William Dwight Whitney

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Whitney, William Dwight


Born Feb. 9,1827, in Northampton, Mass.; died June 9,1894, in New Haven, Conn. American linguist.

Whitney graduated from Williams College, Northampton, in 1845. In 1854 he was appointed a professor at Yale University, where he taught until 1894. He was a member of the American Oriental Society, serving as its secretary from 1857 to 1884 and as its president from 1884 to 1890. Whitney helped found several other scholarly societies, including the American Philological Association (1869); he was also the association’s first president.

Whitney did most of his work in the field of Indology. In his Sanskrit Grammar he made use of original texts and statistical data to show the productivity and stylistic variations of linguistic forms. The first American theoretical linguist, Whitney upheld the principle of historicism in the study of languages, demonstrating the regularity of linguistic changes and their dependence on social factors.

Whitney was a member or corresponding member of several academies and scholarly societies.


The Life and Growth of Language [new ed.]. New York, 1902.
Language and the Study of Language, 6th ed. New York, 1901.
Sanskrit Grammar, new ed. Delhi, 1969.


Whitney on Language. Edited by M. Silverstein. Cambridge, Mass., 1971.
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Alter's William Dwight Whitney and the Science, of Language (2005, p.
As William Dwight Whitney argued, language is "capable of application to ethnological purposes far beyond any others.
His years in the United States were centered about Yale University where, as a student of William Dwight Whitney, among others, he received philological training in Sanskrit and classical languages, culminating in 1890 in a dissertation, written in Latin, on traces of colloquial speech in the Satires of Horace.