Wallace Chafe

Research Professor Emeritus

Office Location

South Hall 3511


Native American languages; discourse; prosody; language and thought; laughter


I am retired from active teaching, but occupy a position within the department as Research Professor. I continue to be active with efforts to document the Seneca language in western New York State, working closely with members of the Seneca community, where there has been an explosion of interest in the language in recent years. My materials, which go back to 1956, are especially valuable to the community today. I am also preparing a dictionary and texts in the Caddo language of Oklahoma, working from materials collected during the 1960s. I recently published a book on laughter as an expression of what I am calling the feeling of nonseriousness. I am currently working on a book that derives the structure of language from thoughts, rather than from syntax. 


1958 Ph.D, Yale University

Current Projects

  • Collaboration on the Seneca language with the Seneca Nation of Indians and the Rochester Institute of Technology
  • A book titled How Thoughts Shape Language (and Vice Versa)
  • Documentation of the Caddo language


2007.   The Importance of Not Being Earnest: The Feeling Behind Laughter and Humor.   Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins. (Paperback edition 2009.)

2007.  Language and Consciousness. In Philip D. Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch, and Evan Thompson (eds.), CambridgeHandbook of Consciousness, pp. 355-373. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

2008.   Syntax as a Repository of Historical Relics. In Alex Bergs and Gabriele Diewald (eds.), Constructions and Language Change, pp. 259-266. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

2009.   Linguistics and the Study of Consciousness. In Axel Cleeremans, Tim Bayne, and Patrick Wilken (eds.), OxfordCompanion to Consciousness, pp.409-411. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2012.  Are Adjectives Universal? The Case of Northern Iroquoian. Linguistic Typology 16: 1-39.

2012.   From Thoughts to Sounds. In James Paul Gee and Michael Handford (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Discourse Analysis, pp. 357-365. London and New York: Routledge.