Edward Sapir Biography


Who is Edward Sapir? Information on anthropologist, linguist Edward Sapir biography, life story, works and contributions.

Edward SapirEdward Sapir; (1884-1939), American anthropologist and linguist. He was born in Lauenburg, Germany (now Lebork, Poland), on Jan. 26, 1884. The son of a Jewish cantor, he migrated with his family to the United States in 1889. He was raised from early childhood in New York City, attended Horace Mann School and Columbia University (A. B., 1904) on scholarships, and received his doctorate from Columbia in 1909. His original fields of study were the Germanic and Semitic languages, taut he was drawn into anthropology and American Indian language study by the influence of Franz Boas. Beginning in 1907 he held posts successively at the universities of California and Pennsylvania, as chief of the division of anthropology in the Geological Survey of Canada (1910-1925), and at the University of Chicago. From 1931 to 1939 he was Sterling professor of anthropology and linguistics at Yale University, where he chaired the newly founded department of anthropology. There, as at Chicago, he attracted students from a broad spectrum of related fields: anthropology, linguistics, sociology, psychology, and psychiatry. Sapir died in New Haven on Feb. 4, 1939.

Though his field research was primarily among the Indians of the western United States and Canada, his range of linguistic interests covered most of the world. Through the study of language as a communicative medium and of semantics as concerned with its accuracy, he became interested in personality and its relations to the environing culture. His book Language, An Introduction to the Study of Speech (1921), is as much concerned with symbolic and communicative aspects as with technical linguistics. As chairman ( 1934-1935) of the division of anthropology and psychology of the National Research Council, he was able to advance the convergence of interest, which he pioneered, between anthropology and psychiatry. His basic views are to be found in “The Fmergence of the Concept of Personality in a Study of Cultures” (Journal of Socio/ Psychology, 1934). He also made major contributions to cultural anthropological theory and method, as in Time Perspective in Aboriginal American Culture: A Study in Method (1916), and to folklore.

Sapir’s impact, both direct and indirect, remains strong in linguistics and anthropology. In a comparatively brief teaching career, he trained or influenced many of the present leading figures in these fields. His writings, some reprinted many times, are a part of their contemporary literature. In addition to his scholarly gifts, he was a poet, musician, and champion of human rights. His poetry appeared in Poetry, The Neiv Republic, The Dial, The Canadian Forum, The Nation, and other magazines. His talents as a writer added much to the readability of his scholarly productions.

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