The Newberry does not actively collect linguistics today; however, two of the library’s special collections contain important historical materials for the field.
The Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte Collection
In 1901, the Newberry acquired the collection of amateur comparative linguist Louis Lucien Bonaparte (1815–1891), nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. Numbering some 18,000 items, the Bonaparte collection represents the state of linguistic studies at the end of the nineteenth century. It includes many grammars and dictionaries for all the European languages and some non-European ones, rare items exemplifying the early printing of individual languages, and other specimens of everyday printing of the nineteenth century selected to represent the spoken languages of that day. It is particularly strong for such linguistic isolates as Albanian, Sardinian, Basque, Frisian, and Lithuanian, for Romance dialectology, and for the Celtic languages. The rarities and other linguistic specimens intersect with other collection strengths of the Newberry, for example, in the areas of children’s books, almanacs, courtesy books, Bibles, hymnals, catechisms, and songsters.
The Edward E. Ayer Indian Linguistics Collection
For native North American, Philippine, and Hawaiian languages, the Bonaparte collection is complemented by the linguistics portion of the Ayer Collection.
In 1903, Edward E. Ayer acquired James Pilling’s collection of North American linguistics works. At the time, Pilling’s was the largest library on the subject. Most of the books and pamphlets were the tools of missionaries and are, therefore, chiefly translations of the Bible, hymns, and rituals used in teaching Christianity. Some primers, grammars, and vocabularies are included in the collection as well. Ruth Butler’s A Bibliographical Checklist of the North and Middle American Linguistics in the Edward E. Ayer Collection (Newberry, 1941) describes the collection, and over 1,300 records for items in the collection are now listed in the Newberry’s online catalog as the Edward E. Ayer North and Middle American Linguistics Collection.
Doris Varner Welsh’s Checklist of Philippine Linguistics in the Newberry Library (Newberry, 1950) describes the Philippine linguistic collection, and over 770 records for items in the collection are now listed in the Newberry’s online catalog as the Edward E. Ayer Philippine Linguistics Collection.
Ruth Butler’s Hawaiian Language (Newberry, 1941) describes the Ayer Collection’s Hawaiian linguisitic materials. Like the North American Indian material, most of the books and pamphlets were the tools of missionaries and are, therefore, chiefly translations of the Bible, hymns, and rituals used in teaching Christianity. Over 225 records for items in the collection are now listed in the online catalog as the Edward E. Ayer Hawaiian Language Collection.
The John M. Wing Collection
For the study of early language acquisition, there are also many textbooks, especially alphabet books, in the History of the Book.
More details are available about the collection in the Bibliographic Guide for Historical Linguistics.