Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages and Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico


Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages and Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico

New Edition

Franz Boas and J. W. Powell
Foreword by Preston Holder
New introduction by Michael Silverstein

248 pages


October 2017


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About the Book

As Michael Silverstein discusses in his introduction to this new edition, the two foundational essays presented here are culminating moments in the scholarly history of North American indigenous peoples’ languages and cultures. Franz Boas’s “Introduction” essay (1911) initiates readers into the collection of grammatical sketches contained in the multiple volumes of the Handbook of American Indian Languages, underscoring critical issues of language in human cognition and its role in sociocultural variation.

Twenty years earlier, J. W. Powell published “Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico” to accompany his Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) of the Smithsonian Institution. Powell interpreted the BAE’s vast collection of vocabularies through a classificatory perspective like those of geology, geography, and biology, thus organizing understanding of the hundreds of attested languages as members of linguistic families. Originally published in the same volume in 1966, these two essays form a cornerstone of modern indigenous language studies.

Author Bio

Franz Boas (1858–1942) is indigenous North America’s most significant non-Native anthropologist. J. W. Powell (1834–1902) was the first director of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution and a strong supporter of linguistic research. Michael Silverstein is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, of Linguistics, and of Psychology at the University of Chicago. Among many publications in Native American studies are his chapters in several volumes of the Handbook of North American Indians of the Smithsonian Institution.


“Combined here are two classics on the nature of Native languages of North America: Boas’s famous 1911 essay pointing to new methods of research and Powell’s pioneering 1891 work on classification.”—Scholarly Books in America

“[These] two cognate essays . . . are still regarded as fundamental to all subsequent work on the subject.”—The World in Books

"Both works . . . are of immediate and continuing value, not only to students of linguistics but to all Americanists and anthropologists in general. . . . it must be stressed that all . . . later work stems directly out of the pioneering papers here presented."—Preston Holder, in his preface

Table of Contents

[No TOC]

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