Another tribute to Dell Hymes

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When Sally announced the sad news of Dell Hymes' recent death, she thanked him for his generosity and personal kindness to her. Thanking is a speech act that we all should use more often.

There are many of us out here who should join Sally in thanking Dell, who was one of those unique individuals who taught multitudes of students and colleagues, even those who were never fortunate enough to sit in his classrooms. He was my inspiration and guiding light when in 1969 I wrote a proposal to the NSF to create and fund a new PhD emphasis in at Georgetown University on the interrelationship between the formal system of language and the ways it interacts with society and culture. Dell was one of the NSF's reviewers and it is not surprising that our new curriculum included the ethnography of communication that he had created and developed. Building on Dell's work as well as that of Bill Labov, we called the new program sociolinguistics, a label that had only recently been used by the late Bill Bright. A few years later, Dell invited me to join the Social Science Research Council's research committee on sociolinguistics, which he so ably chaired, where I got to learn even more from him during those years. He constantly encouraged me, as few others did, to continue trying to apply sociolinguistics to other fields such as education, doctor-patient communication, and law. And a bit later,  while he was still at the University of Pennsylvania, he invited me to become dean of the Graduate School of Education there. I greatly valued the opportunity to work in the same context with him and other linguists there, but the notion of becoming an administrator did not suit me, so I declined his kind offer. Over the years Dell and I have had continuous communication, from discussions at academic meetings to letter writing and brief Christmas card exchanges. I've always considered him my mentor, despite the relatively slight difference between our ages. He was a truly amazing scholar and friend. I will miss him greatly.

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