Yesterday in 1912, Kenneth Lee Pike was born. He first studied theology and wanted to be a missionary in China, but he was not accepted. He went on to meet William Cameron Townsend with whom he went to Mexico where we learned and studied the Mixtec language. He had a very distinguished academic career at the University of Michigan; becoming a member of the American Academy of Sciences, and was nominated 15 times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

PhoneticsHis book on Phonetics is a classic in that field of study. The science he elucidated in that book serves those developing alphabets for unwritten languages. But it also serves speech therapists and others.

On one of the few times I met him, he told the story of how Phonetics came to be written. He was living among the Mixtecs in Mexico, learning their language and starting to translate the Bible. The group he was with, SIL International, also taught linguistics courses in the USA for others wanting to get involved in Bible translation for minority peoples. For that, they needed textbooks. The leader of SIL, William Cameron Townsend, wanted Pike to write a textbook on phonetics. But Pike kept putting it off, working instead on the Mixtec language.

At one point, Pike was traveling in Mexico by train. The train he was to travel on arrived at the station, but a rail-car-load of wheat needed to be unloaded before the train could continue. To pass the time and to speed things up, Pike lent a hand. But he slipped and fell, breaking his leg. He was hospitalized. With nothing to do, he started working on the textbook on phonetics which later become the book on Phonetics which is still a classic.

I can identify. When we worked on the Cerma language in Burkina Faso, it was easy to keep our focus on learning that language and culture. Requests to help other missionaries, teach courses, and so on, seemed to be distractions. Fortunately, God did not let me break my leg to turn my attention to serving others.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.