Hale, Kenneth L(ocke) 1934-2001

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HALE, Kenneth L(ocke) 1934-2001

PERSONAL: Born August 15, 1934, in Evanston, IL; died October 8, 2001, in Lexington, MA; married Sara (Whitaker) Hale; children: Whitaker, Ian, Caleb, Ezra. Education: University of Arizona, B.A. (anthropology), 1955; Indiana University, M.A. (linguistics), 1956, Ph. D., 1958.

CAREER: Linguist specializing in over seventy languages. University of Illinois at Urbana, Anthropology Department, teacher, 1961-64; University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, teacher in summer session, 1964; University of Arizona, Tucson, teacher, 1964-66; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, supervisor of doctoral students, 1967-99, Ferari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics, 1981-99. Yuendumu School, Central Australia, taught course on Warlpiri literacy for Warlpiri-speaking teachers, 1974; Kinlichee, Arizona, taught course on Navajo linguistics, 1975; Atlantic Coast of Honduras, mentor to native linguists, 1985-2001; Navajo Language Academy, teacher and member of board of directors, 1996-2001.

MEMBER: AIATSIS, National Academy of Sciences, Linguistics Society of America (president, 1994).

AWARDS, HONORS: National Science Foundation grant to study aboriginal languages at University of Sydney, 1958-61; fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1989-2001.


(Editor, with M. Dale Kinkade and Oswald Werner) Linguistics and Anthropology: In Honor of C. F. Voegelin, Peter de Ridder Press (Lisse, Netherlands), 1975.

(Editor, with Samuel Jay Keyser) The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.

An Elementary Warlpiri Dictionary, revised edition, Institute for Aboriginal Development Press (Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia), 1995.

(Editor, with Mary Laughren, Robert Hoogenraad, and Robin Granites) A Learner's Guide to Warlpiri: A Tape Course for Beginners, Institute for Aboriginal Development Press (Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia), 1996.

(Editor, with Leanne Hinton) The Green Book ofLanguage Revitalization in Practice, Academic Press (San Diego, CA), 2001.

Contributor of articles on linguistics and other anthropological topics to numerous journals and other forums.

SIDELIGHTS: Internationally renowned for his ability to communicate in more than seventy languages, linguist and retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scholar Kenneth L. Hale was a man with a lifelong devotion to the study and preservation of endangered languages. Born in the American Midwest, Hale moved with his family at the age of six to their ranch near Canelo in southern Arizona. While growing up in the Southwest, Hale was introduced to the indigenous languages of the Navaho and Hopi. By age twelve, when the brains of most humans have been shown to "shut down" their natural ability to acquire language, Hale was gaining his first understandings of the languages of others.

In an obituary in Ascribe Higher Education News Service, Samuel J. Keyser stated that Hale "viewed languages as if they were works of art. Every person who spoke a language was a curator of a masterpiece." Noam Chomsky remarked on Hale's death in the same article, "The loss is immeasurable."

Hale's theoretical interests focused on the "crosslinguistic study of language universals. That is, he studied as many structurally diverse languages as possible in order to discover laws governing them all," stated the writer in Ascribe Higher Education News Service. That writer also noted that between 1985 and 2001 Hale made numerous trips to the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua "to mentor native linguists in four indigenous languages of the region." Two of Hale's doctoral students at MIT are believed to be the first Native Americans to receive doctorates in linguistics.

An Economist writer related an anecdote about Hale being asked how quickly he could learn a new language. He replied that "ten to fifteen minutes would be enough to pick up the essentials if he were listening to a native speaker." When Hale was once asked by a reporter why it was important for the Welsh language to be revived when English was the "working" language in Wales, Hale responded, "When you lose a language . . . you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art. It's like dropping a bomb on a museum, the Louvre."

David Nash, in the Australian Aboriginal Studies, commended Hale for his extensive work with Warlpiri, an indigenous language spoken in Australia. Hale continued to make lengthy visits to Australia throughout his life. He also worked with other Australian indigenous languages, such as Lardil and Jingulu. Hale published over 130 linguistic papers and reviews during his career.

During the last five summers of his life, Hale taught at and served on the board of directors of the Navajo Language Academy. After retiring from MIT in 1999, he continued his work until his death from cancer in 2001.



Kenstowicz, Michael, editor, Ken Hale: A Life in Language, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.


Journal of Linguistics, March, 1996, Geoffrey K. Pullum, review of The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger, p. 137.

Language, December, 1994, Michael A. Covington, review of The View from Building 20, p. 802.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Web site ,http://web.mit.edu/ (March 27, 2003), "Kenneth Hale."



Ascribe Higher Education News Service, October 11, 2001.

Australian Aboriginal Studies, fall, 2001, obituary by David Nash, p. 84.

Economist, November 3, 2001.*