The Facts of Whorf’s Hopi Research

In this talk, Penny Lee presents some preliminary results from her research into the personal diaries of Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941).

This presentation was originally given at the 2020 meeting of the Society for the History of Linguistics in the Pacific, held as part of the annual conference of the Australian Linguistic Society, 14–15 December 2020. The video of the presentation has been revised and re-recorded for hiphilangsci.net.

Notes on Primary Sources

This presentation consists almost entirely of information recently extracted from Whorf’s personal diaries deposited in Yale University Manuscripts and Archives in 2006 by his daughter, Celia Lee Whorf Wheeler (b.1930). These diaries have not been digitised or microfilmed. Neither have additional notes, posthumous correspondence with Mrs Whorf, examples of musical compositions, items of juvenilia, etc., also deposited in 2006. These items are all included in the Benjamin Lee Whorf Papers collection at Yale.

Earlier deposits of correspondence, notes, newspaper cuttings, drafts of papers, lantern slides etc. were made in 1975 by Whorf’s wife, Celia Peckham Whorf (1901–1997), and in 1978 by John B. Carroll (1916–2003). These are mostly included on five reels of microfilm available from the archives at https://web.library.yale.edu/mssa

These materials, together with archival materials from other repositories in America, were used extensively in my 1996 book The Whorf Theory Complex.

Full details of the Scope and Contents of the BLW Papers can be found online at https://archives.yale.edu/repositories/12/resources/4891

A PDF Finder can also be downloaded from this page.

I want to caution that no attempt has been made at this stage to utilize information from Whorf’s personal diaries in a re-examination of relevant items of correspondence and extensive handwritten notes on Hopi available on the microfilm. Neither has any attempt been made to evaluate the investigative quality or scholarly value of Whorf’s Hopi research and writing. The aim of this presentation is merely to provide a roughly chronological summary and minimal biographical overview of relevant information abstracted from the diaries.

Primary Sources

Herzog, George (1939), Letter to BL Whorf (January 9), Benjamin Lee Whorf Papers (MS 822), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee (1932-1940) Personal Diaries, Benjamin Lee Whorf Papers (MS 822), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee (2012) Language, Thought and Reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, 2nd edn, eds. John B. Carroll, Stephen C. Levinson and Penny Lee, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Whorf’s Publications

A complete list can be found in:

Whorf, Benjamin Lee (2012) Language, Thought and Reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, 2nd edn, eds. John B. Carroll, Stephen C. Levinson and Penny Lee, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 377-382.

Secondary Sources

Carroll, John B. (1956) Introduction, Whorf, Benjamin Lee (2012) Language, Thought and Reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, 2nd edn, eds. John B. Carroll, Stephen C. Levinson and Penny Lee, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, pp. 1-43.

Lee, Penny (1996) The Whorf Theory Complex: A critical reconstruction, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.

Posted in 20th century, America, Article, History, Linguistics
2 comments on “The Facts of Whorf’s Hopi Research
  1. David Nash says:

    Interesting, and nicely done, Penny.
    I (perhaps with most linguists?) didn’t know that Whorf had coined allophone. And I see that the OED recognises this. But here’s a curiosity: it is predated by the adjectival form:

    allophonic, adj. †1. Of a letter: having a different sound. Obsolete. rare.
    1877 Freeman’s Jrnl. (Dublin) 4 June 5/5 The present multitudinous system of cramming in all sorts of allophonic letters was simply the doing of the printers, who make unfortunate authors and learners pay for it.

    • Penny Lee says:

      Thanks David. Very kind. Fascinating to hear of the adjectival use with this meaning though I doubt Whorf could have been aware of it. I imagine he would have been really chuffed when Bernard Bloch used the term during the LSA conference, December 30, 1940 (I have to presume it was the LSA although not stated): “Good time at meetings all day. Good papers, esp. by Fry (Wash) Kroeber, Bloch, Chao, Dillon, Smith, Hockett & Kennedy. For lunch go out with Amelia Sussman, Dyen & Hoenigswald, find Middle St. Grill is open, & lunch there … In early evg. meet Carl Voegelin, talk in his rm … we walk out & talk. Drinks in Falstaff Rm with Kepke & Smith, then banquet & lots of talk. John Carroll there. Evg. sessions. Kroeber invites me for drink, we go down to Falstaff rm & have drinks & a delightful talk. Bed. / Bloch used my term allophone.” (Quote from personal diaries in BLW Papers, Yale Manuscripts and Archives)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: