Linguist & Anthropologist
Bruce L. Pearson is one of the linguists who has been working with the Wyandotte Nation in developing materials to help us recover our language, which has not been spoken since the mid-20th century.
Pearson, a native of Indiana, has had an interest in languages all his life. He studied Spanish in high school, French in college, and then spent four years in Japan as an English teacher while mastering the Japanese language.
On his return to the States he taught on the high school level which working on a master’s degree in linguistics at Indiana University. He then accepted a position at Earlham College in Indiana, just as the college was developing the Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement, a living history museum built around the homestead of William Conner, one of the state’s pioneer settlers.
Pearson’s interest in Conner quickly shifted to Conner’s relationship with the Delaware Indians, with whom Conner had grown up. After four years at Earlham, Pearson decided to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of California at Berkeley. While there he began research on the Delaware language. He continues this work, along with study of the Shawnee language. Both are part of the large Algonquian language family.
On completing his degree in 1972 he accepted a position at the University of South Carolina to teach linguistics and anthropology, retiring in 1997 as professor emeritus.
In 1988 he met his wife, Julie, while attending a conference on the Delaware Indians at Schoenbrunn, a living history museum in northeastern Ohio, where Julie was then working. Several years later, in 1994, while attending another conference at the same location the Pearsons met Jim Bland, second chief of the Wyandotte Tribe, who asked Bruce to tackle the Wyandotte language, a member of the Iroquois language family. Bruce did so and discovered, among other things, that the language’s own name for itself is Wandat.
The focus of his study has been a collection of forty narratives told by Catherine Johnson, Smith Nichols, John Kayrahoo, Star Young and Mary McKee and transcribed by the Canadian anthropologist Marius Barbeau in 1911-12. Pearson’s edited version of the stories was published in a preliminary edition in 2001. He is still revising and correcting the work and compiling a handbook and dictionary to accompany it while preparing to take part in the Tribe’s Culture Week activities.