Mary Haas – Patron Saint of March 2020

It’s the first (full) weekend of a new month! And, coincidentally, today is also International Women’s Day!

Therefore, it is only suitable that we celebrate
Professor Mary Haas!

Mary Haas, born in 1910 in Richmond, Indiana, completed her PhD in linguistics at Yale in 1935. She went on to become a multifaceted linguist during her career. She specialised in North American Indian languages, Thai and historical linguistics.

During the 1930s, she studied a number of languages, mainly spoken in the American southeast. Shortly after publishing her paper A Visit to the Other World, a Nitinat Text in 1933, she went on to conduct fieldwork with the two last native speakers of the Natchez language. Though her notes of the language went unpublished, they are considered a highly reliable source of information on the now, sadly, dead language.

She conducted fieldwork on the Creek, also known as the Muscogee, language and was actually the first modern linguist who collected extensive texts in that language. The texts were later published posthumously.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Professor Haas also developed a program to teach the Thai language during the tumultuous time of World War II. Professor Haas, aside from implementing the new program, also wrote the authoritative Thai-English Student’s Dictionary, which was published in 1964. The dictionary remains in use today.

In 1948, she was appointed assistant professor of Thai and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. She became one of the founding members of the UC-Berkely Department of Linguistics and became the long-term chair of the department.

Additionally, Professor Haas was Director of the Survey of California Indian Languages between 1953-1977.

Again, as if that wasn’t enough, her student Karl Teeter famously stated in her obituary that “she was responsible for training more scholars as Americanists than Boas and Sapir together”, an undoubtedly impressive feat.

During her career, she received quite a few awards and honors for her amazing work in her field. Among others, she was President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1963, awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964, elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978. She also received four (!) honorary doctorates between 1975 and 1980.

In addition to all of these honours, I am more than happy to add Patron Saint of March 2020 at the HLC to the list!

Happy international women’s day!



For this post, I’ve used the following:

Mary Haas

Survey of California and Other Indian Languages: History

Mary Haas Obituary by Karl Teeter