University of Chicago
Edward Sapir (1884-1939) arrived at the University of Chicago for Autumn Quarter, 1925, having spent the summer, in transit from Ottawa, in New York City teaching summer school at Columbia. Two years later, in 1927, Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949), a native Chicagoan who had his Ph.D. in Germanic Philology from Chicago (1909), returned to succeed his Doktorvater, Francis A. Wood (1859-1948), who had just retired, as Professor in Germanic. The two great figures in the history of linguistics in America were thus colleagues at Chicago for four years, through the 1930-31 academic year, after which Sapir removed to New Haven as Sterling Professor and founding Chair of the Yale Department of Anthropology, with a concurrent appointment in Linguistics. (After the death of Bloomfield’s early mentor, Eduard Prokosch, in August, 1938, and of Sapir, in February, 1939, Bloomfield, too, would go to Yale as Sterling Professor in Linguistics and Germanic, in effect replacing both.)
Linguistics at Chicago, originally denoted by the expression “Comparative Philology,” was one of the original subjects, or “departments of knowledge,” filled by President William Rainey Harper (1856-1906). Harper himself had gotten his Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Philology at Yale under the great William Dwight Whitney (1827-1894), and in 1892 another Whitney student more in the master’s image, Carl Darling Buck (1866-1955), started as “Assistant Professor of Sanskrit and Indo-European Comparative Philology” on return from a degree at Leipzig. By the mid-1920s, Buck presided over a department captioned “Comparative Philology, General Linguistics, and Indo-Iranian Philology,” with a set of course offerings both by himself and by various others whose primary appointments were in other departments. Sapir, originally appointed in Spring, 1925, as Associate Professor of Anthropology and of American Indian Languages in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology (as it then was), taught a range of linguistics courses, listed as well among the offerings in Comparative Philology, to the coterie of students who would continue and expand Boasian anthropological linguistics in the 1930s. (They would all be marginalized by the more doctrinaire Bloomfieldians, as it turned out.) By Autumn Quarter 1927, Sapir was a full “Professor of Anthropology and General Linguistics,” and early in Winter Quarter, 1928, Buck formally arranged for Sapir’s titular appointment in the department, as attested by an exchange of administrative letters with higher-ups in the central administration. Bloomfield’s courses in Germanic, too, were listed under the umbrella of Comparative Philology on his 1927 return, and since Francis Wood had been a member of the department, so, too, was his student and successor, Bloomfield (and would be Bloomfield’s successor, George J. Metcalf [1908-1994]). A number of the students of the late 1920s, for example Li Fang-Kuei (1902-1987) and Mary R. Haas (1910-1996) took courses with all three of Buck, Bloomfield, and Sapir, recalling for me in later years their very different pedagogical styles and emphases.
But it is not pedagogical style as such that concerns me so much as intellectual and professional affiliations and outlooks, and the way that these emerged in a face that linguistics as a discipline would for some time show to its congener disciplines at Chicago and in America more generally. Everything we know about Sapir’s and Bloomfield’s biographies shows that their centers of intellectual gravity and their aspirational commitments pulled in very different directions. This was already very clear by the time they had joined Buck’s enterprise at Chicago, each of them in his early 40s and each of them accomplished and authoritative in his respective scholarly work, and each widely connected in their own disciplinary networks of “invisible colleges,” as Merton termed them.
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