Mary Haas

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Mary Haas
Born(1910-01-23)January 23, 1910
DiedMay 17, 1996(1996-05-17) (aged 86)
Known forTraining linguists; work in North American Indian languages; work in Thai, and historical linguistics.
AwardsHonorary doctorates from:
Academic background
EducationPhD in linguistics, Yale University, 1935
Alma mater
ThesisA Grammar of the Tunica Language (1935)
Doctoral advisorEdward Sapir
Academic work
Sub-disciplineHistorical linguistics, Language documentation
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
Doctoral studentsWilliam Bright, William Shipley, Karl Teeter, Catherine Callaghan, Margaret Langdon, Terrence Kaufman, Victor Golla, Marc Okrand
Main interestsNative American languages, Thai

Mary Rosamond Haas[1] (January 23, 1910 – May 17, 1996) was an American linguist who specialized in North American Indian languages, Thai, and historical linguistics. She served as president of the Linguistic Society of America. She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Early life and education[edit]

Haas was born in Richmond, Indiana.[2] She attended high school and Earlham College in Richmond.[3]

She completed her PhD in linguistics at Yale University in 1935 at the age of 25, with a dissertation titled A Grammar of the Tunica Language.[4] In the 1930s, Haas worked with the last native speaker of Tunica, Sesostrie Youchigant, producing extensive texts and vocabularies.[5]

Career and research[edit]

Early work in linguistics[edit]

Haas undertook graduate work on comparative philology at the University of Chicago. She studied under Edward Sapir, whom she would follow to Yale. She began a long career in linguistic fieldwork, studying various languages during the summer months.[3]

Over the ten-year period from 1931 to 1941, Haas studied the Wakashan language Nitinat (Ditidaht), as well as a number of languages that were mainly originally spoken in the American southeast: Tunica, Natchez, Creek, Koasati, Choctaw, Alabama, Cherokee and Hichiti. Her first published paper, A Visit to the Other World, a Nitinat Text, written in collaboration with Morris Swadesh, was published in 1933.[6][7]

Shortly after, Haas conducted fieldwork with Watt Sam and Nancy Raven, the last two native speakers of the Natchez language in Oklahoma.[8] Her extensive unpublished field notes have constituted the most reliable source of information on the now dead language. She conducted extensive fieldwork on the Creek language, and was the first modern linguist to collect extensive texts in the language.[9] Her Creek texts were published after her death in a volumed edited and translated by Jack B. Martin, Margaret McKane Mauldin, and Juanita McGirt.[10][11]

Career at the University of California-Berkeley[edit]

During World War II, the United States government viewed the study and teaching of Southeast Asian languages as important to the war effort,[12] and under the auspices of the Army Specialized Training Program at the University of California at Berkeley, Haas developed a program to teach the Thai language.[13] Her authoritative Thai-English Students' Dictionary, published in 1964, is still in use.[14]

In 1948, she was appointed assistant professor of Thai and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley Department of Oriental Languages, an appointment she attributed to Peter A. Boodberg, whom she described as "ahead of his time in the way he treated women scholars—a scholar was a scholar in his book".[5] She became one of the founding members of the UC-Berkeley Department of Linguistics when it was established in 1953. She was a long-term chair of the department, and she was Director of the Survey of California Indian Languages at Berkeley from 1953 to 1977.[15] She retired from Berkeley in 1977, and in 1984 she was elected a Berkeley Fellow.[16]

Mary Haas died at her home in Berkeley, California, on May 17, 1996, at the age of 86.[3]

Role in teaching[edit]

Haas was noted for her dedication to teaching linguistics, and to the role of the linguist in language instruction. Her student Karl V. Teeter pointed out in his obituary of Haas[17] that she trained more Americanist linguists than her former instructors Edward Sapir and Franz Boas combined: she supervised fieldwork in Americanist linguistics by more than 100 doctoral students. As a founder and director of the Survey of California Indian Languages,[18] she advised nearly fifty dissertations, including those of many linguists who would go on to be influential in the field, including William Bright (Karok), William Shipley (Maidu), Robert Oswalt (Kashaya), Karl Teeter (Wiyot), Catherine Callahan (Penutian), Margaret Langdon (Diegueño), Sally McLendon (Eastern Pomo), Victor Golla (Hupa), Marc Okrand (Mutsun), Kenneth Whistler (Proto-Wintun), Douglas Parks (Pawnee and Arikara), William Jacobsen (Washo), and others.

Personal life[edit]

She married Morris Swadesh, a fellow linguist, in 1931. They divorced in 1937.[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1963, Haas served as president of the Linguistic Society of America.[19] She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964.[20] She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974,[21] and she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978.[22] She received honorary doctorates from Northwestern University in 1975, the University of Chicago in 1976, Earlham College, 1980, and the Ohio State University in 1980.[2][15]

Notable students[edit]

Haas trained many notable linguists, including the following:

Selected publications[edit]

  • The Thai system of writing, 1943. American Council of Learned Societies.[23]
  • Spoken Thai, 1945 [co-authored with Heng R. Subhanka]. Linguistic Society of America.[24]
  • Thai reader, 1945, Berkeley.[25]
  • Tunica texts, 1950. University of California publications in linguistics, 6.1. Berkeley: University of California Press. 173pp.
  • Thai vocabulary, 1955. American Council of Learned Societies. ISBN 978-0879502652
  • The prehistory of languages, 1960. Mouton. [Reprint 2018] ISBN 9789027906816
  • Thai-English student's dictionary, 1964. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804705677
  • Language, culture, and history : essays, 1978. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804709835
  • Creek (Muskogee) texts, 2015. [co-authored with James H. Hill]. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520286429


  1. ^ "Mary Rosamond Haas papers". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Pike, Kenneth L. (1999). Mary R. Haas: 1910–1996 (PDF). Washington, DC: National Academies Press. p. 4.
  3. ^ a b c d Golla, Victor; Matisoff, James A.; Munro, Pamela (1997). "Mary R. Haas". Language. 73 (4): 826–837. doi:10.1353/lan.1997.0056. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 143928705.
  4. ^ Falk, Julia S. (2005). Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 429–431. ISBN 9781579583910.
  5. ^ a b McLendon, S. (1997). "Mary R. Haas: A Life in Linguistics". Anthropological Linguistics. 39 (4): 522–543. JSTOR 30028484.
  6. ^ Turner, Katherine (Winter 1997). "Mary R. Haas: Teacher". Anthropological Linguistics. 39 (4): 544–549. JSTOR 30028485.
  7. ^ Swadesh, Mary Haas; Swadesh, Morris (1933). "A Visit to the Other World, a Nitinat Text (With Translation and Grammatical Analysis)". International Journal of American Linguistics. 7 (3/4): 195–208. doi:10.1086/463803. JSTOR 1262949. S2CID 145763774.
  8. ^ Kimball, Geoffrey (2007). The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Language. UNC Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-8078-5806-6.
  9. ^ Haas, Mary R. "Mary Rosamond Haas papers, ca. 1910-1996". Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  10. ^ "Haas/Hill texts - Muskogee (Seminole/Creek) Documentation Project". Muskogee (Seminole/Creek) Documentation Project. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  11. ^ Haas, Mary R. (2015). Creek (Muskogee) Texts. University of California. ISBN 9780520286429.
  12. ^ James A. Matisoff. "Remembering Mary Haas' s Work on Thai".
  13. ^ Shipley, William (1988). In Honour of Mary Haas: From the Haas Festival Conference on Native American Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter & Co. ISBN 978-3-11-011165-1.
  14. ^ Haas, Mary R. (June 1, 1964). Thai-English Student's Dictionary. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804705677.
  15. ^ a b Falk, Julia S. (2005). Encyclopedia of Linguistics. p. 430.
  16. ^ Emeneau, M. B. "Mary Haas and Berkeley Linguistics" (PDF).
  17. ^ Teeter, Karl (August 31, 1996). "Mary Haas Obituary". Iatiku. Foundation for Endangered Languages. Archived from the original on August 24, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  18. ^ Shipley, William (1988). In Honour of Mary Haas. Walter de Gruyter & Co. ISBN 978-3-11-011165-1.
  19. ^ "Presidents - Linguistic Society of America". Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  20. ^ "Mary R. Haas". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
  21. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  22. ^ "Mary Haas". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  23. ^ Mary Haas. "The Thai system of writing" (PDF) – via
  24. ^ "Spoken Thai". Archived from the original on August 6, 2021. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
  25. ^ "Thai Reader". Archived from the original on May 2, 2021. Retrieved April 23, 2022.

External links[edit]