Victor Golla

Posted: May 2021

The LSA regrets to announce the death of emeritus Professor Victor Golla, a talented and well-known historical linguist who contributed to several fields of linguistics, including decades of work toward the scholarship of Native American languages. A member of the LSA since 1960, Victor died on April 27, 2021, from a long battle with Parkinson's disease and a stroke. He was a Life Member of the LSA and the 2013 Leonard Bloomfield Book Award recipient for his book, California Indian Languages (University of California Press, 2011).

A colleague's heartfelt obituary on Facebook recently had this to say about Victor:

I'm sorry to report news of the death this weekend of Victor Golla, one of the great figures of Native American linguistics. Victor received his AB from UC Berkeley in 1960 and his PhD from UC Berkeley in 1970, writing a dissertation "Hupa Grammar" under the guidance of Mary R. Haas. (His other PhD committee members were Harry Hoijer and Wallace Chafe.)

Over a long and accomplished career at Columbia, Alberta, George Washington University, and finally Humboldt State University (also affiliated with UC Davis), Victor wrote numerous journal articles and book chapters; authored a practical grammar (1986) and dictionary (2nd ed. 1996) of Hupa and the book "California Indian Languages" (2011); and edited or co-edited "Northern California Texts" (1978), "The Sapir-Kroeber Correspondence: Letters Between Edward Sapir and A. L. Kroeber, 1905-1925" (1984), and the 1120-page "Northwest California Linguistics" volume of the collected works of Edward Sapir (2001). "California Indian Languages", the richly documented starting point for anyone interested in scholarship relating to the Native languages of the state, earned Victor the 2013 Leonard Bloomfield Award of the Linguistic Society of America. His edition of the Sapir-Kroeber correspondence is a critical contribution to the historiography of American linguistics; and his edition of Sapir's collection of Hupa texts, to which is appended a grammar of the language, is required reading for all Dene scholars and anyone interested in the Hupa language.

In addition, over several decades, Victor did more to revitalize American Indian linguistics as a scholarly field than any other person. It was his leading role in the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, running the organization as it transformed from a seat-of-the-pants outfit to an international scholarly society with hundreds members and two annual meetings, that guided Americanists collectively and brought new scholars into this most precious of fields. SSILA created the Victor Golla Prize in his honor; the photo below (with Victor seated) is from the SSILA website.

Victor Golla was also, finally, a hysterically funny person, always eager to talk about anything and everybody; and devoted to his wife Ellen and to his cats, who were in turn devoted to him.

Humboldt State University's Native American Studies department also recently posted some kind words about Victor:

Humboldt State Native American Studies is saddened by the death this weekend of 'e:wa:k Victor Golla, former professor of Native American Studies and Emeritus faculty of Anthropology. Victor also held visiting appointments at UC Davis, and from 2001 was a CO-PI of the J. P. Harrington Database Project.

Born in Santa Rosa and growing up in Shasta, CA, Victor earned a BA and PhD in linguistics from UC Berkeley. He completed his dissertation “Hupa Grammar” in 1970, working closely with Hupa elder speakers 'e:wa:k Ned and Louisa Jackson, Minnie Reeves, and Rudolph Socktish. Victor returned to the area first as a Director of the Center for Indian Community Development (CICD) at HSU for a short term in the late 1980s after time at Columbia, Alberta and George Washington University as faculty. At HSU he went on to become a full time Professor in Native American Studies and later Anthropology.

Victor had numerous publications, but is remembered best locally for work with Hupa language. Collaborative community projects include the Short Practical Grammar of Hupa (1986) and the Hupa Language Dictionary (1996), co-published with the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Referred to as the “purple book,” the dictionary was compiled by Victor with Hupa elder speakers and co-editors 'e:wak Ray Baldy, Louise Badgely, Calvin Carpenter, William Carpenter, James Jackson, Minnie McWilliams, Elsie Ricklefs and Herman Sherman. Tribal Administrative staff included Marcelene Norton, Hoopa Education Director, Lois J. Risling, CICD Director, Jill Sherman-Warne, tribal K-12 Director, and Jennifer George, CICD language coordinator. Dr. Chad Thompson also served as a linguist and computer consultant. The project brought together both language and cultural knowledge keepers, and incorporated a practical orthography created by Victor. His later editing of Sapir's collection of Hupa texts with Sean O’Neill is essential to Hupa language learning and Dene language family linguistics today.

Victor co-created and served the Society for Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) for 25 years. In 2010, SSILA created an award the Victor Golla Prize, which is awarded for exceptional service to both linguistics and Indigenous communities. Victor's last publication California Indian Languages (2011) includes grammatical sketches of every California Indian language, and each languages’ known documentation locations. This work earned Victor the 2013 Leonard Bloomfield Award of the Linguistic Society of America. Victor also conducted Mattole and Wailaki language study with community members. Victor was interviewed for the JP Harrington documentary Chasing Voices being released this Friday by Visionmaker Media, April 30 on American Public Television, and local PBS Stations everywhere.

Victor passed of late stage Parkinson’s and a stroke and is survived by his wife Ellen. Xa'gya'ne' Victor. (written by Kayla Begay)