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reed magazine logoWinter 2008

Listening to Indians

Reed’s Warm Springs Project was much more modest in size and scope. But at a total cost of less than 5 percent of the Harvard project, it left—through the subsequent activities of its participants—a remarkable impact on anthropology, and on the arts and sciences more broadly.

Sherley Lynne

Anthropology student Lynne Sherley 53 and unidentified man at
Warm Springs

Through it all, the Frenches built a significant body of work of their own. Starting in 1951, Kay French began the systematic examination of “social ceremonials” at Warm Springs—community observances of milestones in the life-cycle, such as birth, marriage, and death—that would form the basis of her 1955 Columbia Ph.D. thesis; in the mid-1980s she collaborated with Yvonne Phillips Hajda ’55 on a study of how these same ceremonies had changed (or not) over the intervening thirty years.

David French, meanwhile, had become absorbed in ethnobotany—native people’s names for, concepts about, and uses of plants and plant products. He later published a monographic history of Wasco-Wishram contact with EuroAmerican society, and beginning in the 1970s spent an increasing amount of his time preparing dictionary entries for an exhaustive lexicon of the Wasco language, working in collaboration with Michael Silverstein of the University of Chicago and Dell Hymes.

Hymes would go on to pioneering work on the narrative and verbal art of native peoples, focusing especially on the Kiksht-speaking Wasco-Wishram, and along the way developing concepts and approaches—such as the “ethnography of speaking” and the notion of “cultural” or “communicative competence”—that are so ingrained today in the fields of sociolinguistics, anthropology, and education that many practitioners may not even associate them with his name.

In the final analysis, the “Warm Springs Project” needs to be understood within a larger cultural and historical frame of reference, insofar as it emerged in the tension between self-knowledge and knowledge of “others” that has characterized anthropology and the arts alike. If World War II changed American cultural consciousness of its place in the world on a collective level, it also transformed the consciousness of the postservice generation who, in the late 1940s, were returning to college, either as students or as faculty members. The Warm Springs Project was animated by this new self-knowledge, and by a yearning for knowledge in America of “other cultures”—cultures now discoverable within its boundaries, even if first encountered outside them.

Robert Moore has a B.A. in anthropology from Reed and a Ph.D. in anthropology and linguistics from the University of Chicago. He did field research at Warm Springs, and is currently a research associate at Dublin City University, Ireland. He is literary executor of the French papers.

The linguistics department formally joined the division of philosophy, religion, psychology, and linguistics in the 2007–08 academic year. With a history that reaches back 50 years to a single but regularly offered course in general linguistics—often taught by anthropology professor David French—the two-professor department now stands on equal footing with Reed’s other academic majors.

Advanced linguistics and courses in language and culture have been offered at Reed since the 1970s. In 1985, a multi-year position in linguistics created with outside funding was filled by John Haviland, a linguist formally trained in anthropology. Reed instituted a faculty-approved interdisciplinary major in linguistics in 1990, and in 2005, with the recommendation of an ad hoc committee, linguistics became its own department.

Chair and associate professor Matt Pearson ’92, one of the department’s two faculty members, teaches formal linguistic theory, syntax, typology, phonology, sematics, and field methods. Visiting assistant professor Stephen Hibbard teaches linguistic anthropology, semiotics, sociolinguistics, prosody, language and politics, and the history of linguistics. Reed is seeking funding to endow a second tenure-track position in the department, and a variety of linguistics or linguistics-related courses are offered by faculty members in other departments. In anthropology, Robert Brightman ’73, Ruth C. Greenberg Professor of American Indian Studies, has taught linguistics courses since joining the faculty in 1989. Faculty members Enriqueta Canseco-Gonzalez (associate professor of psychology) and Rupert Stasch ’91 (associate professor of anthropology) have also taught linguistics courses in recent years.

In the final analysis, the “Warm Springs Project” needs to be understood within a larger cultural and historical frame of reference, insofar as it emerged in the tension between self-knowledge and knowledge of “others” that has characterized anthropology and the arts alike. If World War II changed American cultural consciousness of its place in the world on a collective level, it also transformed the consciousness of the post-service generation who, in the late 1940s, were returning to college, either as students or as faculty members. The Warm Springs Project was animated by this new self-knowledge, and by a yearning for knowledge in America of “other cultures”—cultures now discoverable within its boundaries, even if first encountered outside them.

reed magazine logoWinter 2008