LINGUIST List 14.3540

Sun Dec 21 2003

Sum: Boas and Dewey

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <foxlinguistlist.org>


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  1. Daniel Everett, Boas and Dewey

Message 1: Boas and Dewey

Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2003 09:38:17 -0500 (EST)
From: Daniel Everett <dan.everettman.ac.uk>
Subject: Boas and Dewey

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a query (Linguist 14.3300) asking if
anyone had information on contacts between John Dewey and Franz Boas
at Columbia University. There were two responses, both useful.

Shane Ralston, a Dewey scholar in the Philosophy Department at U of
Ottawa searched the CD-ROM version of the Collected Works of John
Dewey and the Correspondence of John Dewey (1919-1939). He found a
reference to Boas by Dewey in one publication of Dewey's (Experience
and Nature (1925)). He also found references to Boas in Dewey's
correspondence and some letters between the two. Boas asked Dewey to
nominate A.C. Kroeber to the National Academy for Anthropology and
Psychology. In another letter Boas asked Dewey to support efforts to
assist German and Austrian Science & Art following WWI. Both Boas and
Dewey came to the defence of Bertrand Russell when the latter was
famously dismissed from his position at a New York university. So
there is evidence for contact between and knowledge of each of what
the other was doing and what kind of person, at least in a general
sense, the other was.

Joe Tomei pointed me to a work in American Anthropologist in 1956 by
Robert H. Lowie (vol. 58: 995-1016) which has some useful remarks on
Boas. There is also a website on Columbia faculty:
http://beatl.barnard.columbia.edu/cuhis3057/)

Boas and Dewey in many ways jointly shaped the 'zeitgeist' in which
American linguistics developed in the early part of the 20th century,
culminating in one of the unique American contributions to
linguistics, American Descriptivism (not to be confused with
Structuralism).

- Dan Everett 
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