Eunice Pike

Eunice V Pike (1913-2011)

Eunice Pike (known to friends as Eunie) passed away on 18 August 2011 in Dallas, Texas at the age of 97 due to complications from a fall. Within SIL International she was much appreciated for her courses and workshops, for her high academic standards and for her innovative field work in the areas of phonology and tone analysis. The SIL language and culture archives list 72 publications written by her ranging from 1937 to 1994. But life was not all serious for Eunice - she was known for her great sense of humor.

From Massachusetts to Mexico and the Mazatecs

Eunice was born November 6, 1913 in East Woodstock, Connecticut, the youngest of eight children born to Hattie Mae Granniss and Ernest R. Pike. In 1936, after graduating from the Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing, Eunice joined the group of students who participated in the third session of linguistics courses  organized by Cameron Townsend. These training courses became the basis of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL). The summer of linguistics studies was the beginning of Eunice’s distinguished career in linguistics and Bible translation. Eunice and co-worker Florence Hansen Cowan, the first single women to serve with SIL, began studying the language and preparing for language development service in Mazatec-speaking community in Mexico. Eunice’s brother, noted linguist and scholar Kenneth L. Pike, was working in a nearby community and they sometimes collaborated on language research.

Until her retirement in 1998, Eunice traveled all over the world as an SIL consultant specializing in the analysis of sound systems (with a special emphasis on tonal languages), and writing systems development.  She authored more than 65  books and articles related to linguistics, her life among the Mazatecs and other subjects. Eunice is survived by her sister-in-law, Evelyn G. Pike, numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

The following comments are excerpts from an August 20, 2011 tribute by George Cowan, husband of Eunice’s first co-worker, Florence Hansen Cowan.

I am writing as representative of the Cowan family to express our deep appreciation for the life and ministry of Eunice to each of us. 

Eunie met Florence Hansen (later my wife) in Arkansas in 1936 at the Townsend group linguistic camp.  They both went to Mexico following the course. Eunie focused on linguistic analysis and literacy.

Working with her brother, Dr. Kenneth Pike, Eunice also was responsible for the linguistic analysis of the Mazateco tonal and grammatical systems. Her competence as a linguist was recognized by the University of Michigan when she was allowed to teach her brother Ken’s linguistic class (when she had only an RN degree) when he was absent on an extended trip elsewhere. She spent most of her summers teaching linguistics at SIL courses either in America or abroad.  She assisted several other workers, especially those in tonal languages, with their analysis and orthography problems. Eunice wrote a series of books describing the living and working conditions among the Mazatec people.  She also wrote a biography of her brother, Ken. 

Years later, in recognition of her field work, BIOLA conferred on her an honorary doctorate. 

Words cannot describe adequately our appreciation for Eunice.  Not only for her academic accomplishments, but for what she meant as a person to Florrie, myself, our children and the Mazateco people