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March 2017

4 Important Female Linguists You Should Know

Female linguists who contributed greatly to the study of languages

In honor of Women’s History Month, we acknowledge the contributions made by notable female linguists throughout history. These scholars have not only furthered the understanding of languages in their focus, but they’ve also inspired countless others to continue the work. And while we only recognize a select few here, it’s important to note that, throughout the world, female linguists are doing important and substantial work at this very moment.

Mary Haas

Mary Haas (1910-1996) was an American linguist born in Richmond, Indiana. She completed her PhD in linguistics at Yale University in 1935 when she was only 25. Throughout her career, she specialized in native North American languages, beginning with a dissertation entitled A Grammar of the Tunica Language, a study of a now-dead language once spoken in modern day Louisiana and Mississippi. Continuing her work with disappearing Native American languages, she worked also with the last native speakers of the Natchez language of Oklahoma, as well as studied and collected texts in the Creek language. During the Second World War, the need for specialists in Southeast Asian languages grew, and she became an instructor in the Army Specialized Training Program at the University of California at Berkeley, teaching Thai. Throughout her life, she instructed, supervised, and influenced numerous other linguists and scholars of Native American languages, making her one of the most notable linguists in American history.

Tsvia Walden

Tsvia Walden is an Israeli linguist who currently serves as a professor at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. She not only studies Jewish texts, but also applies her research to social studies concerning language and gender, literacy, and more. She is, more specifically, a psycholinguist, one who studies languages and its forms to decipher contextual social meaning. In 1981, Walden received a doctoral degree in Psycholinguistics from Harvard University. She teaches not only Hebrew but French as well, preferring the use of books rather than textbooks for reading, a method known as Whole Language. The Whole Language approach is a method that endeavors to teach students word recognition in whole pieces, rather than broken down into letters. It focuses on context and meaning, which proponents believe help aid learning.

Kate Burridge

Specializing in Germanic languages, Australian Kate Burridge studies German-speaking communities around the world, notably the Pennsylvania German-speaking peoples populating Canada. She currently works at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia as the Chair of Linguistics in the School of Languages, Cultures, and Linguistics. Her published work also includes the study of language censorship, English in Australia and New Zealand, and a diachronic study on the languages of the Anabaptists, Christians who believe in the validity of a baptism only if the person receiving the baptism consciously declares faith in Christ. Diachronic linguistic studies deal with the development of languages over time.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) was a notable English writer most recognized for her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. She also had a prolific career writing detective fiction, plays, and Christian humanist works, receiving a Lambeth doctorate in divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury that she subsequently declined. She influenced numerous writers, including many mystery authors and the playwright Tom Stoppard (who wrote and directed the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and co-wrote the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love), and was friends with C. S. Lewis, the British novelist who most famously wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Sayers Classical Academy in Louisville, Kentucky is dedicated to her.

Who do you recognize for Women’s History Month? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language and culture!

Picture (c) Fotolia, Ivan Kurmyshov