Samuel I. Hayakawa

S. I. Hayakawa


Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa (July 18 1906February 27 1992) was a Canadian-born American academic and political figure. He was an English professor, served as president of San Francisco State University and then a United States Senator from California from 1977 to 1983. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, he was educated in the public schools of Calgary, Alberta and Winnipeg, Manitoba; received his undergraduate degree from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1927; graduate degrees in English from McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1928, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1935.

Academic career

Professionally, Hayakawa was a psychologist, semanticist, teacher and writer. He was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin from 1936 to 1939 and at the Armour Institute of Technology from 1939 to 1947. Hayakawa was an important semanticist. His first book on the subject, Language in Thought and Action, was published in 1949 as an expansion of the earlier work, Language in Action, written since 1938 and published in 1941 to be a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. It is currently in its fifth edition and has greatly helped popularize Alfred Korzybski's general semantics and in effect semantics in general, while semantics or theory of meaning was overwhelmed by mysticism, propagandism and even scientism. In the Preface, he said:

"The original version of this book, Language in Action, published in 1941, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler's success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views. It was the writer's conviction then, as it remains now, that everyone needs to have a habitually critical attitude towards language — his own as well as that of others — both for the sake of his personal well-being and for his adequate functioning as a citizen. Hitler is gone, but if the majority of our fellow-citizens are more susceptible to the slogans of fear and race hatred than to those of peaceful accommodation and mutual respect among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue."

In addition to such motivation, he acknowledged his debt as follows:

"My deepest debt in this book is to the General Semantics ('non-Aristotelian system') of Alfred Korzybski. I have also drawn heavily upon the works of other contributors to semantic thought: especially C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, Thorstein Veblen, Edward Sapir, Leonard Bloomfield, Karl R. Popper, Thurman Arnold, Jerome Frank, Jean Piaget, Charles Morris, Wendell Johnson, Irving J. Lee, Ernst Cassirer, Anatol Rapoport, Stuart Chase. I am also deeply indebted to the writings of numerous psychologists and psychiatrists with one or another of the dynamic points of view inspired by Sigmund Freud: Karl Menninger, Trigant Burrow, Carl Rogers, Kurt Lewin, N. R. F. Maier, Jurgen Ruesch, Gregory Bateson, Rudolf Dreikurs, Milton Rokeach. I have also found extremely helpful the writings of cultural anthropologists, especially those of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Ruth Benedict, Clyde Kluckhohn, Leslie A. White, Margaret Mead, Weston La Barre."

He was a lecturer at the University of Chicago from 1950 to 1955. During this time he presented a talk at the 1954 Conference of Activity Vector Analysts at Lake George, New York in which he discussed a theory of personality from the semantic point of view. This was later published as The Semantic Barrier. This was a definitive lecture as it discussed the Darwinism of the "survival of self" as contrasted with the "survival of self-concept".

He became an English professor at San Francisco State College (now called San Francisco State University) from 1955 to 1968. In the early 1960s, he helped organize the Anti Digit Dialing League, a group in San Francisco that opposed the introduction of all digit telephone exchange names. Among the students he trained were commune leader Stephen Gaskin and author Gerald Haslam. He became president of San Francisco State College during the turbulent period of 1968 to 1973, becoming president emeritus in 1973 and then wrote a column for the Register & Tribune Syndicate from 1970 to 1976.

Student strike at San Francisco State University

During 1968-69, there was a bitter student strike at San Francisco State University that was a major news event at the time and chapter in the radical history of the United States and the Bay Area. The strike was led by the Third World Liberation Front supported by Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers and the counter-cultural community, among others. It demanded an end to racism, creation of a Black Studies Department and an end to the War in Vietnam and the university's complicity with it. Hayakawa became popular with mainstream voters in this period after he pulled the wires out from the speakers on a student van at an outdoor rally, dramatically disrupting it. , ,

Political career

He was elected in California as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1976, defeating incumbent Democrat John V. Tunney. Hayakawa served from January 3, 1977 to January 3, 1983. He did not stand for reelection in 1982 and was succeeded by Republican Pete Wilson.

Hayakawa founded the political lobbying organization U.S. English, which is dedicated to making the English language the official language of the United States.

The Senator was a resident of Mill Valley, California until his death in Greenbrae, California, in 1992. He was also a member of the Bohemian Club, the first member of the club of Japanese ancestry. He also had an abiding interest in traditional jazz and wrote extensively on that subject, including several erudite sets of album liner notes. Sometimes in his lectures on semantics, he was joined by the respected traditional jazz pianist, Don Ewell, whom Hayakawa employed to demonstrate various points in which he analyzed semantic and musical principles.


  • Fox, R. F. (1991). A conversation with the Hayakawas. The English Journal, Vol. 80, No. 2 (Feb., 1991), pp. 36-40.

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