Who is/isn't a linguist?

Victor K. Golla Victor.Golla at humboldt.edu
Fri Sep 30 01:32:47 UTC 2011

Going back to Shannon's original topic -- whether Benjamin Whorf was a

For all of the reasons Dan Everett gives, I think the question is
meaningful only in sociological terms, and even then it must be
sensitive to the sociology of the era in which Whorf lived.

The answer seems unequivocal:  From the moment that Whorf enrolled as
a student in Sapir's graduate classes at Yale, he tacitly submitted
himself to the rules of the academic game of "linguistics" set by
Sapir, the university, and most importantly by his fellow students.
The evidence is clear that he honored those rules and was accepted as
a status equal by the academic linguists of his day.

I once asked Mary Haas about her opinion of Whorf.  "Oh, Ben was a
kook!" she sighed.  But not because of his linguistics.  Whorf
regularly got A's, even the occasional A+, on his seminar papers --
nearly all of which were on hard-core descriptive and comparative
topics, such as Hopi phonemics or the subclassification of
Uto-Aztecan.  Rather, it was Whorf's personal quirks that made Mary
roll her eyes.  She was particularly struck by his fear of elevators;
he would struggle up ten flights of stairs to get to Mary and Morris
Swadesh's apartment for a party.

Victor Golla

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