chapter  3
49 Pages

The Institutionalization of American Linguistics: 1842-94

In 1828, soon after his arrival in America, Francis Lieber wrote his parents an enthusiastic letter about his plans for the Encyclopedia Americana. In this letter, Lieber judges Mr Duponceau to be "one of the most learned men in America" and acknowledges that he himself is "deeply engaged in the study of the language of the North American Indians." He is evidently pleased that "many men in Germany are engaged in this study, especially William von Humboldt." In fact, so enthusiastic is Lieber in this letter that he wishes "to propose to Mr. Duponceau a plan greatly approved of by Mr. Pickering," which was the founding of "a society for the promotion of the study of the Indian language" (Perry 1882: 81). Whether or not Lieber ever did propose this plan to Duponceau is not, unfortunately, revealed in any of Lieber's subsequent letters. What is known, however, is that no such society was ever established. Instead, the first American society devoted exclusively to language proved to be one which featured study not of the languages of the North American Indians but of the other Indians, i.e. Sanskrit, in the context of the American Oriental Society.