EDWARD SAPIR (/səˈpɪər/ ; January 26, 1884 – February 4, 1939) was an Prussian-American anthropologist -linguist , who is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in the early development of the discipline of linguistics.
Sapir was born in German
Pomerania ; his parents emigrated to United
States of America when he was a child. He studied Germanic linguistics
at Columbia , where he came under the influence of
With his linguistic background, Sapir became the one student of Boas to develop most completely the relationship between linguistics and anthropology. Sapir studied the ways in which language and culture influence each other, and he was interested in the relation between linguistic differences, and differences in cultural world views. This part of his thinking was developed by his student Benjamin Lee Whorf into the principle of linguistic relativity or the "Sapir-Whorf" hypothesis. In anthropology Sapir is known as an early proponent of the importance of psychology to anthropology , maintaining that studying the nature of relationships between different individual personalities is important for the ways in which culture and society develop.
Among his major contributions to linguistics is his classification of Indigenous languages of the Americas , upon which he elaborated for most of his professional life. He played an important role in developing the modern concept of the phoneme , greatly advancing the understanding of phonology .
Before Sapir it was generally considered impossible to apply the
methods of historical linguistics to languages of indigenous peoples
because they were believed to be more primitive than the Indo-European
languages . Sapir was the first to prove that the methods of
comparative linguistics were equally valid when applied to indigenous
languages. In the 1929 edition of
He specialized in the study of
Athabascan languages , Chinookan
languages , and Uto-Aztecan languages, producing important grammatical
descriptions of Takelma , Wishram , Southern
Paiute . Later in his
career he also worked with
* 1 Life
* 1.1 Childhood and youth
* 1.2 Education at Columbia
* 1.2.1 College * 1.2.2 Influence of Boas * 1.2.3 Early fieldwork
* 1.3 In Ottawa
* 1.3.1 Canada\'s Geological Survey
* 1.3.2 Work with
* 1.4 Chicago years * 1.5 At Yale
* 2 Anthropological thought * 3 Breadth of languages studied
* 4 Selected publications
* 4.1 Books * 4.2 Essays and articles * 4.3 Biographies * 4.4 Correspondence
* 5 References * 6 External links
CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
Sapir was born into a family of
EDUCATION AT COLUMBIA
Sapir entered Columbia in 1901, still paying with the Pulitzer
scholarship. Columbia at this time was one of the only elite private
universities that did not limit admission of Jewish applicants with
implicit quotas around 12%. Approximately 40% of incoming students at
Columbia were Jewish. Sapir earned both a B.A. (1904) and an M.A.
Germanic philology from Columbia , before embarking on his
Sapir emphasized language study in his college years at Columbia,
studying Latin, Greek, and French for eight semesters. From his
sophomore year he additionally began to focus on Germanic languages,
completing coursework in Gothic ,
Old High German
Influence Of Boas
Although still in college, Sapir was allowed to participate in the
Boas graduate seminar on American Languages, which included
translations of Native American and Inuit myths collected by Boas. In
this way Sapir was introduced to Indigenous American languages while
he kept working on his M.A. in Germanic linguistics. Robert Lowie
later said that Sapir's fascination with indigenous languages stemmed
from the seminar with Boas in which Boas used examples from Native
American languages to disprove all of Sapir's common-sense assumptions
about the basic nature of language. Sapir's 1905 Master's thesis was
an analysis of
Johann Gottfried Herder
In 1906 he finished his coursework, having focused the last year on
courses in anthropology and taking seminars such as Primitive Culture
Ethnology with Boas,
Sapir's first fieldwork was on the Wishram Chinook language in the summer of 1905, funded by the Bureau of American Ethnology. This first experience with Native American languages in the field was closely overseen by Boas, who was particularly interested in having Sapir gathering ethnological information for the Bureau. Sapir gathered a volume of Wishram texts, published 1909, and he managed to achieve a much more sophisticated understanding of the Chinook sound system than Boas. In the summer of 1906 he worked on Takelma and Chasta Costa . Sapir's work on Takelma became his doctoral dissertation, which he defended in 1908. The dissertation foreshadowed several important trends in Sapir's work, particularly the careful attention to the intuition of native speakers regarding sound patterns that later would become the basis for Sapir's formulation of the phoneme .
In 1907 - 1908 Sapir was offered a position at the University of California , where Boas' first student Alfred Kroeber was the head of a project under the California state survey to document the Indigenous languages of California. Kroeber suggested that Sapir study the nearly extinct Yana language , and Sapir set to work. Sapir worked first with Betty Brown, one of the language's few remaining speakers. Later he began work with Sam Batwi, who spoke another dialect of Yana, but whose knowledge of Yana mythology was an important fount of knowledge. Sapir described the way in which the Yana language distinguishes grammatically and lexically between the speech of men and women.
The collaboration between Kroeber and Sapir was made difficult by the fact that Sapir largely followed his own interest in detailed linguistic description, ignoring the administrative pressures to which Kroeber was subject, among them the need for a speedy completion and a focus on the broader classification issues. In the end Sapir didn't finish the work during the allotted year, and Kroeber was unable to offer him a longer appointment.
Disappointed at not being able to stay at Berkeley, Sapir devoted his best efforts to other work, and did not get around to preparing any of the Yana material for publication until 1910, to Kroeber's deep disappointment.
Sapir ended up leaving California early to take up a fellowship at
University of Pennsylvania
Tillohash became a good friend of Sapir, and visited him at his home
in New York and Philadelphia. Sapir worked with his father to
transcribe a number of
Paiute songs that Tillohash knew. This fruitful
collaboration laid the ground work for the classical description of
Southern Paiute language published in 1930, and enabled Sapir to
produce conclusive evidence linking the
Shoshonean languages to the
At Pennsylvania, Sapir was urged to work at a quicker pace than he felt comfortable. His "Grammar of Southern Paiute" was supposed to be published in Boas' Handbook of American Indian Languages , and Boas urged him to complete a preliminary version while funding for the publication remained available, but Sapir did not want to compromise on quality, and in the end the Handbook had to go to press without Sapir's piece. Boas kept working to secure a stable appointment for his student, and by his recommendation Sapir ended up being hired by the Canadian Geological Survey, who wanted him to lead the institutionalization of anthropology in Canada. Sapir, who by then had given up the hope of working at one of the few American research universities, accepted the appointment and moved to Ottawa.
In the years 1910–25 Sapir established and directed the
Anthropological Division in the
Geological Survey of Canada
Canada\'s Geological Survey
As director of the Anthropological division of the Geological Survey
of Canada, Sapir embarked on a project to document the Indigenous
cultures and languages of Canada. His first fieldwork took him to
Sapir enlisted the assistance of fellow Boasians:
Frank Speck , Paul
Radin and Alexander Goldenweiser , who with Barbeau worked on the
people's of the Eastern Woodlands: the
Ojibwa , the Iroquois, the
Huron and the Wyandot . Sapir initiated work on the Athabascan
languages of the
Mackenzie valley and the
During his time in Canada, together with Speck, Sapir also acted as an advocate for Indigenous rights, arguing publicly for introduction of better medical care for Indigenous communities, and assisting the Six Nation Iroquois in trying to recover eleven wampum belts that had been stolen from the reservation and were on display in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania. (The belts were finally returned to the Iroquois in 1988.) He also argued for the reversal of a Canadian law prohibiting the Potlatch ceremony of the West Coast tribes.
Work With Ishi
In 1915 Sapir returned to California, where his expertise on the Yana
language made him urgently needed. Kroeber had come into contact with
Margaret Mead decades after her affair with Sapir
The First World War took its toll on the Canadian Geological Survey,
cutting funding for anthropology and making the academic climate less
agreeable. Sapir continued work on Athabascan, working with two
speakers of the Alaskan languages Kutchin and Ingalik . Sapir was now
more preoccupied with testing hypotheses about historical
relationships between the
During his period in Canada, Sapir came into his own as the leading
figure in linguistics in North America. Among his substantial
publications from this period were his book on Time Perspective in the
While in Ottawa, he also collected and published French Canadian Folk
Songs, and wrote a volume of his own poetry. His interest in poetry
led him to form a close friendship with another Boasian anthropologist
Before departing Canada, Sapir had a short affair with Margaret Mead
, Benedict's protégé at Columbia. But Sapir's conservative ideas
about marriage and the woman's role were anathema to Mead, as they had
been to Benedict, and as Mead left to do field work in
Settling in Chicago reinvigorated Sapir intellectually and
personally. He socialized with intellectuals, gave lectures,
participated in poetry and music clubs. His first graduate student at
From 1931 until his death in 1939, Sapir taught at
At Yale, Sapir's graduate students included
Morris Swadesh , Benjamin
Lee Whorf ,
In the summer of 1937 while teaching at the Linguistic Institute of
Sapir's anthropological thought has been described as isolated within the field of anthropology in his own days. Instead of searching for the ways in which culture influences human behavior, Sapir was interested in understanding how cultural patterns themselves were shaped by the composition of individual personalities that make up a society. This made Sapir cultivate an interest in individual psychology and his view of culture was more psychological than many of his contemporaries. It has been suggested that there is a close relation between Sapir's literary interests and his anthropological thought. His literary theory saw individual aesthetic sensibilities and creativity to interact with learned cultural traditions to produce unique and new poetic forms, echoing the way that he also saw individuals and cultural patterns to dialectically influence each other.
BREADTH OF LANGUAGES STUDIED
Sapir's special focus among American languages was in the Athabaskan languages, a family which especially fascinated him. In a private letter, he wrote: " Dene is probably the son-of-a-bitchiest language in America to actually know...most fascinating of all languages ever invented." Sapir also studied the languages and cultures of Wishram Chinook , Navajo , Nootka , Paiute , Takelma , and Yana . His research on Southern Paiute , in collaboration with consultant Tony Tillohash , led to a 1933 article which would become influential in the characterization of the phoneme .
Although noted for his work on American linguistics, Sapir wrote
prolifically in linguistics in general. His book
everything from a grammar-typological classification of languages
(with examples ranging from Chinese to Nootka) to speculation on the
phenomenon of language drift , and the arbitrariness of associations
between language, race, and culture. Sapir was also a pioneer in
Sapir was active in the international auxiliary language movement. In his paper "The Function of an International Auxiliary Language", he argued for the benefits of a regular grammar and advocated a critical focus on the fundamentals of language, unbiased by the idiosyncrasies of national languages, in the choice of an international auxiliary language.
He was the first Research Director of the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA), which presented the Interlingua conference in 1951. He directed the Association from 1930 to 1931, and was a member of its Consultative Counsel for Linguistic Research from 1927 to 1938. Sapir consulted with Alice Vanderbilt Morris to develop the research program of IALA.
* Sapir, Edward (1907). Herder's "Ursprung der Sprache". Chicago:
University of Chicago
ESSAYS AND ARTICLES
* Sapir, Edward (1907). "Preliminary report on the language and mythology of the Upper Chinook". American Anthropologist . 9: 533–544. doi :10.1525/aa.1907.9.3.02a00100 . * Sapir, Edward (1910). "Some fundamental characteristics of the Ute language". Science . 31 (31): 350–352. doi :10.1126/science.31.792.350 . * Sapir, Edward (1911). "Some aspects of Nootka language and culture". American Anthropologist . 13: 15–28. doi :10.1525/aa.1911.13.1.02a00030 . * Sapir, Edward (1911). "The problem of noun incorporation in American languages". American Anthropologist . 13: 250–282. doi :10.1525/aa.1911.13.2.02a00060 . * Sapir, E. (1913). "Southern Paiute and Nahuatl, a study in Uto-Aztekan" (PDF). Journal de la Société des Américanistes. 10 (2): 379–425. doi :10.3406/jsa.1913.2866 . * Sapir, Edward (1915). "The Na-dene languages: a preliminary report". American Anthropologist . 17: 765–773. doi :10.1525/aa.1915.17.3.02a00080 . * Sapir, Edward (1917). "Do we need a superorganic?". American Anthropologist . 19: 441–447. doi :10.1525/aa.1917.19.3.02a00150 . * Sapir, Edward (1924). "The grammarian and his language". The American Mercury (1): 149–155. * Sapir, Edward (1924). "Culture, Genuine and Spurious". The American Journal of Sociology . 29 (4): 401–429. doi :10.1086/213616 . * Sapir, Edward (1925). "Memorandum on the problem of an international auxiliary language". The Romanic Review (16): 244–256.
* Sapir, Edward (1925). "Sound patterns in language".
37–51. doi :10.2307/409004 .
* Sapir, Edward (1931). "The function of an international auxiliary
language". Romanic Review (11): 4–15. Archived from the original on
* Sapir, Edward (1936). "Internal linguistic evidence suggestive of
the Northern origin of the Navaho". American
Anthropologist . 38:
224–235. doi :10.1525/aa.1936.38.2.02a00040 .
* Sapir, Edward (1944). "Grading: a study in semantics". Philosophy
of Science (11): 93–116. doi :10.1086/286828 .
* Sapir, Edward (1947). "The relation of American Indian linguistics
to general linguistics". Southwestern Journal of
* Koerner, E. F. K.; Koerner, Konrad (1985). Edward Sapir:
Appraisals of his life and work. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN
* Cowan, William; Foster, Michael K.; Koerner, Konrad (1986). New
perspectives in language, culture, and personality: Proceedings of the