Chafe was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University, where he obtained his doctorate in 1958. From 1975 to 1986 he was the director of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages at the University of California, Berkeley. He later moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara, and became professor emeritus at UCSB in 1991.
- 1962. "Phonetics, semantics, and language." Language 38.335-344.
- 1963. Handbook of the Seneca Language, New York State Museum and Science Service, Bulletin #388; ISBN 1897367139
- 1967. Seneca Morphology and Dictionary. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, vol. 4. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
- 1968. "Idiomaticity as an Anomaly in the Chomskyan Paradigm." Foundations of Language 4.109-127.
- 1970. Meaning and the Structure of Language. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- 1970. "A Semantically Based Sketch of Onondaga." International Journal of American Linguistics, Memoir 25 (Supplement to vol. 36, no. 2).
- 1976. "Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics, and point of view." In Li 1976, 25-55.
- 1976. The Caddoan, Iroquoian, and Siouan languages. Trends in linguistics: State-of-the-art report (No. 3). The Hague: Mouton. ISBN 90-279-3443-6.
- 1980. The Pear Stories: Cognitive, Cultural, and Linguistic Aspects of Narrative Production. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
- 1988. "Linking Intonation Units in Spoken English." In Haiman and Thompson 1988, 1-27.
- 1994. Discourse, Consciousness, and Time: The Flow and Displacement of Conscious Experience in Speaking and Writing. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- 1996. "Beyond Beads on a String and Branches in a Tree." Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language ed. by Adele Goldberg, 49-65. Stanford: Center for the Study of Language and Information.
- 2000. "The Interplay of Prosodic and Segmental Sounds in the Expression of Thoughts." Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 1997, 389—401.
- 2000. "Loci of Diversity and Convergence in Thought and Language." Explorations in Linguistic Relativity ed. by Martin Pütz and Marjolijn H. Verspoor, 101—123. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
- 2007. The Importance of Not Being Earnest: The Feeling Behind Laughter and Humor. John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2007. ISBN 978-90-272-4152-8.
- UCSC EDU PEOPLE: Faculty Listing Accessed January 14, 2012
- "Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, University of California, Berkeley". linguistics.berkeley.edu. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- Chafe's Autobiographical memoir about his professional life and research into unconventional areas of linguistics
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