Who is/isn't a linguist?

Frederick J Newmeyer fjn at u.washington.edu
Fri Sep 30 06:45:18 UTC 2011

I just wanted to reinforce what Victor wrote. When Whorf died very young in 1941 -- he was only 44 years old -- the journal Language gave him a full obituary. That was a very rare occurrence then (as now). There is no question that, despite his 'amateur status', he was considered by the linguists of the day not just as a 'linguist', but as their equal.


Frederick J. Newmeyer
Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University
[for my postal address, please contact me by e-mail]

On Thu, 29 Sep 2011, Victor K. Golla wrote:

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