Morris Swadesh

Morris Swadesh (January 22, 1909 – July 20, 1967) was an influential and controversial American linguist. In his work, he applied basic concepts in historical linguistics to the Indigenous languages of the Americas. In Europe there was a very clear example of language change over centuries: the shift from Latin to the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) that occurred in Europe in fewer than 2000 years. And because these languages were written it would be easy to gauge the rate of change. He considered this a basic principle that could be applied to all languages. He spent much of his life comparing hundreds of Indigenous languages of the Americas and mapping their relatedness.

In the early 19th century, linguists began to develop recognition of the larger Indo-European family of languages. By the end of the century, linguists were identifying word similarities and proposing language families among American Indian Languages. in the 1930s Swadesh was part of a new generation of linguists taking these beginnings farther.

In the post–World War II years, as the Cold War heightened tensions, he was fired from City College of New York in 1949 due to accusations that he had been a Communist. Effectively blacklisted in United States academia, he emigrated to Mexico in 1956. He first worked at the Instituto Nacional Indigenista until becoming a full-time researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) (UNAM) and teaching at the National School of Anthropology and History (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia), both in Mexico City, where he lived the rest of his life.

Read more about Morris Swadesh:  Early Life and Education, Early Career, Political Persecution, Work in Historical Linguistics, Personal Life, Selected Works By Morris Swadesh

Famous quotes containing the word morris:

    The reward of labour is life. Is that not enough?
    —William Morris (1834–1896)