Joseph Greenberg

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Joseph Harold Greenberg (May 28, 1915 – May 7, 2001) was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.

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Early life and career

(Main source: Croft 2003)

Greenberg was born on May 28, 1915 to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York. His first love was music. At the age of 14, he gave a piano concert at Steinway Hall. He continued to play the piano daily throughout his life.

After finishing high school, he decided to pursue a scholarly career rather than a musical one. He enrolled at Columbia University in New York. In his senior year, he attended a class taught by Franz Boas on American Indian languages. With references from Boas and Ruth Benedict, he was accepted as a graduate student by Melville J. Herskovits at Northwestern University in Chicago. In the course of his graduate studies, Greenberg did fieldwork among the Hausa of Nigeria, where he learned the Hausa language. The subject of his doctoral dissertation was the influence of Islam on a Hausa group that, unlike most others, had not converted to it.

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