Swadesh, Morris

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SWADESH, MORRIS (1909–1967), U.S. anthropological linguist. Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Swadesh served as research associate at Yale from 1933 to 1937. He taught anthropology at various universities and was appointed research professor of prehistoric linguistics at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.

His particular interest was in the recording and description of various languages, notably the American Indian dialects. He also studied the reconstruction of prehistory through comparative linguistics as well as methods of teaching languages, culture history, and general theories of culture. One of his major contributions was to glottochronology or lexicostatistics, which is a linguistic method for determining the relative time depth when related languages become separated from their common source. Swadesh was also an important contributor to the study of numerous American Indian languages.

[Ephraim Fischoff]