Douglas Richard Parks

August 28, 1942May 20, 2021
Obituary of Douglas Richard Parks
Douglas Richard Parks (August 28, 1942 – May 20, 2021), known as Doug to his friends and colleagues, was born in Long Beach, California, to Benjamin Harold Parks and Mary Opal Parks (née Pemberton). He was preceded in death by his older brother Clifford Everett Parks. He is survived by his niece Tara Lea and nephew Michael Douglas. Doug grew up and graduated from the local high school in Camarillo, which back then was a small town in rural and conservative Ventura County in Southern California. He was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his undergraduate degree in anthropology. In 1964, he continued at Berkeley in the doctoral program in the recently reopened Department of Linguistics. Doug’s time in the department in the 1960s coincided with the golden age of fieldwork-based study of Native American languages that had started with the creation of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages at Berkeley by Mary R. Haas in 1953. The number and quality of dissertations on Native American languages that the linguistics department was able to produce at that time period remains unparalleled to this day, and many graduates went on to become prominent scholars in the field of American Indian linguistics. Doug credited Mary Haas in particular as a constant source of stimulation for his interest in American Indian languages. Through “Miss Haas,” as Doug deferentially referred to her, he was able to trace his academic pedigree directly to Edward Sapir and Franz Boas. Another important influence was Wallace L. Chafe who first suggested that Doug study Pawnee and later became his dissertation advisor. Even as an undergraduate, Doug had done occasional fieldwork on Mojave, but it was in graduate school that he truly distinguished himself as a field linguist. Between 1965 and 1968, he worked primarily with Pawnee language consultants for his dissertation, but he also found time to engage with speakers of Shawnee (as a personal favor to Mary Haas), Kickapoo as well as his old Mojave friends. His first published paper, Shawnee Noun Inflection (1974), and his first book, A Grammar of Pawnee (1976), were both based on primary field data. In 1968, Doug accepted a position in the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University, Pocatello, first as an instructor, and then after he received his Ph.D. in 1972, as an assistant professor and acting chairman. Beside academic duties, Doug also found time to work with Shoshone consultants. In later years Doug often looked back to his time in Pocatello as one of the best periods of his life. His circle of close friends and colleagues in Pocatello included a fellow Berkeley linguistics graduate Mauricio Mixco, his wife Teresa, and Sven Liljeblad, a renowned Swedish Numicist. In the summer of 1969, Doug worked in Oklahoma with Dolly Moore, a fluent speaker of Pawnee. Visiting her was Fanny Whiteman, an Arikara friend from North Dakota. Fanny took lively interest in Doug’s linguistic work on Pawnee and invited him to document and describe the Arikara language in North Dakota. Fanny, along with several other speakers, felt that their language had been neglected by linguists. Doug eagerly accepted the invitation and, beginning in the summer of 1970, spent the next 35 years documenting and describing the language and culture of the Arikara. Although a consummate field linguist, Doug had learned during his work on Pawnee in the 1960s that historical documents may often provide an extra dimension of linguistic depth and cultural breath, especially in respect to arcane vocabulary and cultural practices. In 1973, Doug was awarded a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, where he undertook the editing and annotation of James Murie’s early 20th century Pawnee Ceremonies manuscript, which, after extensive revisions, was published in two volumes in 1981. Doug continued to track down and organize unpublished historical materials on Caddoan and Siouan languages and cultures for the rest of his life. The last project that Doug was working on before he became too ill to continue was a series of unpublished Pawnee-Arikara manuscripts. In 1974, Doug accepted a position at Mary College (now University of Mary) to direct an Indian language program that had been created to develop pedagogical materials for the languages native to North Dakota. In 1976, A. Wesley Jones joined the staff to work on Hidatsa and Robert Hollow, a fellow Berkeley graduate, as the Mandan linguist. Although the Dakota-Lakota language is also native to North Dakota, no one was hired for the position. Instead Doug, with the help of native speakers from nearby reservations, undertook the instruction himself. Doug quickly realized that the generally accepted delineation of Siouan dialects, the so-called of d-n-l classification, was either invalid or at least inadequate. In 1978, Doug and A. Wesley Jones set out on the Sioux-Assiniboine-Stoney Dialect Survey, during the course of which they visited every single Dakota-Lakota-Yankton/Yanktonai-Assiniboine-Stoney reserve and reservation both in Canada and the United States, except those in Alberta, which Allan R. Taylor visited. Doug and Raymond DeMallie co-authored a paper in 1992 in which they analyzed the results of the survey and presented a new classification of the Sioux-Assiniboine-Stoney dialect continuum. The ties that Doug formed in Native communities during the dialect survey led to many more years of fieldwork on Yanktonai and Assiniboine (in collaboration with Raymond DeMallie) throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout his stay in Bismarck, Doug continued to document Arikara. This was greatly facilitated by the proximity of the Arikara community on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation to Bismarck. Many community members still remember how Doug worked with their grandparents and how enjoyable it was for them. Among his collaborators, Ella Waters and Alfred Morsette in particular stand out for the sheer time they spent with Doug. In 1983, Doug joined the faculty of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington, first as an associate scholar, and later as an associate professor and professor (part time). In 1984, the university approved the proposal by Doug and anthropologist Raymond DeMallie to establish the American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI) and soon after Doug became one of the two co-directors of the institute. The institute provided means to digitize analog media, and systematize and analyze the data using the Indiana Dictionary Database (IDD) and Indiana Annotated Text Processor (ATP). At one point, there were more than two dozen languages and researchers who used AISRI software. Over the span of thirty years, AISRI provided support for more than one hundred students the departments of anthropology, linguistics, folklore, and history. AISRI became one of the first establishments of its kind that made lexical corpora available to the public as digital dictionaries long before they saw the light of day in print. In 1991, Doug became the editor of Anthropological Linguistics. He founded and co-edited with Raymond DeMallie the book series Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians, Studies in the Native Languages of the Americas, and Sources of American Indian Oral Literature, all published by the University of Nebraska Press, and North American Native Peoples, Past and Present, published by State University of New York Press. Among his many publications three in particular stand out: a four-volume set of traditional Arikara narratives, (1991), 37 articles that he contributed to the Plains volume of the Handbook of North American Indians (2001), and A Dictionary of Skiri Pawnee, co-authored with Nora Lula Pratt (2008). As the number of speakers of Native languages continued to decline before the turn of the century, Doug focus shifted partly from purely academic endeavors to language revitalization. AISRI expanded its collaboration with Native schools in an effort to provide them with multimedia-based sets of language teaching materials, the most complete of which was the five-volume set of Arikara textbooks. The value of linguistic documentation resulting from field work is difficult to qualify, but Doug certainly ranks among the most prolific field linguists in North America. What really sets him apart is the accuracy of his transcriptions and the reliability of his analysis. Unlike most field linguists who revise their notes after they become more familiar with the structures of the language they study, he never made any corrections in his early notes because there was simply no need for it. Because of his background in anthropology, he also had a deeper appreciation of culture than most linguists who tend to see languages as abstract systems—Doug’s linguistic work on all the languages that he studied was thoroughly informed by his understanding of the respective cultures. In the light of the sheer amount of linguistic documentation and description that he accomplished during his career, it is understandable that one lifetime was not enough to get it all published. Considering that fieldwork on his favorite languages has become a practical impossibility, we can only be grateful for the groundwork he has laid for future research and the doors he has opened for potential community-based language reclamation. —Indrek Park

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