Frances Karttunen fkarttunen at mail.utexas.edu
Mon Feb 10 13:40:59 UTC 1997

Please refrain from attacking Victor Golla and Benjamin Lee Whorf without
benefit of knowing what they both have actually done.  To Victor we owe an
immeasurable debt for a professional lifetime of help through the Society
for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, to say nothing
of his work with Hupa.  Debate his ideas about the best venue for putting
together a grammar of a language, but don't attack him in ignorance of what
he has done.  Few of us have accomplishments to measure up to his.

As for Whorf, he did not spend all his time hanging out in his employer's
office.  I happen to know about his Mexican work, and I can tell you this.
In 1930 he got a small amount of support and went to Milpa Alta.  The town
had been totally depopulated in the Mexican Revolution.  All the men and
boys had been executed as zapatista partisans, and their wives and children
driven into the life of homeless refugees in the capital.  Only in the
1920s did people begin returning to their ruined town.  It was a rough and
difficult place when Whorf went there.  He had three informants, one of
whom was Luz Jimenez, who later composed a magnificent autobiography in her
native Nahuatl and in her acquired Spanish.  Luz was a wonderful teller of
traditional stories, but Whorf was the first to work with her transcribing
her spontaneous speech, rather than the well-rehearsed, formulaic folktales
that folklorists to that time sought and valued.  This encouraged Luz to
recreate, on her own and without access to the 16th- and 17th-century
Nahuatl annales and historias, a type of narrative reportage that later
characterized her newspaper writing and her composition of her
autobiography.  It is to Whorf and the time he spent sharing the tough life
of the returning Milpalteno refugees that we owe the initial flourishing of
the art of dona Luz.  Working for him set her on the course of working with
Barlow and Horcasitas and becoming (in a university setting, by the way)
the teacher she had always aspired to become.

Whorf also made an egregious misanalysis of Nahuatl (see Lyle Campbell's
and my edited version of his Milpa Alta field notes in IJAL), but it wasn't
a stupid misanalysis.

Frances Karttunen

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