Swadesh, Morris

Swadesh, Morris

(1909–67) linguist; born in Holyoke, Mass. Child of immigrant Russian Jews, he grew up knowing Russian and Yiddish. He took his B.A. and M.A. at the University of Chicago under Edward Sapir, who in 1931 brought Swadesh with him to Yale, where Swadesh took his Ph.D. (1933). He spent part of every year throughout the 1930s doing fieldwork with Native Americans and became familiar with many of their languages. He taught at the University of Wisconsin (1937–39), then went to Mexico to head a program of education for native Mexicans while serving as professor at the Instituto Politecnico Nacional de Mexico (1939–41). During World War II he served in the language section of the U.S. Army (1942–46) and edited dictionaries and teaching materials for several languages. After teaching one year at the City College of New York (1948–49), he was fired due to the McCarthyism that drove out academics with "leftist sympathies." Supported by various grants, he worked for several years on an ambitious project to trace the relationships among all American Indian languages, one of his major concerns and contributions. He returned to Mexico as a professor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma and at the Escuela Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (1956–67). Honored as among the first generation to develop modern linguistic analysis in the U.S.A., he initiated or was associated with many new approaches such as phonemics, pattern analysis of linguistic structure, and glottochronology. Author of 22 books and over 130 articles, he was especially known for his work on the origin and evolution of language, effectively founding what is known as prehistoric linguistics.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Swadesh, Morris

 

Born Jan. 22, 1909, in Holyoke, Mass.; died June 10, 1967, in Mexico City. American linguist.

After studying under E. Sapir at the University of Chicago and at Yale University, Swadesh was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin from 1937 to 1939 and a professor at the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico City from 1956 to 1967. He was also a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

Swadesh was the founder of glottochronology. He is well known for his works describing American Indian languages and for his studies on the distant linguistic relationships among American Indian languages. Swadesh is also known for his fundamental reconstruction of the early stages of linguistic development.

WORKS

“Leksikostatisticheskoe datirovanie doistoricheskikh etnicheskikh kontaktov.” In Novoe v lingvistike, fasc. 1. Moscow, 1960.
“K voprosu o povyshenii tochnosti v leksikostatisticheskom datirovanii.” In Novoe v lingvistike, fasc. 1. Moscow, 1960.
“Lingvisticheskie sviazi Ameriki i Evrazii.” In Etimologiia, 1964. Moscow, 1965.
La lingüística como instrumento de la prehistoria. Mexico City, 1960.
The Origin and Diversification of Language. London, 1972.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.