The Collected Works of Edward Sapir - Vol. 4

The Collected Works of Edward Sapir - Vol. 4

The Collected Works of Edward Sapir - Vol. 4

The Collected Works of Edward Sapir - Vol. 4

Excerpt

The reputation of Edward Sapir, as these Collected Works are issued half a century after his death, rests most strongly on his work in theoretical and descriptive linguistics and on his attempts to define the relationship of culture and individual. Nonetheless, Sapir also contributed substantially to the amassing of ethnographic information about American Indians. The present volume contains his shorter contributions to ethnography.

Sapir’s early teacher, Franz Boas, stated in his obituary of Sapir (1939, reprinted in Koerner 1984: 3 — 4) that he was “one of the most brilliant scholars in linguistics and anthropology”; his ethnological publications were less numerous than linguistic ones but were important in the context of anthropology during his time. Sapir’s contemporary Robert Lowie commented (1965: 12):

His distinction as an ethnographer is beyond cavil and has perhaps not been adequately
appreciated. I do not mean that his knowledge of aboriginal cultures, though certainly
adequate, was exceptional. It would have been superhuman to have added such famil
iarity to his amazing grasp of linguistic data. But as a collector of facts he ranks with
our very best observers —with Boas, Kroeber, Radin, Spier —showing the same capacity
for immersing himself in the phenomena under scrutiny and plumbing them to their
depths.

While Sapir’s ethnological publications were recognized as significant, his fieldwork far exceeded what actually appeared in print during his lifetime. The commitment Sapir acquired from Boas to recording the rapidly disappearing languages of native North America included ethnography as a matter of course, but relatively little of this ethnographic work was published by Sapir himself. Some was completed by Leslie Spier after Sapir’s untimely death (Sapir 1939 e, edited by Spier, this volume; Sapir and Spier 1943, Volume IX; Sapir and Swadesh 1955, Volume XI); a great deal has remained in manuscript, a considerable portion of which has been newly edited for inclusion in The Collected Works. (The great majority of Sapir’s unpublished material, both linguistic and ethnographic, is deposited in the archives of the American Philosophical Society, in Philadelphia.)

In addition to his ethnographic work, Sapir contributed substantially to what Lowie (1965, reprinted in Koerner 1984: 127) called “the logic . . .

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