with he just hasn’t been able to make a contribution.
A few years ago in 1995 I was visiting MIT for the OT workshop (“Is the best good enough?”). I was going to give a paper called “Morphology competes with syntax: explaining typological variation in weak crossover effects”. One of the crucial empirical arguments of that paper came from properties of Navajo pronominal reference that you and Paul Platero had worked on. I still remember the time twenty years ago at MIT when you first told me about the Navajo problem. The puzzling aspects of it which you conveyed so well–and its importance for grammatical theory–had stayed with me over decades and reemerged in my own preoccupations a continent away at Stanford. That same paper I was giving also sketched out the approach to Australian nonconfigurationality that I had taken jointly with Peter Austin. Nonconfigurationality is another preoccupation that I owe directly to you. I still remember my shock in 1978 (or thereabouts) when I was telling you about some ideas having to do with VPs and universal GFs, and you made the observation that Warlpiri didn’t seem to have a VP. That idea really stunned me. I guess I never recovered from it.
Looking back over my own career, I see that my increasing appreciation of the importance of linguistic typology is a direct reflection of your influence on me as a colleague and teacher. It also seems clear to me that much of what has been richest and most fertile in the work coming from MIT and those who pass through it is traceable to you and the wonderful languages you brought right into Building 20 (now temporarily translated into another MIT venue) and made us all worry about.
Going back in memory still further to the time when I was an MIT grad student in linguistics, I remember being awed by your Maori accent and intimidated by your cowboy style of lighting a match by striking it on your bluejeans or boots (or did I invent this out of some trick of mismemory?). But above all I remember the multifaceted sense of languages, how they sound and feel and convey, how the world looks from inside them, and how precious they are, and the people who know them.
By the time I began my graduate work at Indiana University in 1975, stories about Ken’s ability with languages had already achieved legendary status among the linguistic anthropology grad students there. I first actually met Ken in the summer of 1975 at Carl Voegelin’s I U field school held at the Museum of Northern Arizona. The evening before I was to leave to start my linguistic fieldwork at the Kaibab-Paiute reservation, he volunteered to help me get ready by dictating some Southern Paiute (with the correct pronunciation including voiceless vowels) for me to write down. He and Carl and Flo had been out to dinner I think. Anyway, it was late and Ken was probably tired but since he had promised to help me he came around and worked with me for a fair amount of time. In my mind, this certainly confirmed his language ability but it also let me see Ken as a someone who would go out of his way to make a first year graduate student feel more prepared and confident. I continued to see Ken over the years. In the 1970s, whenever he was in Arizona for the summer, he would visit Carl and Flo for the weekend seminar. He also agreed to be the keynote speaker at Carl’s retirement dinner which I organized. Later, I would see him at various conferences. Whenever I interacted with him, he was helpful, friendly, and encouraging. Although I have continued to be impressed by his language ability and theoretical work, I respect him most for his continued work with Native communities and for his genuine interest in people of all kinds. Thanks Ken and congratulations on your retirement!
I have many fond memories from talking to you and attending your classes back at MIT. Here are a couple at random.
-You reporting from your field work:
Warlbiri native: ‘Why are you so interested in us?’
Ken: ‘We’re trying to figure out the grammar of your language’
Native (slightly embarrassed): ‘You know, we don’t really have a ‘grammar’ here. We just …talk’.
-You introducing a Ph.D. candidate to a rather distinguished (myself aside) audience, there to attend the public defense.
Ken: Hi, this is Terry, and …Terry, this is a whole bunch of people (end of the introduction).
When I (LB) tell people I am a linguist, they invariably ask me: ‘How many languages do you speak?’ My answer goes like this: ‘Actually, not that many but, let me put it this way, I know Ken Hale really well’.
Thank you Ken, for the inspiration, and for knowing enough languages for all of us.
Almost thirty-eight years ago in the fall semester of 1961 when I enrolled in Ken Hale’s first class at the University of Illinois, I had no idea of what a roadbuilder he would be for me. In the summer of 1962, I went to Tepoztlan (Morelos), Mexico, with him and a group of six graduate students in anthropology. He suggested that since I was working on a degree in Spanish, a project would be to examine the local Spanish dialect, possibly finding traces of Nahuatl influence. During the six weeks, I found myself slyly moved into eliciting and analyzing my first taste of Nahuatl and I have never lost my feeling of gratitude towards Ken for that since then.
At the end of the first week in Tepoztlan, a bright light came on about one of the facets of how you approach fieldwork and mental organization of what you’re doing. Late in the afternoon, Ken scratched his head and asked me, “How you say ‘armadillo’ in Nahuatl?”. He said, “We heard it about 10:30 in the morning when we were talking to ‘Don Juanito’ — it was a compound… of ‘turtle’… and ‘rabbit’ — oh, yeah, ‘ayotochtli’! I realized how actively he had been listening, analyzing as he listened, categorizing and storing — this one probably for pedagogical purposes.
Ken’s joy of doing linguistics, particularly the elicitation of new material and confronting it to see through it to the shape of its organization and its relationship to old material rubbed off on me just as it surely rubbed off on countless other students and colleagues. It has made walking the path much easier and more enjoyable, just as did an event that happened one winter morning in the early ’60s — I was walking down the snow-packed sidewalk on Wright Street (in Urbana, not Champaign) carrying a nearly full box of computer paper on my shoulder as it got heavier and heavier. Suddenly, it wasn’t there. I turned and there was Ken walking at my side, the box resting lightly on his shoulder and big grin on his face.
Tlazohcamati huel miac, Ken.
I never forget that you once said to me something that goes: you should love languages when you do linguistics. Thanks for the words. I owe you a lot academically, and I still don’t know how to thank you.
With great appreciation for many wonderful, happy and inspiring years, and anticipation of many more to come.
You’ve been a role-model, a teacher, and a friend to us both. You’ve shown us how important it is to bring the languages of the less powerful to the forefront of theoretical debate in linguistics. You’ve also shown us how important it is to be deeply committed to the languages themselves and to their speakers. We continue to learn from your example, and we wish you the best of everything on your retirement.
Husenagradesi hao ni fina’na’guemmu nu guahu. Husenagradesi hao lokkui’ ni ayudumu nu hami yan si Jim gi tinituhun i guma’chungmami. Kao unhahassu ha’?
Níor chaill tú ariamh é, a Ken. Is tú is mó a thug uchtach agus tacaíocht domh agus mé ag toiseacht ar an bhealach fhada seo bliantaí ó shoin. Uaitse fosta a d’fhoghlaim mé mar ba ghéire a bhí mé ag tabhairt faoi dhaoine eile gurb amhlaidh ba laige mo chás féin agus an muinín a bhí agam as. Beidh mé faoi chomaoin i gcónaí agat.
With great affection,
Sandy Chung and Jim McCloskey
Ken is a source of inspiration. His understanding of very many languages, including Walpiri, Papago, Lardil, Maori, Navajo, Winnebago, Hopi, Igbo, Miskitu, Dagur, Japanese, Irish, and I am surely forgetting one or two here, oh yes ! of course, English, and his way of addressing the basic questions with respect to lexical argument structure, subject obviation, switch-reference, transitivity alternation, middle formation, causative formation, control, definitiveness, case and agreement, to list a few, make him one of the most important figures in modern linguistics.
I have to say that he contributed in a very direct manner to my own work and methodology of research. When I visited him at MIT, unfortunately always in a hurry, a magic moment invariably sprang out while we shared our enthusiasm for derivational morphology and for the ways that current and developing theories of grammar could account for the properties of word structure.
Ken directed for many years huge research projects, such as the Lexicon Project. The people that he encouraged in the field are many. I remember this comment of his when I was telling him that I had so many different things to do in these large research projects I myself made applications for and had to handle. He said to me with a smile, and as if he used this advice for himself and really knew what he was talking about : “You just make a list, and then at some point you take a pencil and cross one item off, and then at another point you cross another one off, and then another-” Even though at first site I thought this advise was strange and too pragmatic, I have to say that it works for me, and the part where you cross off items is kind of neat.
I appreciate Ken for the new ideas he brought to the field, for his own way of making traditional questions so modern, and even more so because he is a very special person.
Thank you very much Ken Hale, you are in my mind and in my heart.
Anna Maria Di Sciullo
Congratulations on your retirement. Now you can really get to work! Judy, Allen, and I grew up hearing so much about your wonderful mastery of languages. Of course your mother and father were immensely proud of you, and so is the rest of the family. About twenty five years ago Val and I went to a party where there happened to be some linguists. I mentioned that Ken Hale is my cousin, and we became instant celebrities. People wanted to know all about you.
Love to you, Sally, and your family.
Byron and Val
Ken admired the rawhide reatas, or lariats, that hung from the saddles of a few older vaqueros in Sonora Mexico about thirty years ago. I don’t think that he ever found one for sale because he was always too busy collecting sentences from local Indians at their ranchos during the week, and improving his regional Spanish in the village cantinas on Sunday. He’d say, only half-jokingly, that he was off to find the last speaker of Opata, and would head south from the University of Arizona in Tucson for the Sonoran backcountry. Finding Indians who spoke varieties of the O’odham neok that he had learned in Arizona seemed satisfying enough, especially when the sources, recognizing Ken’s fantastic language learning ability, began sharing humorous stories full of sexual tropes. He took me along on several trips, and made it possible for me to establish a working relationship with the Oob (Mountain Branch of the Lower Pima) who lived in the Sierra Madre Occidental near the towns of Yecora and Maicoba. They seemed genuinely sorry that I was the one who came back later, and they talked about Ken for a long time. He greatly shortened the trips into Mexico, particularly the long, bumpy 168-mile grind up the escarpment from Ciudad Obregon to Yecora, by talking about his youthful experiences in the Southwest. It was reassuring to learn that he was one of the very few students ever to be expelled from the private and exclusive Verde Valley School. He became so engrossed in Indian languages that he let all his academic subjects slide. Back at Tucson High School, he played basketball with the Chicano kids to learn Pachuco, and on weekends visited Indians working in craft shops to practice languages like Navajo. Against his father’s wishes, he occasionally rode bulls at small, out-of-the-way rodeos. This perilous diversion came to an end when the elder Hale happened to see a newpaper photo of his son making a spectacular dismount. Additional stories about college life and, especially his work with various Australian Aborigine groups, also made the miles go by faster. Although Ken was not much older than I was, he had a great deal of wisdom to impart.
Regrettably, years passed before I appreciated most of it. In word and deed Ken has demonstrated that you have to treat all people decently, and make a special effort to help those lest favored by political and economic circumstances. Almost all of the color is gone from my hair, but I regard Ken Hale as a grandfather elder, and would like to give something back to him more tangible than a ‘thank you’. Does anyone know where I can get a rawhide reata?
Timothy Dunnigan, Department of Anthropology, 214 Ford Hall, 224 Church Street S.E., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, Voice: 612-625-0879, Fax: 612-625-3095, E-mail: email@example.com
Jacks Lounge is a rusty little dive on route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Four songs for a quarter on the juke-drift in, drink your beer and don’t start no trouble. It’s dark inside, ask no questions get told no lies and hope the waitress likes you. Fitting, I should receive my first linguistics lesson there. The girl from Ipanema drones on in the background. I’m busy looking at the bikers, Ken’s scribbling something on a cocktail napkin. He pushes it my way, “What’s the pattern, Janine?” “Huh?” she say, looking at the funny words on the napkin. “What’s the pattern? Look. Look at the list. Tell me what is happening.” After careful study and a few more napkin data sets, I discover infixation. “Wow! Hey- it looks like the little word fits in after the stressed syllable…”, she say. “Yes, yes you did it, great job!” His eyes are lighting up, ” You wanna try another one?” Ken spent the next hour showing me the intricacies of Miskitu and I loved it. Firecrackers go off in my head, rainbows jump out from behind the bar, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming on the next napkin. I’m having too much fun. Suddenly it dawns on me,
“Hey. I’m weird.”
“Nah. You’re a linguist.” He say as he smile him cowboy smile and rope the little filly in forever.
In my young linguistics life, no one has played a more important role than Ken Hale. He continues to push me to conduct the field work to fuel the theoretical files. Each time I stumble or question my dedication, Ken magically appears like a guardian angel, delivers a lecture or one of his funny stories, and puts me back on the path. To see him speak is amazing. Besides the theoretical implications of the material, I find his approach fascinating. I marvel at his ability to field questions or handle debate with such an unimposing grace. He is the only linguist I know who can be right without making the other person wrong. I had never seen that before.
“Nice lecture, man.”
“Thanks. Look Janine, why don’t you go on down to Belize or somewhere and work on Garifuna?”
“Oh actually I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that because grad school is really much harder than I expected and I’m having these nightmares where optimality theory chases me around and I was thinking about working on this African language maybe instead and why didn’t you tell me about these syntactic trees before and I think perhaps I might be slightly hysterical and…”
“Yeah , Yeah. So you’ll go then?”, He say.
” …but Ken, you’re not hearing me I mean I think my blood pressure may be going up and I keep mixing up complements and adjuncts and I don’t know why I’m doing this anyway…”
“You do it because you love it.”, He smiles. “So when you get there look up this man named ….”
More than once, I’ve sat on a plane staring at a piece of paper with someone’s name on it, wondering how many taxis, buses, and boatrides it will take for me to get to them. No matter the journey, I am always greeted well when I say “Ken Hale sent me”. Each name ends up being another person in some corner of the world equally dedicated to linguistics, equally revenant to Ken Hale for his contributions. I’ve watched carefully to see how he enters each project with great humility, making sure that the community collectively benefits from his research. He carries no airs, and will teach anyone who is willing to learn. I have never been interested in the idea of writing grammars to collect dust on an academic shelf. Ken’s work inspires me that linguistic discoveries may have a different destiny.
Ken-It’s four o’clock in the morning, I’m awake with my newborn son listening to a tape of the sounds of the world’s languages, wondering if you have any idea how far your influence extends.
It is with great humility that I salute you and all of your accomplishments. I wish you well in your retirement, may it fulfill you and serve you well. Truly, Ken- Pilamaya, Na Gode, J�r�j�f, Seremin, Adupe, Merci, Gracias.. I come in thanks. You showed me the road that changed my life. I sing your song.
I never had the privilege of taking a course from you, or of working closely with you; that is my loss, and I regret it. I knew about you primarily from the accounts Margaret Langdon shared with me. However, when my work was hardest and I was most discouraged I have always had your example before me to keep me from giving up. Thank you for being there and for always refusing to be distracted from those things that are truly important.
With respect and affection,
Suzette Haden Elgin
El área de lingüística de la Universidad de Sonora, el programa de Licenciatura, el de Maestría (de reciente creación), el Encuentro de Lingüística en el Noroeste (evento que se lleva a cabo los años pares durante el mes de noviembre), y la investigación de lenguas indígenas de Sonora y México, agradecen y reconocen el esfuerzo que Ken Hale ha realizado durante 35 años. Este esfuerzo, se inició con su trabajo de campo en el área de Onavas y Maycoba en 1964, 1965 y 1966, pero también por sembrar el interés para que -en lo personal- me dedicara a investigar lenguas minoritarias, que precisamente por contar con muchas de las características propias de este tipo de lenguas se hacen más difícil de entender.
Desde 1980, Ken Hale y Wick Miller, apoyaron -desinteresadamente- todas las actividades que hemos emprendido. Todavía aun incipientes.
Si hoy podemos dar a conocer nuestros trabajos, se deben al apoyo de Ken, y a su disponibilidad de lectura y tiempo.
Felicidades a Ken por la labor que realizó, lo cual permitió que la Lingüística en Sonora, arrancase, y sobre todo hoy se manifieste en el único programa de Maestría que una Universidad de México ha emprendido para especializarse en el estudio de lenguas indígenas.
In 1983 I had just finished my Ph.D. in Brazil. I was keenly interested in spending some time at MIT to learn from Ken Hale about the integration of fieldwork and theoretical linguistics. No one had ever heard of me and it wasn’t at all clear that MIT would let me come as a Visiting Scholar. I sent a copy of my dissertation to Ken, in Portuguese. Although Ken was on sabbatical in Holland, he read my dissertation, sent me some nice comments, and ‘sponsored’ me to come to MIT. While I was at MIT, Ken was always encouraging and kind. Equally importantly, Ken modeled the kind of scholarship I was interested in: fieldwork as the basis for theoretical and descriptive work in a variety of subdisciplines of the field. ‘Linguist’ applies to very few people in today’s world like it applied to Bloomfield and Sapir – someone whose scholarship ranges across the field. But Ken showed me during my year at MIT that one can strive to be a linguist in this sense. I said (and say) so many stupid things about language in my occasional haste to get a theoretical flash out of field data. Ken never was impatient with me. He inspired me to be a better mentor as well as a better linguist. Ken’s retirement is historically important transition for the entire field.
When I first began studying linguistics seriously, I found myself on the West Coast, reading material that mostly was coming from the East. Grammatical theory at that time was almost entirely English based; but I heard tell of one person in the MIT arena who was using theory seriously to work on non-English languages, in fact on VERY non-English languages. It was important to me at that time to know that someone out there was taking languages other than English as seriously as other linguists of the time were taking English.
I did not meet Ken personally till much later, but by the time we did meet his work had already been of great importance to me. In particular, his tremendous knowledge of the Navajo language provided me both with inspiration and with many, many insights that were crucial for my own work with that language.
I can summarize my debt to Ken Hale as follows: Ken, you showed me the beauty in grammar.
As I walked down the hall towards E-wing, I wondered if I’d recognize him from the simple, incisive descriptions I’d gotten from the other graduate students.
“Ken’s extremeley nice and he’s brilliant.”
Ken had been away on sabbatical during my first year at MIT. He’d been out west, in Tucson Arizona. He was a westerner too.
I was on my way to Ken’s office to ask him if he’d be my advisor. I reached the clutch of offices that housed Ken, Haj and the occassional secretary. I could hear the water running, a sound that would become very familiar in the years to come, as Ken was in the habit of clearing the drain of stagnant Building 20 water before making his morning coffee. I knocked on his door and peeked in. What I saw was a younger version of my cowboy grandfather — the one who raised Black Angus cows in Idaho. Ken was from below the Great Basin. Close enough. Immediately, I felt a kinship with this cowboy booted man.
“Um, hi. I’m a second year grad student in linguistics. Would you be my advisor?”
He smiled and chuckled at the same time and said, “sure!”
I felt relief at his acceptance. My instincts would serve me well. I could feel that this person had a generosity of spirit to match his phenomoenal gifts as a linguist. I was, for the next three years, to be in the presence of an unselfish giver and supporter.
I started working on the paper on Japanese complex verbs and case marking, which later developed into my dissertation, with Ken in the fall of 1977. He encouraged me at every stage in the development of a radical departure from the Standard Theory approach of Kuno and Kuroda. This was also the post-EST/pre-GB era so there was a fair amount of “furniture rearranging” going on.
What I find so remarkable about Ken, one of the things anyway, is that he was able to sustain a culture of open mindedness within which an emerging linguist could learn, explore, prosper and thrill at doing linguistics. He instilled in me the courage to explore new approaches without being derailed by a mounting opposition to my work. His guidance, always informed by his intellectual honesty, has forever set the standard for how to try to live my life.
I feel honored — and humbled — to have known Ken for these last 22 years. My life was immeasureably altered after that walk through E-wing.
I just wanted you know how much you have affected my life in positive ways. You brought stringed instruments into my life by renting my first violin, and by the trips you have taken me on.
When we went to Flagstaff, everybody was in awe of you, but everybody thought you were an Engineer. When they found out that you deal specifically in native American languages they were surprised and grateful because you were able to talk with the kids about how the Navajo language works. I also really enjoyed our talks about “astronomical” theories. And I’ll never forget going out at night to play on the volleyball field with those people from Texas. We didn’t play by the rules, but that didn’t really matter since none of us were very good. But it was lots of fun. And I’ll never forget how on the way back to Tucson Galen got gum in his hair and you graciously combed it out at a McDonalds somewhere in Verde Valley.
Do you remember when you and Sally came over to pick me up for that day trip to Canelo? Mommy was showing you around when you asked to hear me play. After I played a few of my pieces, I remember we went into a discussion about how hard it looks to be able to stretch your fingers when playing the cello. We talked about the differences between playing the violin and the cello. This really encouraged to keep improving playing my cello. Then we went off to Canelo.
I know that Canelo is a very special place to you. I loved the stories about your childhood in Canelo. The walk through the countryside was really nice. I remember after we visited the mesa and walked up from the spring, we saw all those bullet cartridges. And remember the guy we talked to who told us about hearing a lot of gunshots and the wall in your old house being shot down? I felt so bad for you. But, remember how refreshing the water was at the spring?
I’m really looking forward to our hiking trip this June.
You have been a great friend to me, my mom and my little brother.
Nicholas (age 11)
Although we’re first cousins, our paths have hardly crossed over the years. Nevertheless, Bonnie (whom you’ve never met) and our children all know who Ken Hale is: the man who can learn a new language just by flying over that country at 35,000 feet!
I believe I was 17 years old (almost 40 years ago) when Mom, Dad, Jim and I visited you in Flagstaff, following your return from (or was it just prior to?) your work among the Warlbiri in Australia. I was fascinated by your ability to speak that language, and by your fluency in Navajo, which you demonstrated when you took us to the Powwow that was going on nearby. What a wonderful bridge between cultures.
My own interest in languages grew largely out of that encounter with you in Flagstaff. After two years of high school French, three years of Russian in college, a year of Mandarin at the DLIWC in Monterey, and some dabbling in Vietnamese in Saigon, I mustered out of the Army at Fort Huachuca, and finished college at the University of Arizona with a major in Oriental Studies. My advisor there (whose name I’ve forgotten) was very well acquainted with you (spoke your name in awe, quite frankly), and I think the fact that we’re related helped ease me through the program!
I regret we’ve gone through most of our lives without much communication with you and Sally, except perhaps through Christmas cards and an occasional picture or two sent to the folks. But we do wish you all the best on your retirement, and for many wonderful years ahead for the two of you.
Mike & Bonnie
I first met Ken at MIT in 1967, when he first got there, and I was in the final throes of finishing my dissertation. He was a reader, and made substantive suggestions, even though he only got there a couple of months before my defense.
After a couple of years lost wandering around the Army, I next saw Ken at a AAA meeting, in the Native Languages section, where he proposed a newsletter for people working on Amerindian languages north of Mexico. I made the mistake of saying I thought it was a very good idea, whereupon Ken suggested me as the editor! Well, there was no decent way to decline, so I became the editor of the Conference on American Indian languages clearinghouse newsletter for the next 4 or 5 years, which, after a short lapse of nonexistence, turned into the SSILA newsletter, edited by Vic Golla, with lots more info now than it used to have. Ken has a way of ‘encouraging’ others to do their share, so if you’re lazy, watch out for him!
It may be that I’m mistaken about Ken, and that he’s really a radical, Pinko wiseguy activist (a little like me), but I don’t think he’s basically like that, although dumb or naive he’s not. I think he’s just a damn good linguist who’s a language learner at heart — the best one I’ve ever seen, certainly — with a good heart, who wants to help whoever he can at what he does best. And what he does best, nobody does better! I mean, of course, analyze languages, suggest plausible ways to make an orthography for the case at hand, train Native linguists, and in general run an ER for endangered languages. Not just endangered ones, either–he’s currently engaged in resuscitating Wampanoag!
Ken, when he leaves linguistics (which will NOT be this Spring, I’m morally certain), will have left an indelible mark because of his brilliant analyses, his unflagging energy, and the sheer volume of his work, and of that directly traceable to his influence. Of course, the fact that he makes us all look like laggards by comparison may make a few malcontents badmouth him, but you certainly won’t find ME saying anything against him (the bum!).
My first encounter with Ken Hale was in an MIT course I audited in the fall of 1968. What impressed me most was (a) the fact that he wore cowboy boots to class; and (b) the fact that he could light a kitchen match with his thumbnail. When I was a 2nd-year graduate student at MIT, I took two courses from Ken that helped to shape my life: Structure of a Non-Indo-European Language and Field Methods, both centering around what was called Papago at that time (now O’odham). I want to say two things about the way Ken taught these two courses. The first deals with the tricks of the trade of doing fieldwork. One can come to take for granted Ken’s skills in the sheer description at all levels of the grammar of languages. But one shouldn’t. In those courses, Ken homed in on the necessity to be open-minded and open-eared (can one say that? I just did), as well as techniques for eliciting the data one wanted. Although I don’t recall him explicitly saying so, he demonstrated by example the importance of really trying to learn the language one was studying and the ideal of doing monolingual elicitation. The second dimension of the way that Ken taught these courses was part and parcel of his overall humanity, and has to do with the dignity of the informant/consultant. Before we started our actual fieldwork, there was a discussion in the class about how to treat the informant with the respect s/he deserved, and how not to browbeat them. Ken also set an example of giving something back to the community that, directly or indirectly, was helping the student’s future academic career. This was in sharp contrast to some other fieldworkers I had met in college who used to boast about going to the reservation for a summer or a year and sponging off the Indians. Although I ended up working on sign languages rather than Amerindian or Australian Aboriginal languages, the training Ken gave me in both fieldwork and humane behavior has been invaluable to me. My gift back to Ken has been to try to continue in my own fieldwork and teaching the tradition he set in this regard, and to give him academic grandchildren of whom he can be proud.
In addition to being my teacher, Ken was also my dissertation advisor (I was his second student after Michael Helke). What could fieldwork have in common with experimental investigations in to child language? A lot more than you might think at first glance! Many of the innovative field techniques that he had used in exotic climes with exotic languages turned out to work very well with extremely short speakers of English. In addition, the same respect for the humanity and dignity of the informant helped me to develop rapport with the kids so that they would be patient enough to finish innumerable comprehension tasks dealing with dative alternations. As an advisor, his patience and generosity with his time and ideas made him a model mentor.
More than 30 years later, Ken has retained his wide-eyed enthusiasm for “neat” discoveries about language structure and a deep sense of why languages work the way they do. I would like to clone his mind so that future generations of linguists can benefit from his wisdom and intellectual grace.
I was at the end of my second year in the grad program at the University of Arizona. I was taking Ofelia Zepeda’s course on Structure of O’odham, and I remember thinking that with all the work that you, Ofelia, Jane Hill and others had done, there wouldn’t really be anything for me to work on in the O’odham language. Then I began to look at O’odham song texts, and a semester or so after that, I started sending my work to you. Your generosity to a student who was not one of your own has not been forgotten. Your feedback has always been helpful and appreciated. I remember when I first met you, I went out to the rez with you and your son, and I met Albert Alvarez and his wife for the first time. All the way out to Sells and all the way back, we talked linguistics and O’odham. It was great! I have continued to work on different aspects of O’odham phonology and morphology. Your work (and the work of others that you have inspired, mentored, and helped) has been a valuable resource in my research. Thanks for being such a nice guy and a good linguist! Best of luck and congratulations on your retirement.
I wish I had worked with Ken Hale as a student, or as a fellow faculty member. . My thoughts of him are less intimate but still so meaningful to me because, like so many others, he has influenced my life in important ways. He makes me proud to be a linguist. And he makes me proud to join him in his militancy against injustice. Ken Hale is a great scholar, certainly among the most important living linguists, and probably one of the greatest linguists of all time. He personally has done more to help preserve the endangered Amerindian and Australian languages than any one else. Ken Hale has been a model for the literally thousands of linguists who either directly or indirectly have learned from him. They have learned that one cannot understand data if one has no theory, and one can not build a viable theory without empirical verification. His work in the field has been a model of what field work is all about. He not only studies languages he trains the speakers of these languages to become linguists in their own right. His work on the many languages he has worked on (does anyone know the exact number?) gives substance to the search for the principles and constraints of Universal Grammar. But Ken Hale is more than a scholar, more than a scientist seeking to discover the nature of human language. Ken Hale is a passionate man passionate about his work, passionate about truth, passionate about the people and the world around him. His life is one of struggle for all fellow humans, for the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the exploited. He has fought against inequality where he has seen it; he has fought for peace and freedom throughout the years. Unlike those who believe one can separate one’s scientific views from one’s personal and political views, Ken has welded these together. His concern for all peoples is reflected in his linguistic work, in his theoretical and descriptive work in semantics and syntax and a general theory of grammar and in every struggle he has participated in, whether on behalf of Nicaragua or Viet Nam. Ken Hale, I send you my greetings and my gratitude for what you have done for our field, but mainly for how you have served as a model of a human being which many will try to emulate. Even if only a few are able to do so, it is a better world because you are in it.
Vicki Fromkin .
Ken showed me how one can be truly honest and sincere while not getting tough on others. Before I met him back in 1982 when I entered the graduate program at MIT, I didn’t even know such a combination was ever possible. Ken taught me numerous other things, of course, but this was really a surprise to me and I won’t forget it for the rest of my life. Thanks, Ken, for showing me how a human being should be like!
I have had the privilege of working for Ken for the past ten years at MIT. In all my life, he is one of the people I respect and admire the most. I have seen him give of himself wholeheartedly and selflessly to causes and individuals from all over the world. His kindness to me has been extraordinary. He helped me achieve a goal of going to the Navajo reservation and make a beginning in learning the language and culture. His lessons in Navajo were wonderful. I was impressed by how he so articulately explained his analysis of the language, which made it comprehensible to a non-linguist. He is very much respected and admired on the reservation, with a Navajo teacher telling me : “He is Navajo”.
It is a delight and a very meaningful experience to work for Ken. It is a pleasure to come in every day and see his enthusiasm for life, his humor, and his great humanity. My life is so much richer because of Ken. I wish him and Sally all the best on this new time of life for them.
Ur zemmerx ad ac ssnemmerx s yils x wydin tjit qqah. Cekk d ijj wmdan anakkaf ur ylli am ntta. Twcit i cayyan n tahergt, tlalt i, lmedx zzyc uggar n wydin ttinit. Ad ac inix tanmmirt. Ad ac ssnemmerx ulad x wydin tjit i tsnawalt d tutlayin. Ssaramx ac tudert yzyerten ad tzaydt ggwidin ttegget. Tanemmirt tamqqrant.
In August of 1997, my father and I had stopped for breakfast at a restaurant outside of Tsaile, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. It was a day typical of those I recall during my childhood here: windy, bright, with clouds moving across the broad expanse of sky, casting sharply demarcated shadows which sped across the contours of the beautiful and rugged landscape. As we walked across a dusty lot, passing cattle grazing on the median between the restaurant and the roadside, we were approached by a Navajo man. He asked if we had any change to spare. My father gave him several dollars and began conversing with the man in Navajo. In all of the many times that I have seen my father speak beautifully in diverse and indigenous languages, my amazement and wonder at his gift for language have never abated.
This unexpected fluency obviously surprised the Navajo man as well, whose face lit up with a smile and a look of comfort and familiarity. My father and the man continued with a short conversation, the meaning of which escaped me beyond the familiar Navaho salutations. As we walked into the restaurant, I asked: “What did you say, Dad?” He answered by saying only: “He used a word [in referring to us] reserved for those who are considered friends of the tribe, as close as a white man can be without being Navajo.”
Papa, I am very proud of you and your accomplishments, and grateful for the wealth of experiences you have exposed me to. I know you look forward to retirement as a time to “really get down to work” as you have said. I hope that during this time you continue to do the work that you love in a way that you are uniquely capable of.
It’s interesting to see all these pictures of dad as a kid growing up on his parents’ ranch. The cowboy in Ken Hale is something most people never get a chance to see. If you have an eye for detail, you might notice the belt buckle he won in the Tucson rodeo in ’55 or his slightly bowed legs or perhaps a faint accent, which mom swears, is unmistakably southern Arizona. In the world of academia, this might seem a mere footnote to his character, dwarfed in its relevance by his far more imposing genius as a linguist. But if you think that, then you’re missing the best and perhaps most telling part. A couple of years ago I asked my dad why he chose to do field work in Australia. As a linguist, his answer was surprising, “Because it was a desert, it looked like Arizona.”
As a kid I relished our family trips to Arizona. The west represented something completely alien to life in New England. It was in Arizona that dad taught us how to ride a horse. A really bored old white mare as I remember. We must have ridden that horse around in circles for hours. “Oh, oh, now my turn, my turn, me next, me next.” Our fun ended when “Sugar” showed her displeasure by taking a bite out of the corral. It wasn’t a hasty or angry chomp but the implications were clear: “you’re next.”
We spent dad’s first sabbatical in Tucson and rented a vacation house down near where he grew up. Every other weekend, dad took us hiking through the hills of Canelo. For the first time, we saw everything from deer skeletons and rattle snakes to jackrabbits and coyotes. Caleb even saw a couple of mountain lions, a story which, out of jealousy, I claimed not to believe. We built forts in a dry riverbed during the day and at night, we lay awake listening to the coyotes howling in the distance. In that year, dad shared with us something that is as much a part of him as his love of language, and we took to it like fish to water. Arizona was the untamed wild, it was beautiful and dangerous and most of all exciting.
One summer when I was ten years old, mom shuttled me off with Ann Farmer and Jim Huang to visit dad who was teaching at the Summer Linguistics Institute in Albuquerque. Caleb refused to go and probably out of some seemingly endless competition with him, I agreed to travel with the two, then MIT grad. Students, out to New Mexico. The plan was that I would fly out, stay with my dad while he finished the term in Albuquerque and then we would drive west to Flagstaff and finally down through Tucson to Canelo.
The trip to Albuquerque didn’t go so well. We were so late packing everyone up that we almost missed the flight. At the last minute I had to rush down the gangway and onto the plane with no real time to say goodbye to my mother or to somehow psychologically prepare myself for my first trip alone. We were the last people on the plane so they had to separate us. I sat across the isle from Ann, and Jim had to sit in smoking. I think, at that point I really started crying.
When I got to New Mexico things went from bad to worse. I don’t know if I picked something up on the plane or if I was just having trouble being separated from Caleb but I got sick. The first thing I did was throw up in my dad’s office. He was in the bathroom when I started and I have this vision of myself standing in a big gray hallway outside his office alternating between crying “Dad!?” and throwing up all over the nice new carpeting.
As if to add insult to injury, one night when we were driving out to dinner, I was sitting in the back seat, when a passing car drove through a puddle and splashed water in through the driver’s window. The water missed everyone else but totally drenched me. I remember even the adults marveling at how the water had missed everyone but me. To them this was mere chance, the angle of reflection of the water off the tire, the speed of the car, etc., but I knew it was more than that. I wasn’t supposed to be in New Mexico, that wasn’t part of the deal, or at least not a part that I had paid much attention to. We were going to Arizona. I was going out to meet dad and we were going down to Tucson and Canelo. We were going to hike through the hills, ride horses, shoot guns. I felt like a frog jumping between lily pads that had somehow ended up in the water.
It was probably about that time that I started asking when we were going to get to Arizona. To this day I can still feel how important that was to me. Dad and me in Arizona – me and dad in Arizona – Arizona with me and dad in it. That was the picture I was shooting for, that was my part of the deal.
I must have been pretty vocal about it because a week later as we crossed over the border from New Mexico dad pointed out a sign welcoming us to Arizona. With a smile he said “Look, Ezra, now we’re in Arizona, do you feel any better?” I looked at the landscape, it hadn’t changed. The air hadn’t really changed. The sun was still shining the way it had for the last hundred miles. At ten I knew it was totally illogical but I turned to him just the same and said, “Yea.” Dad just smiled as if that made perfect sense to him too.
Writing a tribute to Ken nearly 30 years after leaving MIT and some 25 years after leaving the field of linguistics, one might think, is not an easy matter. From this remove I am in no position to offer an appreciation of Ken’s scholarship. But this doesn’t mean there is nothing left to say. On the contrary, it would be failing to recognize the essence of Ken, if one were to limit one’s tribute to what he has achieved as a scholar or his unique gift for picking up languages long after the age when this is supposed to have become difficult, if not impossible. Ken never showed off his talents and indeed was unduly modest about the role he played in the Department. But the essential Ken Hale is a man who stands out more by what he is than by any external measure of achievement such as those commonly applied in the academic world. What has left lasting memories is Ken’s humanity, his basic sense of decency, his unwillingness to say anything if it wasn’t for the good. This was significant in the Department of Linguistics, as it then was and perhaps still is. Within the small group of the brightest and most ambitious graduate students in the field that the Department attracted, there was much posturing and competition. Some were spurred on by this to greater achievements but others were discouraged from realizing their best. Many a gifted student came, saw and disappeared never to be heard from again. Who knows how many of these would have made great teachers had they been able to take the heat. This was then and presumably still is the kind of selection of the fittest practiced at the better universities and colleges in the US (and increasingly around the world), at significant cost. In the middle of all this turbulence Ken stood out like a rock in a roiling sea, a place of refuge and a beacon of stability. By his very being Ken was pointing to the existence of other values, such as the decency we owe one another and the solidarity that makes us all greater. I wasn’t aware of it then, but it is this that I have learned from Ken, a lesson that has stood me in good stead both in my long career with the United Nations as well as in life as a husband and father.
Many thanks, Ken, for being a great teacher and, by the way, I still haven’t taken field methods.
Ken Hale has a special relationship with me beyond the fact that we both work on Uto-Aztecan languages, including both Tohono O’odham (Papago) and Hopi, and that both of have a southern Arizona connection–Ken grew up here and I live here now. The phonetic similarity of our names is phonetically subtle, particularly for speakers of Spanish. Many times I have had to explain to people at various linguistics meetings that contrary to their hopeful expectations I am not Ken Hale but Ken Hill, the other guy so to speak. But for my identity to be confused with Ken’s has always given me a lift. And I hope in his retirement Ken will be able to spend more of his time in his beloved Southwest and he and I can go on confusing people.
In 1981, I was your TA for the required course “The Grammar of a Real Human Language” (or some such title) and at the conclusion of that course you surprised me with the gift of a rare copy of Dictionary of Spoken Amoy. Inside the cover you wrote, in Chinese characters: “Li hiang, but li kiang!” (For those who don’t know the ‘kiang’, here is my attempt at its translation: “Leave town, don’t leave tongue!” )
My family and I were indeed thousands of miles away from our home town, but during our entire stay in Cambridge there was always a home to turn to, both at 20E-225 for academic matters and at 209 Waltham for other aspects of our personal and family life. In fact, this has been the case on every single trip back to Cambridge all these 20 years, including my last trip there with Yiching for the MIT pre-frosh weekend. And because of your guidance and encouragement I never had to leave my tongues in my work on theoretical linguistics.
You are such a role model both as a scholar and as a human being. For everything I have learned all these years (in all ways of life), I consider it no small achievement to possess anything that people might say reflects “a little bit of Ken Hale.” It’s an honor to have been your student and advisee. Thank you and Happy Retirement, Ken, and best to you, Sally, Ezra, and Caleb, from
Jim, Emily, Yiching and David
The words that I am going to put down here are not enough to explain what Ken means to me as my teacher and friend. I am very lucky to have passed through the MIT linguistics program. But, I count myself blessed to have come under Ken’s tutelage for a dozen years now. It is good that I am not to talk about what Ken has taught me in linguistics for the obvious reason that mine in contrast to the stellars of Ken’s stable, appears to be a case of learning without coming to understanding. In linguistics we deal with abstract concepts. Interestingly, the most important things in life, listed in Galatians 5:22, in the Holy Bible, are also things that we cannot see. For me Ken represents an example of each of those virtues. Right from the first day I set foot in Cambridge till this day Ken has provided me a shoulder to stand on with unparalled love and kindness far and beyond the call of duty as a teacher and an advisor. Only a few teachers can cross the threshold of academic duty to reach out to a student in need. If there is only one such teacher I assure you it would be Ken. In this regard he has taught me, besides linguistics, things only a true friend can give. One example will do. On one of several occasions in which he and Jay Keyser took me to lunch I asked them, based on the topic of a conversation, how it is possible for some people to do good despite the fact that wrong abound, even those who are on the side of wrong may be profiting from it. In answer to my question Ken said “what you do in such circumstances is to find those time honored truths and values and hold on to them”.. I later found out that Proverbs 23:23 runs along the same line. Ken gives me the privilege to be present and listen to him and Jay work on papers. He is ever ready and willing to give ears to whatever I have to say about my work whether in his office, at his house or over lunch even when it is not convenient for him. Although this unequalled support and care appear not to have yielded the desired fruit at the moment, Ken you have inspired me more than I can say, and surely more than you may know. All I can simply say is thank you for the difference you have made in my life.
May God bless you.
One afternoon in 1957, in Alice Springs, Australia, I was delighted to meet, over the fence, our new neighbour, Sally Hale. We were immediately attracted. I was invited in to meet Ken and insisted that they both came home with me to meet my husband, Ted, in spite of the fact that he was confined to bed with some virus. We were thrilled to meet such wonderful people from the US. Ken was working with an aboriginal informant with his usual enthusiasm – and we were able to educate him in a few Australian idioms. We have visited them in the US several times and they have stayed with us in Australia. They are great friends. Good wishes to Ken and Sally for the future.
Mary & Ted Jackson
On this occasion, there will be a great many of us who want to thank you because it was contact with your ideas that led us to undertake or continue work in the field of linguistics. It was not only your stimulating and creative proposals on the nature of language variation and universals that attracted us, it was your concern with the plight of minority communities who want to preserve their languages and traditions. Your selfless devotion to this cause convinced us that the study of these languages was an honorable and meaningful course to follow.
Furthermore, we found that sharing language research with you was the most exhilarating, happy work imaginable, for the consultants and for the students. Many of us have had the opportunity to see you in action in this work, and to see you talking with minority people on their own terms, in their own languages. I have been present when speakers of Navajo hearing you for the first time were almost in shock, just disoriented, by the authenticity of your use of their language. We can all agree that the ability you have to learn languages is a great gift. But it is also true that what makes it possible for you to do this is the respect you have for the intellectual heritage of other language communities, your gratitude to those who teach you, and the delight you have in recognizing the abstract grammatical structures that you find, and getting them RIGHT.
You have changed the lives of many people, students and colleagues, as well as members of the minority communities that you have worked with. It is due to your efforts, and the efforts in turn of your students, that we are now beginning to see Native Americans with real academic posts in the study and teaching of their languages — including, here at the University of Arizona, Dr. Ofelia Zepeda, Professor of Linguistics teaching O’odham and Comparative Uto-Aztecan; Dr. MaryAnn Willie, an Assistant Professor of Navajo Language and Linguistics; and others working elsewhere. Your influence in the field of linguistics goes on, and we know that your retirement will not lessen your commitment to these causes. We all look forward to the work you will continue to do, and to benefiting from its results.
With gratitude for your work, your example, and your help,
Wow, Ken Hale retiring. Who can fill that hole? I remember the year I was writing my dissertation that it took four MIT faculty as committee chairs to make up for the fact that he was on sabbatical that year!
I still have file cabinets stuffed with linguistics problems from Ken’s classes that presented typically 10 pages of data for consideration, everyone else’s problems typically fit into two columns on a single page. Ken’s homework sets were never easy, and they were never a hundred percent solved. There was always some nagging little piece of data that kept you speculating on possible alternatives–sometimes for years. He always gave us a little taste of the real world.
I remember the first time I watched as Ken engaged in an elicitation session with a Warlpiri speaker that had come to MIT for a while. I was interested in Warlpiri signs and here was a chance to elicit some. More data went flying back and forth in a half hour than I had imagined one could collect in a week. And yet it was so natural and so comfortable and so much fun. It took David Nash and I weeks to transcribe that half hour session.
Ken sparked an interest in, not just the language, but the people as well. The first time I saved up enough frequent flyer miles to do it, I was off to Yuendumu and thereabouts. Anywhere I went a linguist touched by Ken Hale was around to regale me with stories of him. Of course, one didn’t need to go to Yuendumu or Tennent Creek to hear a bit of Warlpiri. Just go to Ken’s house in Lexington and you could hear it flying back and forth between Ken and his kids. I always wondered why Ken decided to raise his kids speaking Warlpiri. One day, unsolicited, Ken offered the answer. We had been walking around Managua (yet another location I was drawn to visit by Ken’s stories), just taking in the sights. All the while, Ken had my newly adopted Nicaraguan daughter Luisa on his back asleep in a snugli. We stopped at a little restaurant, and as soon as she woke up, Ken started speaking to her in Warlpiri, explaining that “kids just love to listen to Warlpiri.” And sure enough, Luisa loved it! Of course, she got a bit of Miskitu too before the lunch was through.
Ken taught fieldwork by example. There was far more to it than the mechanics of gathering and organizing data. There was respect for and gratitude to the people willing to share their language, a sense of awe at the intricacies, the commonalities, and the idiosyncrasies of a language as they revealed themselves to you, a commitment to empowering native speakers willing to become linguists themselves because you knew they had the special insights you never could, and a responsibility to serve the mandate of the community as well as your own professional needs.
Maybe the myths about Ken as a language savant are true. After all, he did come back to the department suddenly speaking Japanese after watching the mini-series Shogun with subtitles. I remember going to him my first year at MIT and discussing some ASL data that I thought might lead to a generals paper. A full year later, in the middle of a practice presentation for my generals exam, he raised his hand and corrected me on an ASL example that was inconsistent with the ones he had seen the year before. And, I had indeed mis-signed the example. But then again, I think it isn’t really something special about Ken’s brain that lets him get to the heart of a language. It’s something unique about Ken’s heart and soul that allows him enter a special place in the world of the language users that he studies–a place where he gets to see language as they see it.
My whole time at MIT and ever since, I always had this wish that Ken would add to his grand repertoire of languages just one more–American Sign Language. He always protested that it would be hard for him to learn, but he said that about every language. I waited over twenty years, but finally Ken did his structure course on ASL. The language expert in that course someone who way back when and ever since had given me the special privilege of access to her language and her world, Marie Philip. I flew up from New Jersey every chance I could to sit in on that class. For me, it was a dream come true. Here was the linguist I respected most in the world tenderly mining the riches of the language I had been exploring for decades from a person who for me was the quintessential ASL signer and representative of the Deaf world. What a thrill it gave me to see Ken schmoozing with Marie in ASL just inside the door the Building 20. Thanks Ken!
Judy Kegl, Linguistics Program, University of Southern Maine
Remarks Made on the Occasion of Kenneth Locke Hale’s Retirement Party in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT, on 22 April, 1999.
I suspect everyone’s life has its own pivotal moment, a moment when, had things gone otherwise, you would be someone other than who you are. In the case of Ken Hale that moment may have been in the life, or rather in the death of his grandfather. Ken’s grandfather went to a Dartmouth-Yale football game and never came back. He died of a stroke. The inheritance that came out of that untimely death enabled Ken’s father to exchange a life of commercial banking in Chicago for ranching in Arizona. Anyone who has been in Ken’s office and seen the photograph of the rodeo cowboy caught in mid-air as he dives from his horse onto a heifer can gauge the impact the move from Chicago to Canelo, Arizona had. I have always thought of the picture as a western version of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, freezing in time as it does a “mad pursuit.” In any case it is the picture I always associate with Ken.
When Ken was a child, he spent his time trapping, shooting and riding. He even planned to be a gunsmith. I once asked him if his father was good at ranching. He said his father was good at whatever he turned his hand to. That must be where Ken gets it from. Had he become a gunsmith instead of a linguist, his guns would have ended up behind glass in the Smithsonian.
Ken went to the University of Arizona in 1952 and majored in Anthropology, the closest program to Native Languages of the South West you could find. Even so he divided his undergraduate time between weekend “jackpot” rodeos, studying Anthropology and working on Native American Languages.
Sally tells me that in his senior year he won the bull riding event in the University of Arizona Rodeo and still wears his trophy belt buckle. That year he also entered the Bull Riding event in the Tucson Rodeo and that ride was recorded and used in the movie “Arena.” The headline in the Tucson paper the day after the rodeo read “Clown saves Waddy from Charging Bull”. The text went on: “Kenneth Hall narrowly escaped serious injury when …………..” The photo was of Ken on his back kicking the bull in the face. That was the first Ken’s father heard about it. He admonished Ken for his foolishness and then commiserated at the misspelling of his name. He said, “They either call us Hall, Hull or Hole.”
Ken’s first experience with exotic languages was when he was sixteen years old. He spent 2 years at Verde Valley School where he first roomed with a Hopi boy and learned Hopi, then with a boy from Jemez, and learned Jemez. He had to figure out a way to write the languages since there was no writing system for them. His Spanish teacher wanted him to stop the work on Hopi and Jemez and concentrate on Spanish and French. He said, “She didn’t understand that I learned faster by working on more than one at a time.” He resented the time he had to spend on other academic subjects, Math and History, and talked his parents into allowing him to return home and attend Tucson High School where he added Navajo, O’odam, Pachuco, Polish and whatever else came along.
Ken’s linguistic ability is legendary. Everybody has a story to tell about it and I am no exception. In my early days at MIT, I think it was somewhere around 1978 Ken and I went to the Linguistic Society of America meeting in New York City. At lunchtime he had a couple of errands and asked me if I would like to come along. The first stop was at the Irish Consulate. He needed a visa for a visit. When we went into the consulate, he began the conversation in Gaelic. Ken and the person behind the counter must have conversed for about five minutes when the other person asked Ken if he spoke English. She apologized that her own Gaelic was not up to his.
I have told this story on other occasions and people have wondered why Ken spoke in Gaelic in the first place. The answer is simple courtesy. Ken believes that it is a mark of respect to speak to someone in their own language. If only I could be that respectful.
After the consulate we went to an international bookstore where Ken found a novel and a dictionary in Dutch. He was going off to Holland for a year to teach and work and wanted to learn a little Dutch before he got there. About a year later Jan Koster told me this story. He was walking through one of the corridors at the University of Tilbourg when he heard, but could not yet see, someone lecturing in Dutch on linguistics. He was surprised that there was someone on the Tilbourg staff who could lecture so authoritatively on the languages of the American South West and when he entered the room, he was astonished to see that it was Ken Hale. Jan told me Ken’s Dutch was flawless.
Ken and Sally have been together for 44 years. So I asked Sally if she would tell me a little bit about how the two of them met. With her permission and her forgiveness, here is what she wrote.
“Jay, I met Ken in 1947 when my mother and I visited friends on a neighboring ranch. I was two years older than Ken and thought him too young and “scruffy” to merit my attention. He was one of a small flock of little local boys who buzzed around on the ground or on horseback, being “strong silent cowboy types.” Generally, to me, they seemed unwashed and fairly inarticulate. I got to know Ken better when we went off together to Verde Valley School in 1948. We were briefly “an item” in 1949 but I was a fickle girl and busily tried out all the older boys in the school, to see what having boyfriends was all about. Ken likes to say I broke his heart. Ah well. I went off the University of Arizona and at the beginning of my Sophomore year saw a very handsome young cowboy come into the Student Union. To my delight and surprise I realized I knew him! Ken Hale, my how you’ve changed. I decided to give him another try and the rest is history.”
Every year the New Liberty Jazz Band plays in the Patriot’s Day Parade in the town where Ken lives, Lexington. Ken always comes to visit me on the fire engine. Last Monday was no exception. We had a little time before the parade began. I introduced Ken to the other members of the band. We had a couple of Samantha’s together. Afterwards Ken went off to join Sally and the piano player, a retired medical doctor, asked me who Ken was. I told him a little bit about what Ken did and about his stature in the field of linguistics. Jack’s comment was, “What a modest man he is!”
Jack got it right. The next hour is going to be a joy for all of us who know and love Ken and want to praise him. But for Ken it will be excruciating. What a modest man he is.
You have been an inspiration and help to me far more and in more ways than you realize. (Very many others, I’m sure feel the same, could say it better, and in many languages.) Trying to sum it up, I’d say it’s the unique depth of your appreciation for the diversity of human language, which makes your gift so meaningful to so many of us. I thank you for the way you share that gift, and also for your leadership, example, and support in the struggle to prevent the loss of that diversity. You’ve certainly played a key role in that (including my involvement in it).
I must confess I’ll never forget the moment you and Sally were over at Jane’s and my Sabbatical house in Newton 1969-70, and I was telling how I got out of a Boston traffic ticket when I showed the cop my Fairbanks driver’s license, and you told how you got a similar(?) result when you showed yours from Alice Springs, we compared driver’s licenses, and noted we were both born August 15, 1934. — Considering how privileged that discovery has made me feel ever since, this occasion of your retirement is mighty resonant for me.
Wishing I could be there to celebrate with you, I salute you. Slainte mhaith. Congratulations on this occasion. Jane and I send you and Sally our warmest wishes for many happy years to come.
Greetings on the occasion of your retirement.
How time flies. I just got the last LSA Bulletin talking about the 75th anniversary of the Society and I was of course reminded on the 50th Anniversary conference in Berkeley where you gave such a wonderful presentation and I was privileged to comment on it.
This brought back more memories about the LSA meeting in San Diego in 1996 where the roles were reversed and you commented on my presentation.
And of course there was the great Linguistic Institute in Tuscon in 1989. I remember you were in such demand that I didn’t get to do more than say “Hello”. I made up for it by attending your lectures–a real treat.
It must be a great joy to you to see how much the field of American Indian linguistics has blossomed lately due in great part to your efforts. It is wonderful to recognize how many Native Americans are now active contributors to the field.
I know how hard you worked for this, but the success has been extraordinary.
I am sure you will be just as busy after retiring and I wish you the very best.
I first heard of Ken Hale when I took up a job with the Australian Department of Education (Northern Territory Division) as consultant linguist for their new bilingual programs. This was in late 1975. When it was decided that I would be sent to Yuendumu in Warlpiri country, my linguist colleague Velma Leeding told me to get in contact with Ken Hale as he was the Warlpiri expert. Am I glad I took her advice — although this would not have been the last time that I was to hear about Ken Hale!
I think I’d only been in Yuendumu a couple of days when a young Warlpiri woman, Tess Napaljarri Ross, who was teaching the young kids to read and write Warlpiri in the local school said to me, “We all knew you’d be coming.” I was about to ask her, “How come?” thinking that a telegram from head office in Darwin over 1,000 miles to the north had brought them the news of my appointment (there was no radio or television or public or private telephones in Yuendumu in those days – just a weekly mail plane, and a radio telephone for the use of the administration). Imagine my surprise when she continued, “because we’ve all been praying to God to send us a linguist”. This lady was a devote Baptist as were all my new Warlpiri colleagues.
Given that most people one meets have never heard of linguists and certainly don’t know what they do, or care very much, the fact that a bunch of Warlpiri people (the most ‘educated’ having only reached junior highschool) would be formally asking God in Sunday church to send them a linguist was, to say the least, amazing. This conversation certainly jolted me into a more serious appreciation of the task ahead than what I had envisaged it to be up till that moment – just another interesting adventure.
Why did the Warlpiri know about linguists and why were they praying to God to send them one? It was because of Ken Hale, of course. Ken had recorded Warlpiri starting back in 1959-60, again on a field trip in the mid 60’s and had been invited back to Yuendumu in 1974 by the community to help them get the bilingual program started when the Australian Government had introduced a policy of allowing bilingual education in schools in Aboriginal communities. Ken had given classes to young Warlpiri people showing them how to write their language using the agreed on spelling system. Over the years many Warlpiri people told me about that course and demonstrated they had learned there. He had also made available a lengthy wordlist, had written songs which were very popular and kept in touch by sending taped messages.
Within a week of arriving in Yuendumu, many people started talking to me in Warlpiri – some because it was the only language they spoke – but others because they had heard I was a linguist, like that Japanangka from Mirika. You see Ken was the only linguist they had had experience of and he learned Warlpiri instantaneously, so all linguists must have this extraordinary power of being able to learn languages like Ken Hale. Sounds logical enough. Imagine the pressure, if one didn’t learn to speak the language pretty darn quickly then what credibility did one have as a linguist? One was clearly a fraud. So to save face one threw oneself into learning to speak and understand Warlpiri as fast as one could.
About three months after settling into Yuendumu, I met a young Warlpiri man George Robertson Jampijinpa with whom I worked very closely for quite a few years. He had been taught to write Warlpiri by Ken in 1974 and he had a real flair for writing and for linguistic analysis. He used to regale me with stories about Ken Hale. He told me how he had travelled around with Ken to a number of Warlpiri communities and to other Aboriginal settlements.
He loved to recount how, in one of these villages called Lajamanu (known as Hooker Creek in those days), old ladies who were coming away from the local store with their arms full of purchases saw him with this white man and then as they approached (George was one of their relatives) they heard the white man speaking Warlpiri fluently and correctly – such was their shock that they dropped their shopping and fled!
Another of George’s Ken Hale stories was that they would typically arrive at a place around 10am, Ken would start recording the local language with someone or other, and then by lunchtime Ken was conversing fluently in the language with the locals. George never ceased to be amazed at how quickly this white man could learn a new language. Warlpiris, like most Aboriginal people in central Australia, tend to be multilingual but white people in their experience rarely are. They have great difficulty understanding or speaking an Aboriginal language. Missionaries who had lived among the Warlpiri for over 20 years only knew a few words. So in this context, Ken was indeed exceptional. But then he was a linguist!
Ken had a profound influence on the Warlpiri people he worked with directly and also indirectly through his work on the language and his influence in moving Australian government policy towards bilingual education and then his support of the Warlpiri programs in particular. Ken has always made this language notes available to all who asked for them. As one moves around the languages of Australia, everywhere one sees the Hale footprint. He’s been there before. Ken recorded hundreds of Australian languages – in some cases his notes are the only good records we have of languages no longer spoken. Ken’s work on Australian languages has led to a better understanding of human language generally.
I am deeply grateful to Ken for all the assistance he gave me as a young inexperienced linguist embarking on Warlpiri all those years ago and for his generous sharing of knowledge with me for over more than 20 years. Unlike Ken, it took me a bit longer than a morning’s work to be able to converse in Warlpiri, and I never got to have a free morning to learn another Aboriginal language.
Linguists never retire – there’s always another problem to solve, another language lurking around the corner. I’m sure Ken’s ‘retirement’ will see a few more recalcitrant languages conquered and some more of the endless store of linguistic mysteries solved.
Mary Laughren, The University of Queensland, Brisbane
Kwii naanish yisinilbanigii binahji’ ahehee’ nidishnii dooleel. Nilei 1970 yeedaa’ ts’ida altse neihosesiih. Iidaa’ Rough Rock yiniyaa ni’. Aadoo hoshdee’ ei bee na’nitinigii la’igoo bee shika iinilwod. T’aa iyisii la’igoo nits’aadoo ihool’aa’go at’e.
T’aa nina’nitin binahji’ dii Dine bizaad bineeshdliigo koo hoolzhish.
Dii ts’ida ntsaago baa aheeh nisin.
Doo t’aa shi ei shika iinilwod da.
Olta’i niliinii la’i bika iinilwodgo at’e.
Ako k’ad ei ninaanish yisinilbaago
na baa shil hozho.
T’aa kodigo ei nich’i’ haasdzii dooleel.
Diyin Dine’e ei hool’aagoo nil holoo dooleel
Lorene B. Legah
Dine Bikeyahdee’ i’iilaa
Dine College, Window Rock, AZ.
A Tribute in Haiku
Ken you were so nice
to sign all our handouts when
you talked to our class.
would like to say thank you for
all you have taught us.
ergative is not the same
actually speak languages
we are studying
Warlpiri has got
second position auxes
that’s it for structure
Fiddler and linguist —
a multi-talented guy
also a cowboy.
you and Jay have shed
much light on verb classes too
light verbs are our friends.
in the kindness and
respect you show to others
you’re an example.
we won’t forget your
Elissa, Karlos, Isabel, Andrea, Julie, Michela, Paul, Liina
It is not easy to find joined in the same person the virtues that we have come to associate with Ken Hale’s work and his human figure. One can trace his direct or indirect influence in much of the most appealing theoretical work done in the last decades in generative grammar, and he will certainly continue to guide the efforts of our future research in the years to come. And he has managed to do so while emphasizing the intrinsic relevance of minority languages, many of which would have remained uncharted territory for linguists as well as for the outsiders of those minority cultures. Something that we all continuously learn from his work is that we should approach both languages and their speakers with humble respect, and that we should be thankful to these cultures for their generosity in sharing their knowledge with us. Ken himself has been a model in this respect. He has always made all of us feel welcome, and has been approachable and accessible to anybody interested in tapping his endless linguistic knowledge and insight. The seemingly infinite list of acknowledgments that feature his name gives us but a glimpse of the crucial impact of his ideas and support in several generations of linguists. It is our time now to encourage him to continue enriching the field in the future in the same way he has done in the past.
Thanks heartfully for everything Ken.
Mila esker bihotz bihotzez.
Joseba Abaitua (U. of Deusto & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Pablo Albizu (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language /LEHIA)
Xabier Artiagoitia (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Pilar Barbosa (U. do Minho)
Hamida Demirdache (U. of Nantes)
Aintzane Doiz (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Andolin Eguzkitza (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Arantzazu Elordieta (U. of Leiden & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Gorka Elordieta (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Agurtzane Elordui (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Rikardo Etxepare (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Beatriz Fernandez (U.of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Jon Franco (U. of Deusto & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Fernando Garcia Murga (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Patxi Goenaga (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Ricardo Gomez (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Martin Haiden (U. of Vienna & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Iñaki Kamino (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Itziar Laka (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Joseba Lakarra (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Alazne Landa (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Amaya Mendikoetxea (U. Autõnoma de Madrid & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Lourdes Oñederra (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA) Marta Ona (USC & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Javier Ormazabal (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Jon Ortiz de Urbina (U of Deusto & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Beñat Oyharçabal (CNRS & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Koldo Sainz (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
Vidal Valmala (U. of the Basque Country & Basque Center for Language Research/LEHIA)
I’ll mention three things that have struck me about Ken, from when we met in 1984, through the end of the Lexicon Project, my thesis, two or three semantics seminars and four field methods classes, and onwards into the theta-free zone of Hale & Keyser where generative grammar now lives. (i) Though deeply committed to formalist explanations of diverse human languages, Ken has remained theoretically nonsectarian even during some of the most sectarian episodes in living memory. (Pick your favorite examples.) Sure, this conforms to his personal temperament of tolerance and respect, but we are also lucky that it allowed him to learn voluminously from people outside Route 128. This must be one reason he’s been able to go out on a limb so many times without ever hitting a dead end. (ii) He remembers problems for a rainy day. Ken is infatuated with the sound-meaning correspondence: he takes obvious pleasure in hearing and repeating whole sentences, then the next second he’ll fix on a particular formative and ask ‘what does it MEAN?’. Of course, the only way you can ask this question is by adopting a theory of the whole sentence, and if no good answer presents itself then that theory is probably no good either. But if he thinks of an answer, he’ll make up a new sentence straight off and try it out on the nearest native speaker. Recalcitrant examples, he stores away until some day he’ll pop them out–often at a thesis defense–and tell the candidate ‘I always wondered about this fact in Navajo (Bengali, Korean…), but now that you show how works in Hausa (Fon, Mandarin…), I think I know why.’ (iii) He’s always giving ideas away for free. Apart from the immediate benefit–devising a possible route through a particular problem which is under public scrutiny at the time–on reflection this practice has the salutary effect of reminding you that when ideas become intellectual property they either die or cause-to-die. Proudhon and Marx would have understood.
Victor Manfredi, African Studies Center, Boston University
There’s a temptation at times like these to talk about standing on the shoulders of the giants…. I vastly prefer my current status — standing in the shadow of giants. It’s impossible for you to go anywhere, Ken. I still need to look up to you for guidance on how to behave, both as a person and as a professional in the field.
And so, I look forward to many more years of internship,
You are a great linguist and I feel very lucky to have been able to learn from you. Your work and the way you do your work are an inspiration to me. I have the greatest respect for the fieldwork you do, the way you combine fieldwork with theoretical work, and the work you do for communities. There is no better example of a life well spent in linguistics.
Your support, your kindness, and your generosity with your time and knowledge have meant a lot to me. Appointments with you are always great fun and very informative. You are always open-minded about new ideas, and I love the way you get excited about phenomena. Thanks for teaching me about O’odham.
I’ll never forget the time I had given you a handout containing St’at’imcets data, and we were to have an appointment. I walked into the appointment, and you immediately began writing St’at’imcets sentences on the board. Without looking at the handout. Making up St’at’imcets sentences from scratch (without mistakes), and in addition telling me how they reminded you of switch reference in a language I had never even heard of. There is no-one else who can instantly draw connections between phenomena in different languages the way you can.
I also like the time I was worrying about St’at’imcets not possessing a quantifier corresponding to ‘most’. You told me that almost all the languages you work on lack ‘most’. We need those reality checks to remind us that it’s usually English that’s weird.
Stexwkacw t’u7 ama ku wa7 alkstmin i nqwal’utteniha i ucwalmicwa. Kukwstumulhkacw tsnuk’w7antumulhacwa. Amhas ku swa7su, amhas ta scwakwekwswa, cw7itas muta7 i maqa7swa.
I wish you all the best,
I had the great privilege of having Ken serve as my dissertation advisor. It was exhilarating. Ken’s corrections of my work were always gentle, but they were backed up by the glare of a carved wooden hawk that loomed over his filing cabinet. The best part came when we had worked through the main theoretical issues about case conflicts and decided that I should take a cross-linguistic survey of case systems. During the week I would rummage through old grammars in the library, trying to distinguish postpositions from postpositional cases. At week’s end, I would gather up my notes and present myself in Ken’s office, where he would grin and ask, “So! What have you found out about Quechua?” or whatever language I had been considering. His obvious delight in the language data reminded me that, even when the data refused to fit neatly into the theory I had prepared for them, still, the languages themselves were the “good stuff” of linguistics.
Best wishes, Ken, on your retirement!
Last time you passed through Berkeley a few months ago, you said I should get back to MIT and the East Coast. Thinking about it, I realized just how much MIT in general, and you in particular, have shaped and influenced both my personal and intellectual life. It was because of the friends I had in my MIT colleagues and in you that I was able to survive as I made efforts to re-organize my life and take on the challenges of teaching in the United States. I have always had to come back to MIT because of friends like you. As you retire, just bear in mind that your influence and our friendship will continue unabated. Maybe now you will have time to visit Africa, learn Chichewa, and convert to LFG.
All the best, Ken.
I have many funny memories of Ken Hale from my years at MIT, like the time he stopped short in the middle of translating a blackboard full of Basque and Mohawk sentences into English, turned slowly to the class, and asked, “What’s the… tenth month?”
That one we knew. October.
But my pivotal memory of Ken is from my second year, when I was having a terrible time trying to write my syntax generals paper. A month or so before the deadline, I decided to change topics altogether, and on an impulse I went to Ken for help. He suggested a topic, but mainly we just joked around and talked about languages. After that meeting I was finally able to stop worrying and get down to work — on the original topic! The fact that I finished my generals paper at all had more to do with Ken’s kind assistance than he probably ever realized.
Aside from this episode, Ken has had a substantial influence on my life, mainly through the fieldwork classes he conducted jointly with native-speaker consultants at MIT. I don’t remember Ken ever giving us an explicit lecture on his philosophy of doing fieldwork, but he constantly provided us with a living example of productive collaboration with his fellow linguists and language consultants, and of compassion towards the hardships of communities he worked with. With Ken I have always had the rare feeling of observing the Forces of Good in action; in times of crisis, just thinking of his life has often renewed my faith in humanity, and particularly in linguistics. I wish I could be at his retirement party in person, but I’ll certainly be there in spirit. I hope I’ll have many opportunities to speak with Ken in the years to come.
With love and thanks,
I remember you from a dinner in Copenhagen at the Phonetics meeting in 1979; from listening to you talk with your students when I was hanging out at MIT in the early 70’s; and many more times and places. You have always set the finest example of warmth, modesty, and scholarship. We hope you’ll still keep coming to the LSA meetings so we can have the pleasure of seeing you for many more years.
One of my earliest memories of Ken Hale dates to a nap I took during my first year as a grad student at MIT. I laid down in what was then the first-years office; the space was anarchic, populated by desks, couches and mattresses living cheek-by-jowl like so many boxes in a forgotten attic. In those days, the “holy collator”–several hundred pounds of silent rust–still graced us with its corpulent presence; it couldn’t be thrown away, it was said, because Ross’s thesis had once been sorted through its venerable mechanism. In the grim fluorescent flicker of institutional light, this room looked exactly like the pit that it was. As I lay on the couch, hovering between fitful sleep and baby-syntax, the excited strains of “Orange Blossom Special” suddenly lunged through the wall, loosed from the strings of Ken’s violin. I sat up and listened, so grateful for the bluegrass that I forgot my surroundings, and forgot I was tired. Later I complemented the player, who dismissed his talent with a unique modesty that, as I later came to know, is so Ken Hale.
There are so many ways in which Ken has affected me. My research is indebted to his; the many hours we spent discussing my dissertation are among my fondest memories of grad school; I was following a suggestion of his when I first started doing Maya-language field work; and it was Ken who kept an eye out and alerted me to the Fulbright fellowship in Maya linguistics, my receipt of which continues to shape my life today. I feel privileged to know Ken Hale, and I don’t well know how to express this in a tribute. Put me on record as deeply appreciating this ageless grand spirit who brings such generosity and intelligence to everyone he touches.
Seth A. Minkoff
When introducing Ken Hale for a talk here a while ago, I told about some of the many incidents I have personally observed that proved how quickly and well Ken learns and analyzes new languages. I could repeat these, or even add to them with new things that have occurred since, but every reader of this page can add more. And maybe some of my best memories of Ken are things that don’t even involve language, like when he demonstrated calf roping in Margaret and Dick Langdon’s dining room late one night.
Ken Hale is wonderful. He is inspirational. He is generous and kind and wise. If there was one linguist who I really would like to change places with, it would be Ken, but I don’t think I could keep up with him.
I wish I knew Ken better, but I feel honored to know him as well as I do.
Love to you, Ken, and all the best forever,
There is much I have to thank Ken for, numerous instances of empathy, patience, and generosity (and thank you too Sally). And in Australia we particularly offer tribute for all the deep and varied work whose outer forms are listed (incompletely) at
It has been a great pleasure and extraordinary privilege to know Ken Hale. He is not only one of the finest linguists (in all senses of the word) but also one of the kindest and most generous human beings that I have ever known.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious in commenting on his amazing sense of language(s), I offer the following small incident, which reflects not only his abilities, but also his attitude about his own talents. Several years ago, I attended a workshop in Trondheim, Norway at which Ken was an invited speaker. He stepped off the plane speaking Norwegian, having read a teach-yourself-Norwegian paperback during the flight. (He had, by the way, correctly identified several errors in the book, words for which the stress mark had been placed over the wrong syllable.) With his usual humility, Ken dismissed his accomplishment–which very much impressed the rest of us–by explaining why it had been so easy for him to pick up Norwegian: he had once spent a week in Denmark.
In discussions with Ken over the years, I have benefited greatly from his insights. So have many of my students at Boston University, with whom Ken has graciously and generously taken the time to share his wisdom. I would like to express my deep appreciation (and admiration). He has been an inspiration for so many of us.
I wish him the very, very best for his retirement.
FOR KEN HALE
Ya’at’eeh Ken, Dii ei t’oo ahehee’ dideeshniil biniye. Nizhonigo na’iilta’ doo t’aa iiyisii nihika’iinilwod dii Dine Bizaad bihoo’aahgi. T’aa doo binoolninigoo , t’aa beehonisinigi at’eego, nizhonigo bee nanihisinitaa’. Ei ahehee’ t’aa iyisii baa aheehdaniidzin. Alyse
KODOO HOZHOOGO NAASGOO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
NAHASDZAAN NIMA AT’EEGO DOO YADILHI HITAA’ AT’EEGO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
T’AA ALTSODEE’ NICH’I’HOZHOOGO, HAYOOLKAAL, NAHODOOTL’IIZH BII’GOOYINAAL DOOLEEL,
T’AA AKWIIJI NAHOOTSOI, CHAHALHEEL BIYAZHI NILIIGO, NITAH YA’AHOOT’EEHGO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
SISNAAJINI, TSOODZIL, DOOK’O’OSLIID, DIBE NITSAA, DZIL NA’OODILII, CH’OOL’II’ BITAHGOO, NICHANAHGO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
HASHCH’EELTI’I NICHEIGO, HASSHCH’E’OOGHAAN NICHEIGO, T’AA ALSODEE’ NICH’I’ HOZHOOGO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
YOOLGAI ASDZAA NIMA AT’EEGO, ASDZAA NADLEEHI NIMA AT’EEGO BEE NIDZIILGO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
NADA’ALGAI ASHII DOO NAADA’ALTSOI AT’EED, NIK’I HODISINGO, BILHONILOOGO, YINAAL DOOLEEL,
YODI ALTAAS’EI, NITL’IZ ALTAAS’EI BEE HOZHONIGOO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
TO ALTAASHCHIIN, TOBIYAAZH, BEE HOOZK’AZIGO, YINAAL DOOLEEL,
TADIDIIN ASHKII, ANILT’ANII AT’EED, NIK’IHODISINGO, BILHONILOOGO, YINAAL DOOLEEL,
SI’AH NAAGHAI, BIK’EH HOZHOON NILIIGO, T’AA ALSODEE’ NICHI’I’ HOZHOOGO YINAAL DOOLEEL,
HOZHO NAHASDLII’, HOZHO NAHASDLII’, HOZHO NAHASDLII’ HOZHO NAHASDLII’
Just a brief note on one of my experiences working with Ken; it would be impossible to convey in a simple manner all of what Ken has meant to me as a mentor, intellectual inspiration, and teacher…
In addition to Ken’s wide-ranging theoretical interests, his commitment to in-depth study and description of innumerable less well-known languages, and his depth & breadth of knowledge of crosslinguistic phenomena, one of the things that has made a lasting impression on me was the way he could talk to me about my own work on Zuni, despite not having worked on the language himself (probably the only one of the world’s languages where the latter is the case!). I would meet with Ken to discuss some problem in the analysis of Zuni and and in the course of the meeting cover a lot of data. I would give Ken the written form of only the Zuni examples and simply give their glosses and translations orally. Ken of course would retain all of this information during the course of the meeting and be able to refer back to data we had already talked about. But then I would come back, say a month later, to discuss these or perhaps other Zuni problems and Ken would remember all of the forms and the data without needed a gloss of them again, and in fact would cite them back to me from memory in his questions, “What about [insert complete and grammatical Zuni sentence]?” What would have been an astounding feat for others I quickly learned, to my delight, to take as par for the course in working with Ken and I have always felt exhilarated about this fact, being able to work with him in a way that I could work with no one else.
Very best wishes to Ken,
Ken Hale’s most outstanding attributes are his generosity of spirit and indomitability. He first displayed these qualities to me early in 1959 when he arrived in Australia on a Guggenheim grant to do two years’ fieldwork on Australian Aboriginal languages.
When he heard that my wife, Alix, were on summer fieldwork in South Australia, he proposed that he and I undertake an ambitious field trip the following year to the West that would take us halfway around the continent. I was delighted to acquiesce, for there were very few trained linguists in Australia at that time. I was hoping to get accepted into a graduate program at Indiana University under Carl Voegelin, Ken’s former supervisor. (Ken’s subsequent letter of support was to play a crucial role in shaping the course of my family’s and my lives).
In February 1960, Ken and I made our separate ways to Port Augusta, South Australia and met on the railway platform there. At first I didn’t see him, as he hung back modestly in the shadows. After we met, we piled into his Land Rover and drove out of town to a salt flat to camp on, and promptly got mired up to the axles in soft mud. That it took only two hours to get out of that situation was due to Ken’s doggedness and capacity for sheer hard physical labor. All the while, he kept his cool.
There soon followed a l500-mile trip west to Perth, during which we met a number of Aboriginal people and recorded data in eight languages in three days. I felt humbled by Ken’s incredible capacity for mental exertion: he would squat with pen, blue paper and clipboard and, writing fast, very widely spaced, large, and bold notes, would have basic information on the pronominal system, case marking, verbal conjugations, tenses, moods, aspects, phonology and so forth worked out during a morning’s effort. All the while, he would be weaving into the database an amended version of the 100-item Swadesh List. (No wonder that many looked upon him in later years as the planet’s greatest linguistic fieldworker!)
‘Let it emerge!’ was one of his favorite dicta — as an outline sketch of the phonology of yet another language would flow forth from the data recorded by him. He brought to Australianists of that era a new awareness of a laminodental series of consonants which some researchers had simply missed.
Not that Ken’s research in Australia involved just brief surveys. His very deep studies of Warlpiri and Lardil remain monuments to linguistic rigor and vigor to this day. And the Laughren-Hoogenraad dictionary of Warlpiri pioneered by him, and containing native speakers’ vernacular essay-definitions covering each entry, represented a completely new departure in Australian linguistics.
From Perth we headed north 1300 miles to Broome, staying 3 days in Northampton to work with Mr Jack Coucillor, one of the last fluent speakers of Nhanta, whose usual occupation was exercising racehorses. Ken reflected that here was a man, the carrier of a linguistic and cultural tradition priceless beyond measure, and reflecting 40,000 years of human evolution in Australia, exposed to whimsical danger from a potentially misplaced hoof.
In Roebourne, Ken worked with Mr Bob Churnside on the Ngarluma language. We were to stay there three weeks as the guests of an independent group of Aboriginal people who were engaged in mining activities. They had two requests to make of us: that we provide them with an alphabet for the Nyangumarta language; and that we bring two of their number — Mr Monty Hale and Punch — to literacy in the time available. Ken’s insights on alphabet-creation and literacy development were of immense value, and today, nearly forty years later, there is a thriving literacy program at Strelley, out of Port Hedland, in Nyangumarta and English. As well, the periodical Mikurrunya is brought out in both languages in partial fulfillment of the principle, due to Ken, of ‘flood the place with literature!’ Ken was also to provide crucial input to the Northern Territory Bilingual Program in 1974.
From Broome we turned east for the 900-mile drive to Newcastle Waters in the Northern Territory. A hitchhiker called Syd had joined us (for a thousand-mile hitch, as it turned out). The summer monsoonal season was just ending, and at the crossing over the Fitzroy River a hundred miles east of Broome we were told that there was a bridge 18 inches under the fast-flowing water. There were no visible guard rails, and crocodiles were known to be in the area. Here again, Ken displayed his characteristic sang-froid, driving over the submerged bridge as if this were an everyday activity.
Later that evening we were camped by the roadside when a truck loomed out of the darkness and stopped just short of us. Silence followed. Suddenly several solid-sounding objects thudded into the sand nearby. These turned out to be bottles of beer, and a voice called from the truck, ‘have one on Diesel Dick!’ Needless to say, we three quaffed the beer, highly amused by the whole situation. (Thirty years later, an older and wiser Ken remarked on the tragedy of people like Diesel Dick who needlessly foreshorten their lives with excessive use of the demon drink).
There followed the most harrowing section of the ‘road,’ now a track washed out here and there by the tropical rains, from Inverway to Top Springs. On one memorable stretch, we covered only 108 miles in a full day of driving. That evening culminated in an exhausted Ken’s driving into a deep, narrow gutter which crossed the road. The right front wheel was badly bent, and we were scores of miles from possible help. By sheer determination, gutsiness, and practical know-how Ken gradually hammered the wheel straight.
‘Indomitable’: that word sums up the essence of Ken Hale. (And he can get really angry, which he did 1.5 miles east of Top Springs — but that’s another story).
I am honored to be numbered among his friends, and am truly delighted to dedicate these reminiscences in tribute to him.
Geoff O’Grady, Victoria, B.C., Canada.
Twenty-four years ago I was a beginning graduate student at MIT: Ken Hale (who I had never heard of) and Haj Ross (who I had) were teaching us Introductory Syntax. Coming in as an opinionated Oxford bastard, I was a bit frustrated with the approach of the two, who were probably the gentlest men in the department at the time. And, I must admit, a bit irritated by the endless admiration that seemed directed at Ken, whenever he was out of earshot. But opinionated or not, I was then (and still am) hard put to it to analyse the full range of Navajo examples that Ken led off with the deceptively simple sentence: Hastiin asdza’ni’ bil’hozh “The man is tickling the woman.”
Some of the people in that Introductory Syntax class are now world-famous linguists, in one or other variant of the MIT tradition; others of us have found that our focus and aspirations have changed a bit in these twenty-four years. I’ve found my interest in linguistics and languages, once hard, crisp and theoretical, shift to being pragmatic and computational, and then to being more determinedly humane and cultural. Other than a taste for things exotic and the universal (which you find when you attend to language anywhere) there’s been little that I could keep hold of through all those vicissitudes and tergiversations.
But Ken is still there, in the centre, like a sort of laughing buddha. He knows from direct experience things that I would love to know, but as a middle-aged Home-Counties suburbanite can never really enter: how to ride wild horses, how to gain a welcome in other people’s languages, how to strengthen people by understanding them. And the sheer chutzpah of bringing sons up in Warlpiri in Lexington Massachusetts makes an unbeatable story.
We even work on related languages (if Ulwa really is Chibchan). What a bit of luck!
Above all, his career stands to prove that you can reconcile a fascination with how languages work systematically with an empathy for the special world that each language conjures up. You don’t have to be dry to be penetrating and analytic; you don’t have to be flaky to sense the distinctive dimensions which another language can give to your world. That’s reassuring.
And I feel this all the more because I don’t really see him as the linguistic superman that he is often made out to be. I believe him when he says that he can’t sustain a conversation in a lot of languages, even when he knows how to say a lot of things in them. He may even agree sometimes with the descriptive linguists who feel he should have written a lot more full-scale grammars. Knowing a distant language is hard, even for a hero. But in a way it’s much more encouraging if the aspirations are the point of a life, rather than the achievement. (Not that I’m not filled with envy, as well as admiration, when I survey his publications list!)
Ken is a great inspiration, whether he knows it or not (- though he could never believe it, of course!)
If I can take you at your word, your retirement means that I will see more of you around here — not less. I hope that is so. I have a lot of questions left.
One of my most vivid recollections of your classes goes back about ten years, when I’d just arrived here as a faculty member. You were putting a Miskitu example sentence up on the board, and suddenly got quite agitated.
“Damn!” you said to us (still facing the board), “I always have this problem. Every time I try to say something in Miskitu, it keeps coming out Basque.”
My aspiration: to have that problem someday.
Thanks for all your help and hospitality over the past 22 years. Thanks for all you’ve taught me, and for all that you will teach me in the future.
On the eve of your retirement, allow me to say ‘thank you’ for your moral support and enlightened guidance throughout all those many, many years. In particular, I have to say that without your moral support, my book, The Causatives of Malagasy, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu 1986 would have probably never seen the light of day in English. For that and more, thank you very, very much indeed.
English ‘-ing’, Dutch ‘er’, government, existentials, the relation between V and I, features for categories, ‘zich’, ‘zichzelf’ and other issues of anaphora, virtually everything I have worked on over the past two decades, did at some occasion find its way onto the blackboard in Ken’s office, when he once more lent a willing ear and eye to issues that were intriguing me. Right from the start in 1980, when I visited MIT for the first time, Ken made me feel at home. His open-mindedness made me feel free to throw ideas at him, mature or immature. He has always found time for such discussions, also later, when my visits to MIT were shorter, and often unannounced. I have benefited enormously from the unexpected angle from which he is always able to approach whatever one brings up, from his insights, and his enthousiasm.
Since I never studied at MIT I haven’t really followed any of Ken’s courses. The closest to that was somewhere in the mid-eighties, I forgot the exact year, when Ken was teaching a course on Basque with Pello Salaburu. I was staying for only six weeks, but I decided to participate. The combination of Ken’s feeling for the language, his insight into the way it worked and his effective application of “classroom drills” to give us some command of the language too made it into a fascinating experience. Of course, it was great fun as well (I am still sorry that I had to miss both the beginning and the end of the course, and that my knowledge of Basque rapidly approached zero again).
Ken’s dedication to the field and to the cause of the endangered people and their languages is well-known. But his dedication also shows in day-to-day affairs. I vividly remember an occasion a few years ago when we had an appointment, well after 6, and when I came in I saw him, visibly tired, yet typing away; it was a bunch of recommendation letters that he felt had to be finished. I suggested we’d better postpone our meeting, but somehow we ended up talking linguistics during his typing and went on after he was done. It was fun, and much to my benefit, though afterwards I felt I should have been firmer. The least I can do is use this occasion to say thanks.
To Ken (this I am also writing on behalf of Tanya Reinhart)
We would like to thank you for your contribution to linguistics, your endeavors to make the world a better place, and for your generosity in sharing your insights. We feel privileged to have been able to benefit from your friendship. We wish you many happy and productive years after your retirement, and we look forward to seeing you again at MIT, Tel Aviv, Utrecht, or where-ever the occasion will be.
Het allerbeste en tot spoedig ziens,
Eric & Tanya
Thinking about the many things I have learned from you, I have come to the conclusion that the most important is this: deep, almost religious, respect for the essence of a language is no impediment to good theorizing in linguistics — on the contrary, it is an absolutely necessary precondition. This fundamental principle is what you have so insistently (but always, alas, insufficiently) tried to instill in all of us by your writings, by your classes, by the time you always gave so unstintingly in discussions, by your very attitude. Thanks to you, linguistics has become a better place to be in. Thank you.
Just a short note to wish you all the best on the occasion of your retirement! I feel so privileged that you were a part of my graduate education at MIT. The field methods class that you co-taught prompted me to work more deeply on a language I knew nothing about (Korean) than I had ever done before, or have ever done since. Your input on my generals paper on Choctaw was also extremely valuable. But perhaps what I am personally most grateful for is your recent work with Maria Bittner, which has brought the study of the richness and diversity of case and agreement systems to the fore in syntactic theory in a way that only your incredible breadth of knowledge could do.
The field of linguistics owes you a tremendous debt, for having inspired some of its brightest minds to pursue the study of “less familiar” and endangered languages. Anyone who has been taught by you appreciates how vital a contribution that is to the survival and success of our enterprise.
Very best regards,
I’ve forever regretted not having taken your field methods course when I was a graduate student at MIT. With the shortsightedness of youth, I thought of myself as having “gotten out” of it. I missed seeing you at work first hand, seeing in action your feel for a language, your love for the most humble detail, your passion for what this might tell us about Language.
I did have the wonderful experience of working with you on our Papago paper, and that experience perhaps gave me a bit of what I had missed earlier. Though it was you who listened to those tapes for hours and hours and hours, and arrived at the basic factual generalizations with which we worked. Aside from that I thought we were a good team, and I still like that paper.
As you well know, you have become a legend in your own time for your gift with languages. You are also famous for the insights into universal grammar that your writings on so many languages have provided. And there is no one I know who matches your commitment when it comes to supporting indigenous language communities in their efforts to hold on to their languages. You never lose sight of the human dimension of your work, and of the enterprise that we are all engaged in.
So it is sad to see you retire from teaching, where you have had such an important role. But your retirement is the occasion for celebration, too. Your legacy remains within the countless students and colleagues who have been affected by you. And now you can move on to other, perhaps freer, ways of pursuing your love for language.
With great admiration and affection,
It was the mid-70s when I heard your name. Then you came to make presentations at the Navajo Language seminars/workshops held during the reign of Dini Bi’slta’ Association. I admired you so, especially when I heard you speak my language. It was something WOW! Unbelieveable! Then began my serious interest in linguistics. You were one of my special mentors, though you never knew that til now. You have been an inspiration to me. Akohgo t’aa miyism nitsaago ahihee’ nidishnm. Aadss “retire” anmlieh ndi shmm (the i’s are nasalized) t’aa nihiinmlniih doo. I want to say nitsaago ahihee’ for making such a big contribution to Navajo linguistics, especially for those of us who are Navajo. I know linguistic theories are changing and/or being modified daily practically, but I still “treasure” your early works on Navajo syntax.
Aadss naninaagss diyin dine’i nil hsLso dõõ. Naana t’aa miyism ahihee’, Ken.
Dmm Irene anm, iizsonadss.
Ken’s great generosity as a teacher and researcher is something that everyone who has worked with him knows. He has encouraged many people to work on his field notes from large numbers of languages — an act of generosity few others attempt. And his efforts in teaching speakers of minority languages to work on their own languages show the same generosity of soul. A few days ago, Alice Nelson Napurrula/Nangala asked to pass on her best wishes to Ken — he was her first Warlpiri teacher in 1974 or so, and this set her off on a sometimes lonely path of encouraging other Warlpiri people to read and write their language.
So, THANK YOU Ken!
I encountered Ken through my interest in the peculiar phonological developments of the languages of northern Cape York. For a long time Ken’s work was the only reliable source for several of these, as for many it still is. He encouraged me to continue in this work, and generously sent me additional unpublished materials he had on Cape York languages.
A visit to him in Cambridge in 1997 resulted in my leaving his office weighed down with a pile of dictionaries and field-notes more than 20 cm thick. A rare combination of the descriptivist and the theoretician, he is one of the least self-assuming linguists I have ever met – a generous man, truly interested in languages for their own sake.
My first memory of Ken comes from his large class in Typology at the 1980 LSA summer institute in Albuquerque. Ken paused from his lecture to speak to his young son, and did so in fluent and rapid Warlpiri. The entire audience was in awe, and then his son answered in English, as though his Dad was just any old annoying parent! Ken just looked amused, and patient.
I’ve had many opportunities to see the amused patient look, as Ken has waited for me to understand what he’s trying to tell me. Also the inspiring generosity that other people have written about on this page. When I’d meet with him in graduate school, I would walk in as a mass of nervous confusion, and would emerge thinking that I had an exciting idea to continue working on. Ken has given us all so much – and often seems unaware of the gift. He has given so many of us the opportunity to contribute to generative studies beyond the more familiar languages, and he has supported all efforts to contribute to that field.
He’s shown us ways that we can contribute as linguists to the communities we work with. He has also opened various other doors – Wherever I’ve gone in working on Navajo, people say “OH! You know Ken Hale!” and I am assumed to have absorbed enough of his aura to be welcomed in. On the other hand, I’ve also found myself accepted by linguists who generally prefer not to deal with linguists from MIT, on the grounds that if I was Ken Hale’s student, I must be O.K.
It’s an honor to be able to count myself among those who know Ken. I was recently reminded of this one day at Navajo Community College. I was standing in the playground watching my two-year-old son on the swings while Ken pushed him, and a friend who had just been introduced to Ken said to me “Wow, what other famous linguist would be out on the playground pushing the kids? Years from now, your son can tell his grandchildren that he was pushed on the swings by the famous linguist Ken Hale!”
When I began PhD research with the Wik peoples of Cape York Peninsula, north Australia, I was, as so many have done in so many places, treading in Ken Hale’s tracks. He had spent maybe a week or three at Aurukun in 1960, recording basic materials in a range of different languages.
One day a close kinsman of mine, Peter Peemuggina, asked me if I knew a ‘Doctor Keneyl’, and, if so, how and where was he? I had been studying Ken’s foundational work on Australian languages since 1969 and in 1973 Ken, Geoff O’Grady and I had travelled to Darwin to advise Northern Territory education authorities on the establishment of a bilingual education program for Aboriginal children in schools. I replied to Peter that I did indeed know Doctor Keneyl, who was often at home in America, and as far as I knew he was in good shape.
This was not the last time Wik people inquired after Ken or brought his name up in conversation. He had clearly made a significant impact on them. They also spoke of the anthropologists Ursula McConnel and Donald Thomson, who had spent many months living among them between the late 1920s and mid 1930s. It was understandable that these two long-stayers would be remembered, and stories about them were told and retold by fires on the long evenings of quieter days. In terms of the time he had spent there, Ken was just another blow-through, but this was not how people saw it.
What made the difference, as I understand it, was his very accurate acquisition of languages in a phenomenally short time. No doubt another factor would have been Ken’s capacity to relate to the people from whom he was learning, and the very act of taking their languages with great seriousness, taking the trouble to study them respectfully, combined with what was probably a rather startling ability to sound like he was born there, would all have smoothed the way to being memorable.
However, I think a deeper cultural factor is at work here. In a small-scale society it is possible, and in fact in Cape York Peninsula it is highly likely, that an adult will personally know and be genealogically related to everyone else who shares the same primary language affiliation. Even for someone to be able to speak – rather than own – the same language as oneself is taken to imply that the other person must be related to oneself, somehow or other. When a non-Indigenous person is heard speaking an Aboriginal language – a situation still quite rare in Australia – Aboriginal people are usually quickly of the view that this person has in some significant way entered into their world of values, their web of relationships, their patchwork of country identities. A common shorthand Aboriginal expression of this recognition is to say of the person that he or she ‘knows’.
In classical Aboriginal thought there is more to this ‘knowing’ than mere linguistic competence or cultural familiarity. In the Wik area, as has been documented over much of Australia, languages are held by their Aboriginal owners to have been implanted in specific countries at the foundation of the world, by heroic figures or Dreamings. A small clan of anywhere between one and a few score people, in Wik thought, is itself considered a micro-linguistic group with its own unique variety of speech, a variety that is typically specified by naming a principal totem of the clan – hence ‘Taipan (Snake) Language’ is distinct from ‘Bushrat Language’ and so on. The first Taipan People and Bushrat People spoke these respective varieties when the world was young, and their patrilineal descendants ideally speak the same way. The highly emotional/spritual links between language variety and the deepest reaches of one’s identity, the primary symbol of one’s descent group, and one’s passionately held country, are plain.
In 1960, into this world where speech variety resonated daily not only with people’s geopolitics, but also their cosmogony and ontology, stepped someone who almost overnight began to speak and sound like one of their own. Those who