Edward Sapir

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Edward Sapir (pronounced /səˈpɪər/), (January 26, 1884 – February 4, 1939) was a German-born American anthropologist-linguist and a leader in American structural linguistics. He was one of the creators of what is now called the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. He was a highly influential figure in American linguistics, influencing several generations of linguists across several schools of the discipline.


Youth and Education

Sapir was born in Lauenburg in Pomerania Province to an orthodox Jewish family. His family immigrated to New York in the United States in 1888.

Sapir earned both a B.A. (1904) and an M.A. (1905) in Germanic philology from Columbia. Among his mentors in Germanics were William Carpenter.

Work with Boas

His linguistic interests proved to be much broader. In the next two years he took up studies of the Wishram and Takelma languages of Native Americans in southwestern Oregon. In 1909 he received his Ph.D. in anthropology, just emerging as a new field of study. While a graduate student at Columbia, Sapir met his mentor, anthropologist Franz Boas. The latter was likely the person who provided the most impetus for Sapir's study of indigenous languages of the Americas.

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