Kenneth Hale - The Polyglot Who Served The Native Languages

All over the world, there are polyglots who study and work hard towards their end goal of polyglotism. Some of them concentrate on the current languages of the world including Spanish, Latin, Greek and many others. While some concentrate on a specific area, such as Kenneth Hale.

Kenneth Locke Hale was born on August 15, 1934 in Evanston, Illinois and passed away on October 8, 2001. While he was a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, his specialty was the endangered languages and those that were not studied before. These included many different Native American including Ulwa and Navajo.

He had previously studied at the University of Arizona from 1952 and graduated with his doctorate degree from Indiana University Bloomington in 1959. His thesis for his doctorate degree was about Papago grammar. He went on to teach at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign between 1961 and 1963. In 1963 he started teaching for his alma mater, University of Arizona, Tuscon and stayed there until 1966. He was then employed in many different positions at MIT from 1967 until 1999 when he retired.

He had learned Tohono O'odham as a child along with Spanish. During his high school days his roommates taught him Jemez, Hopi, and Navajo. He had also become fluent in Warlpiri and had taught his sons, Caleb and Ezra, the language as well. Ezra had given his fathers eulogy in the language.

His biggest contribution to the linguistic area was the theory that many languages had a characteristic for structuring their phrases different than other languages. He claimed these languages show a group of properties that are grouped together, which includes words in free order, pronouns that are not spoken, and the ability to spread out the words that were semantically related throughout the sentence.

Not only did he teach the speakers of the native languages of the world about linguistics, but he did it so they could take part in studies regarding the languages. He taught many of the minority languages in linguistic study during a summer school called Navajo Language Academy every year.

He had taught some of the top linguists in Native American languages. These include Ofelia Zepeda, who specializes in Tohono O'odham, La Verne Masayesva Jeanne, who specializes in Hopi, and Jessie Little Doe Baird who specializes in Wampanoag. He also taught Navajo linguists MaryAnn Willie, Ellavina Tsosie Perkins and Paul Platero.

He had always said that it was extremely important to be studying the minority languages that are less commonly studied. He said that a huge variety of linguistic information would not have been found if the only languages that were ever studied were the major languages of the world. He had always thought that every language had something to share even if the number of native speakers was small.

He was elected in 1990 to join the National Academy of Sciences. He had long been an advocate for the many different minority languages across the world and his colleagues from MIT had called him “a voice for the voiceless”.


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