Yale Anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury Dies at Age 84

Yale University anthropologist Floyd Glenn Lounsbury, an expert in American Indian languages, died Thursday, May 14, at Connecticut Hospice at the age of 84. The East Haven resident, who was the Sterling Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, made outstanding contributions to the study of linguistic theory, Mayan hieroglyphic writing and kinship systems.

Born in Stevens Point, Wis., he served as a master sergeant during World War II in the Army Air Force 22nd Weather Squadron as a meteorologist. He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in anthropology. He received his Ph.D. degree in anthropology from Yale in 1949 and an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. He began teaching at Yale in 1947 and retired in 1979.

Throughout his long career at Yale, Professor Lounsbury earned world-wide scholarly recognition for his contributions to the understanding of linguistic and cultural systems. After working with the Oneida Iroquois language in 1939, Professor Lounsbury dedicated himself to describing and clarifying the complexities of a wide variety of North and South American Indian languages.

Some of his notable contributions in this area included tracing the historical relationship between Cherokee and other Iroquoian languages and writing the definitive study of Iroquois place names in the Champlain valley. Envisaging the relation between the structure of language and the organization of ideas, he pioneered the application of linguistic methods to the formal analysis of kinship terminology and social organization.

Professor Lounsbury also advanced our understanding of the astronomy and mathematics of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica and was one of the foremost experts of Maya hieroglyphic writing. His many publications included an interpretation of Maya myth and history at Temple of the Cross in Palenque, part of the groundbreaking Palenque Roundtable Series. He was an early proponent of the Soviet scholar Y. V. Knorosov’s phonetic approach to the Maya script, which led to its ultimate decipherment.

Among his many honors, Professor Lounsbury was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Wilbur Cross Medal from the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the school’s highest honor to its Ph.D. alumni for career achievements.

Besides his wife, Masako Yokoyama Lounsbury, he leaves a daughter, Ruth Lounsbury of Cortes Island, British Columbia, and a sister, Elva Lounsbury, in Wisconsin. He was predeceased by a brother, Gordon Lounsbury. Memorial contributions may be made to the Endangered Languages Fund, Yale University Linguistics Department, New Haven, Conn., 06520, or call 203/432-2450.