Edward Sapir was one of the foremost American linguists and anthropologists of his time, making major contributions to the study of American Indian languages and people as well as ethnolinguistics.
His name is probably most known in association with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. He was a founder of ethnolinguistics, which is the study of the relationship between culture and language. Among anthropologists, he is probably most known for his work in the classification of Native American Indians. During his lifetime, he was a prolific publisher of materials in a few different fields that are still studied today.
Edward Sapir was born in 1884 in Lauenburg, Germany. His parents were both Lithuanian Jews, and while he learned German as a child, the language in his home was Yiddish. However, since his father, Jacob, preferred music to theology, the family was not strictly orthodox in their religious observance.
The family moved many times during Sapir's early childhood. He started kindergarten in Liverpool, England, then his family emigrated to the United States when he was five and they arrived in Richmond, Virginia in 1890. Tragically, Sapir's younger brother Max died of typhoid shortly afterwards. Then while Jacob's career declined into a series of short-term appointments, the family moved to the Lower East Side of New York City when Edward was ten. Eva Sapir ran a small shop to support herself and young Edward after she and Jacob divorced sometime after 1910.
When he was fourteen, Sapir won a Pulitzer scholarship for four years at Horace Mann High School, which was and still is one of the top college-preparatory high schools in New York, but he turned it down, choosing a local high school instead and using the scholarship for his undergraduate education at Columbia University. After starting at Columbia in 1901, Sapir focused on Germanic philology (the study of literary texts and written records) while getting formal training in Indo-European linguistics. He received a B.A. in German in 1904 after having taken only three years to complete the four-year program, then he received his M.A., also in German, in 1905. He took two more years of courses in anthropology and German, receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1909 with a dissertation on the Takelma language of southwestern Oregon.
Sapir had a knack for languages, but since Columbia had no true department of linguistics, Germanics was the field of choice for a student interested in linguistic science. While there, Sapir met and began to study with Franz Boas and was inspired into the need to record endangered American Indian languages before they were lost forever. In 1905, Boas sent him to the Yakima Reservation in Washington to do fieldwork on the Wishram dialect of Chinook, and then to Oregon, to work on Takelma. Sapir worked on Takelma and Chasta Costa at Siletz Reservation in Oregon in 1906, then from 1907-1908 he was a research associate in anthropology at the University of California, where he worked on Yana. He spent two years at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia after that, first as a professor and then as an instructor. When Sapir submitted his description of Takelma as a dissertation to Boas at Columbia in 1909, he was awarded a doctorate.
Columbia University in New York in 1915
In 1910, he was hired to head the newly established division of anthropology in the Geological Survey of the Canadian National Museum, and while he was initially excited about this opportunity, he soon became disappointed and complained about the isolation of life in Ottawa. He did fieldwork on a large number of languages, including Nootka and Sarcee, and he published much in a number of areas. His Takelma grammar was published in 1922 in the second volume of the Handbook of American Indian Languages.
While in Ottawa, his first wife suffered a series of mental and physical illnesses from which she finally died. To add to his pain, Sapir's efforts to develop anthropological research on the natives of Canada were largely halted by the financial requirements of the First World War. The money just wasn't available and he became increasingly despondent and isolated. This led Sapir to devote a large amount of his time to poetry and music, as well as the writing of many literary reviews.
Between 1917 and the early 1930s, he was a major contributor to The Dial, which was one of the most important American literary journals at the time. He was also a writer for other journals such as The Freeman, Poetry, The New Republic, The Nation, and others. Many of the topics that he wrote about in his nonacademic writing also appeared in his work in anthropology and he became increasingly interested in questions of psychiatry and the nature of personality, particularly in the relationship between personality and culture.
When In 1925 Sapir was offered a position at the University of Chicago, he accepted happily. There, he had many students and in a short time, he became a major figure in American anthropology. He continued to do fieldwork on several languages, such as Navajo and Hupa, and he had the chance to do many of the things he had missed while in Ottawa. He eagerly joined in interdisciplinary conferences, and had a notable collaboration with international psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan and political scientist Harold D. Lasswell. Since he was teaching in the social sciences, Sapir found himself thinking a lot about culture, psychology and social science methodology. For a while, he continued to write poetry, but the pressure of other work finally left him little time for anything besides his professional obligations. During this period, however, he did not stop his linguistic work, and even managed to make field trips to study Navajo and Hupa.
Shortly after he arrived in Chicago, Sapir renewed a friendship with Jean McClenaghan, now a social work student on a practicum at the Chicago Institute for Juvenile Research, and the couple was married in 1927. They would eventually have two children.
Sapir grew tired of the amount of administrative work required of him at Chicago, and so he accepted a very attractive offer for a Sterling Professorship at Yale in 1931. While at Yale, he again attracted numerous students, including many that had followed him from Chicago.
Many of his plans in Yale were undermined by local academic politics, by the economic effects of the Depression, and by feelings of anti-Semitism at Yale, and Sapir became drained and unhappy. Outside of Yale, he continued with his interdisciplinary activities, while in it he focused on his own teaching in anthropology and linguistics. It was too much.
In 1937, while he was teaching at the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sapir suffered a heart attack. A sabbatical to China in 1937 had to be cancelled because of his health, and while he did he return to teaching in the fall of 1938, he had not recovered his strength. He finally died in 1939 of heart disease at the age of fifty-five.
|Edward Sapir - Patterns of Language|
All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.
|Letter From The Editor - Truth in Advertising|
|Linear A & Linear B - Lost Minoan|
|Edward Sapir - Patterns of Language|
|At the Cinema - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner|
|Word on the Streets - Norwegian Notables|
|Where Are You?|
|Celebrations - Valentine's Day|
|Languages in Peril - The Rhaeto-Romance Trio|
|Revisited - Proverbs|
|Linguistics Love Song|
|Language Learning Methods - Books|
|Sections - Recordings|
Find previous issues in the archives.
Letter From The Editor - No Politics • Make Your Own Language Group • A History of Research in Study Abroad • Parrot Time on Patreon • Languages in Peril - Sayonara, Ainu • At the Cinema - La Coppia dei Campioni • Where Are You? • Book Look - The Bible of the Language Learners and Polyglots • Basic Guide to Romanian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Hope and Failing • Six Ways To Choose Which Languages To Learn • Learning Spanish - The trials, the tribulations and one triumphant learning hack • At the Cinema - The Last King (Birkebeinerne) • Celebrations - Birkebeinerrennet • Where Are You? • Book Look - Langenscheidt Dictionaries • Basic Guide to Swedish • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Culture and Language, Again • Learning A Language Is Learning Its Culture • Revisited - Early Bardic Literature in Ireland • Languages in Peril - Save Medan Hokkien! • In Others' Words - Ulrike and Peter Rettig • At the Cinema - Monster Hunt • Where Are You? • Book Look - Language Alter Ego • Basic Guide to Italian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - A Kind Word • Language and Power: The Hidden Struggle • 4 Ways To Learn Through Reading • Language Learning is for everyone! • Languages in Peril - The Decline of Sicilian • At the Cinema - The Host • Where Are You? • Book Look - Italian Short Stories for Beginners • Basic Guide to Hungarian • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Making it Happen • Motivation - Expressing oneself and the expression of oneself in language learning • Motivation Killers in Learning a Language • Mixing Languages and Relationships • In Others' Words - Brian Powers • At the Cinema - Cutting Room Floor • Languages in Peril - Cyprus' Language Revival Approach Problem • Where Are You? • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - The Importance of Travel • Broadening The Mind Travels The World • The Secret Life of Diacritics • There Are No Wrong And Right Gestures, Only Cultural Differences • Google Translate Exposed: - The Truth Behind Everyone's Favorite Translator • At the Cinema - Queen • Book Look - The A to Z of Learning German • Where Are You? • Basic Guide to Papiamentu • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Free Things • The Cost of Free Language Resources • Review of Polyglot Workshops: Brazil • Easier Way to Learn Languages Fast • Dream, decide, do - tips from a polyglot • At the Cinema - Cambio de Ruta • Languages in Peril - Talysh • Where Are You? • App Rev - Tandem • Book Look - Language Master Key • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Studying in Summer • Polyglot Events All Around The World - You Are Not Alone • Playing Games with Language • Spanish E-training – The 'Big Bang' Investment • Can a Language Die? • At the Cinema - La Casa del Fin de los Tiempos • Languages in Peril - Scottish Gaelic • Words in Your Mouth - Apple • Celebrations - Nag Panchami • Where Are You? • Book Look - Fluency Made Achievable: The Fluent Guide to Core Language Skills • At A Glance
Letter From The Editor - Sounds Like • How Do You Say It? - A look at sound notation systems • Of Pidgins and Creoles - A look at how some languages are born • Who Are You To Learn A Language? • At the Cinema - Dil Chahta Hai • Languages in Peril - Yumans on the Edge • Words in Your Mouth - Egg • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Breaking with Tradition • Are You Wasting Your Money on Language Classes? • Chatting in Languages Online - Part 2: Voice Chats • Why English Is Different Than Any Other Language • The Digital Language Collective • At the Cinema - Viva La Libertà • Languages in Peril - The Tribes of the Tamil-Kannada • Words in Your Mouth - Rice • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Thirteen • Chatting in Languages Online - Part 1: Text Chats • Why Do People Learn Languages? • The Question Of Practice - An International Language Is Possible • At the Cinema - Chinese Puzzle • Celebrations - Fastelavn • Words in Your Mouth - Cheese • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - Over Time • Which Language Is...? • The Ultimate Fate of Language Learning • 5 Funny Words In Afrikaans From My Perspective • At the Cinema - Everybody's Famous! • Word on the Streets - Why Writers are Important • Words in Your Mouth - Milk • Where Are You? • Book Look
Letter From The Editor - World Ambassadors • Coming Home to Faroese - The Why and How of Learning a Small Language • Danish and Faroese: A Biography • At the Cinema - Ludo • Basic Guide to Faroese • Celebrations - The Faroese Festival Summer • Revisted - The Faroe Islands • Word on the Streets - Famous Faroe Islanders • Where Are You? • The Grind: Why the Faroese Hunt Whales • The Legend of the Scottish Princess • Faroese Ballads - Nornagest Ríma and Ormurin Langi
Letter From The Editor - Expansion • Religion in Culture • Languages in Peril - Decline of the Gallo-Italics • Language Learning and Translation • Word on the Streets - Italian Greats • Book Look • At the Cinema - Xingu • Celebrations - Hangul Day • Where Are You? • Words in Your Mouth - Bread
Letter From The Editor - Tracing Words • Constructed Languages - Making It All Up • Language Conflicts - Flemish vs. Walloon • Rohonc Codex - Hungarian Enigma • At the Cinema - Il Comandante e la Cicogna - Garibaldi's Lovers • Where Are You? • Words in Your Mouth - Sausage • Book Look • GlobTech - Using Locale
Letter From The Editor - Globalization • Speaking with Aliens • Celebrations - Esala Perahera - The Festival of the Tooth • Language Conflicts - Bokmål vs. Nynorsk • At the Cinema - Pane e Tulipani - Bread and Tulips • Revisited - Words Which Have Changed Their Meaning • Languages in Peril - Keeping Up With The Kartvelians • Where Are You? • Sections - Reviews • Word on the Streets - Indonesian Innovators • GlobTech - Google Translate Section
Letter From The Editor - The Highlander Condition • When Languages Meet • At the Cinema - Mal Día Para Pescar - Bad Day to Go Fishing • Celebrations - Tanabata - The Star Festival • Languages in Peril - The Romanian Relatives • Revisited - Words Made By Great Writers • Where Are You? • Language Learning Methods - Immersion • Sections - Links
Letter From The Editor - Price of Fame • Liber Linteus - Mummified Language • Pencak Silat • At the Cinema - Bombay • Celebrations - Inti Raymi - Festival of the Sun • Cracking the Code • Languages in Peril - The Chibchan Family • Revisited - Words From The Names Of Animals • Word on the Streets - Great German Authors • Where Are You? • Language Learning Methods - Internet • Sections - Neighborhood
Letter From The Editor - Why Polynesian? • Rongorongo - Island Chants • Otto Dempwolff - Islands of Language • At the Cinema - Whale Rider • Celebrations - Pasifika Festival • Special Feature - Avoiuli • Languages in Peril - The Island Invasion • Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui's Home • Word on the Streets - Malay Masters • Where Are You? • Revisited - Legends of Maui - Maui Snaring the Sun
Letter From The Editor - Linguist or Polyglot • The Phaistos Disc - Puzzle of Crete • Otto Jespersen - Progress of Language • At the Cinema - Kukushka - The Cuckoo • Celebrations - Carnival • Languages in Peril - The Salish Tragedy • Word on the Streets - Kannada Writers • Where Are You? • Revisited - Stories In The Names Of Places • New Souls • Language Learning Methods - Software • Sections - Parleremo YouTube
Letter From The Editor - Freaking Out • The Voynich Script - Cryptic Codex • Benjamin Whorf - Relativity of Language • At the Cinema - Lost in Translation • Languages in Peril - The Polish Connection • Word on the Streets - Romanian Poets • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Holi • A Language Dream • Revisited - Words From National Character • Language Learning Methods - Classes • Sections - Language Exchange
Letter From The Editor - Truth in Advertising • Linear A & Linear B - Lost Minoan • Edward Sapir - Patterns of Language • At the Cinema - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner • Word on the Streets - Norwegian Notables • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Valentine's Day • Languages in Peril - The Rhaeto-Romance Trio • Revisited - Proverbs • Linguistics Love Song • Language Learning Methods - Books • Sections - Recordings
Letter From The Editor - A New Parrot Time • The Rosetta Stone - Triple Cypher • Ferdinand de Saussure - Signs of Language • At the Cinema - L'auberge Espagnole • Languages in Peril - The Finno-Ugrics • Word on the Streets - The Russian Zone • Where Are You? • Celebrations - Day of the Dead • Revisited - Slang • We Are The Linguists • Language Learning Methods - Audio • Sections - Journals
Subscribe to Parrot Time!