Mary Rosamond Haas, Linguistics: Berkeley
1910-1996, Professor Emerita
One of the founding members and a long-term chair of the Department of Linguistics, Mary Haas is remembered as one of the great researchers and teachers in her field. In the 1930s she was one of the small band of graduate students trained at Yale by Edward Sapir, the top linguist of his era. She received the Ph.D. in 1935. Her dissertation was a grammar of Tunica, an American Indian language once spoken in what is now Louisiana. In following years, she did field work on various other Native American languages of the Southeastern U.S.--Creek, Koasati, Choctaw, Alabama, and Hichiti.
Just before outbreak of the Second World War, she began work with the Thai language in order to prepare teaching materials for use by the armed forces. In 1942-43, she studied and taught Thai at the University of Michigan. In late 1943, she began teaching Thai in the Army Specialized Training Program on the Berkeley campus. The program was set up under the direction of the distinguished anthropologist A.L. Kroeber.
Later appointments after the war secured her permanent employment at Berkeley, first as a research associate and lecturer in Siamese and linguistics in 1945, and then as an assistant professor of Oriental languages in 1947. At this time, along with Professors Murray Emeneau, Douglas Chretien, Madison Beeler, and Francis Whitfield, she set in motion the Survey of California Indian Languages, which was funded by the State Legislature. The survey, later renamed the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, is still active today and carries out its original purpose of providing resources for sending qualified graduate students to carry out in-depth field studies of the surviving Native American languages, as well as maintaining an archive of field notes from these studies. The survey started as a pilot project in 1949, when one of Haas's graduate students, William Bright, now an eminent linguist, was sent to work on the Karuk language in northwestern California. In 1953, the survey was established on a permanent basis and the Department of Linguistics was established.
During the 1950s and '60s, Haas made excellent use of the survey to enable extensive field work on the native languages of California, and, in later years, on many other Native American languages outside the state. This is one of those cases where an academic enterprise of outstanding merit has been of direct social benefit. Without the survey, many of the cultures and languages of Native California would have been doomed to oblivion. Dozens of dissertations on Native American languages were written under her guidance. The University of California Publications in Linguistics has devoted well over half of its volumes to Native American linguistic studies, which collectively form the most enduring of Haas's scholarly legacies.
Another project of lasting significance to the university was founding the Language Lab, recently renamed the Berkeley Linguistic Center. She and Jesse Sawyer, her student and then colleague, first proposed the Language Laboratory and then led the necessary planning and committee work to develop the interdepartmental facility in the 1960s. It oversees all the media resources for foreign language classes and houses the extensive sound archives of Native American languages that were collected under her and her successors' direction.
Haas's primary research during her California years was in comparative linguistics. She continued her Muskogean and Gulf research, and also took up comparative Algonquian, demonstrating to the satisfaction of modern scholarship that the California languages Yurok and Wiyot have a genetic relationship to that family. One of her major publications was her short monograph The Prehistory of Languages (1969), an important methodological essay still read today by students of historical linguistics.
Haas's honors throughout her career were numerous. She was the Walker-Ames Visiting Professor of Linguistics at the University of Washington (1960-61); she received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1964-65); she was a Fellow in the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford (1967-68); president of the Linguistic Society of America in 1963; an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974; and she received the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from Yale University Graduate School in 1977. She was also awarded four honorary degrees: Doctor of Literature at Northwestern University (1975), Doctor of Humane Letters at the University of Chicago (1976), and Doctor of Humane Letters at both Ohio State University and Earlham College in 1980. At her retirement in 1977 she received the Berkeley Citation.
After her retirement she was invited as a visiting professor to many institutions, including the Australian National University, Barnard College (where she delivered the Gildersleeve Lecture), Northwestern University (as the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor), UC San Diego, the University of Georgia, the University of Kansas, and Ohio State University. She also visited several campuses in Canada as the Senior Killam Fellow.
In 1986, many of her students gathered to honor her at the Haas Festival Conference at Santa Cruz, and a volume of papers arising from this meeting was published in 1988: In Honor of Mary Haas, edited by William Shipley (Mouton de Gruyter). For her many students who are now linguistics faculty and emeriti all over the world, she will always remain the quintessential scholar, a mentor of high stature.
In her last years, she lived in declining health quietly at her home in Berkeley. She died on May 17, 1996. Her will included her last service to the academic world to which she devoted her life. She divided her estate between the three institutions that were most important to her: Earlham College, where she did her undergraduate work; Yale University, where she received her Ph.D.; and the University of California at Berkeley, where she spent her career. Her bequest to Berkeley has been used to establish the Mary R. Haas Memorial Fund, which will be used, as she requested, for the support of linguistics graduate students.Victor Golla