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Benjamin Lee Whorf papers

Call Number: MS 822

Scope and Contents

The Benjamin Lee Whorf Papers consist of six linear feet of correspondence, writings, research material, and biographical matter. They span the entire period of his adult linguistic activity, from about 1923 until his death in 1941, and include posthumous letters and publications as well. The papers are arranged in five series: I. Correspondence; II. Writings on Linguistics; III. Writings on Science and Religion; IV. Biographical Information; V. Lantern Slides.

Series I., CORRESPONDENCE, consists of Benjamin Whorf's correspondence between 1925 and 1941 and letters received by his widow, Celia Peckham Whorf, between 1941 and 1954. The letters written and received by Whorf offer substantive discussions of the full range of his linguistic interests. Among the leading correspondents are Franz Boas, Frans Blom, Clyde Kluckhohn, Alfred Kroeber, J. Alden Mason, Edward Sapir, Herbert Spinden, Alfred M. Tozzer, George L. Trager, and Charles F. Voegelin.

Series II., WRITINGS ON LINGUISTICS, consists of notes, drafts, and printed matter documenting Whorf's linguistic activities from his first explorations in Hebrew around 1924 to the publication of a Spanish edition of Language, Thought, and Reality in 1971. There are four sections: Published Writings, Unpublished Writings, Research Notes, and Writings by Others.

Published Writings consists of manuscript and printed versions of slightly less than half of Whorf's publications on language and a small quantity of related notes and research material. The majority of the handwritten drafts and a few of the typewritten drafts differ slightly from the printed text.

Unpublished Writings consists of lectures, research reports, and unpublished essays on particular languages (principally Hebrew, Nahuatl, Maya, and Hopi) and general linguistic questions. Most of the titles in Carroll's bibliography are represented, and there are more than a dozen items that do not appear in his selection.

Research Notes consists of material connected with Whorf's linguistic studies. The notes are related to his Mexican research trip in 1930 and to his studies in Hebrew, Maya, Hopi, and several other languages.

Writings by Others consists of other scholars' publications annotated by Whorf.

Series III., WRITINGS ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION, consists mainly of essays on the relationship between science and religion, the nature of the mind end the universe, and the achievements of "primitive" and "advanced" civilizations. There are also published and unpublished writings on fire insurance and notes and writings on botany.

Series IV., BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, consists of obituaries and other clippings about Benjamin Whorf; photographs of him and Ernest Naquayouma, his Hopi informant; and miscellaneous printed matter related to his personal life and his attendance at scholarly meetings. The principal item of biographical interest, aside from the clippings and photographs, is a program showing that Whorf joined the Methodist Episcopal Church by profession of faith in 1923.

Series V., LANTERN SLIDES, consists of views of Central American landscapes, artifacts, hieroglyphs, and historic sites.


Series I-IV are available on microfilm, HM 98, and must be used in this format. The printed matter in Published Writings, the notecards in Research Notes, and Writings by Others in Series II were not microfilmed and may be used in the original.

The target at the beginning of Reel 5 mistakenly identifies the material following as being from Series III. Material on frames 1-866 is actually from Series II, WRITINGS ON LINGUISTICS, Research Notes. Series III, WRITINGS ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION, begins, instead, at frame 867. The target at frame 867 incorrectly identifies the material following as being from Series IV. In fact, BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, Series IV, begins at frame 1363. The target at frame 1363 correctly identifies this material.


  • 1898-1971


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.Series I-IV, except for boxes 3, 9, 12, and 13, are available on microfilm; patrons must use HM 98 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Series I-IV, except for boxes 9-13 are also available on microfilm (6,465 frames on 5 reels, 35mm.) from Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware. HM 98

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Celia Peckham Whorf in 1975, John B. Carroll in 1978, and Celia W. Wheeler, 2006 and 2011.


Arranged in five series and two additions: I. Correspondence. I. Writings on Linguistics. III. Writings on Science and Religion. IV. Biographical Information. V. Lantern Slides.


9.5 Linear Feet (23 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence; writings on linguistics, science and religion; miscellaneous biographical material; and lantern slides. Nearly three-fourths of the papers consist of Benjamin Whorf's writings on linguistics, including drafts of published works, unpublished manuscripts, research notes on his trip to Mexico in 1930 and on Hebrew, Maya, Hopi and other languages. Also included are articles by others, chiefly on Indian languages. The correspondence, which is entirely professional, includes Franz Boas, Frans Blom, Clyde Kluckhohn, Alfred Kroeber, J. Alden Mason, Edward Sapir, Herbert Spinden, Alfred M. Tozzer, George L. Trager and Charles F. Voegelin.


Benjamin Lee Whorf had a brief but important career as a pioneering scholar of the Nahuatl, Maya, and Hopi languages and as a theoretician about the influence of language on thought and perception. Researchers should consult Language, Thought, and Reality for a biographical sketch and bibliography by John B. Carroll,¹ but these are some principal events and periods in his life:

born in Winthrop, Massachusetts
received the B.S. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
employed as a fire prevention engineer by the Hartford Fire Insurance Company
married Celia Inez Peckham
studied Hebrew
wrote "Why I Have Discarded Evolution"
read "Aztec Linguistics" and "An Aztec Account of the Period of the Toltec Decline" at the Twenty-Third International Congress of Americanists
took a field trip to Mexico, supported by the Social Science Research Council
began studies with Edward Sapir at Yale University
began his linguistic analysis of Hopi
published The Phonetic Basis of Certain Characters in Maya Writing
published his first article on Hopi, "The punctual and segmentative aspects of Hopi," in Language
was a Lecturer in Anthropology at Yale
published three articles for a non-professional audience in Technology Review
died on July 26 after some months' illness

¹Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Comp. John B. Carroll, (Cambridge, Mass.: The M. I. T. Press, 1956).

Guide to the Benjamin Lee Whorf Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Peter J. Bartucca, Susan Grigg, John Espy, Randall Jimerson, and staff of Manuscripts and Archives
October 1979
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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