Robert Wendell Young 

*18 May 1912 - †20 Feb 2007


    a) Biography/History

    Robert W. Young, linguist, was born on May 18, 1912 in Chicago, IL. Following graduation from the University of Illinois, in 1935, he enrolled in anthropology at the University of New Mexico. There he became interested in the Navajo language and he was invited to collaborate with John P. Harrington of the Smithsonian Institution in the translation of a series of primers for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1939-40, he accompanied Harrington to Canada for comparative fieldwork with four Athabaskan languages.

    Subsequently, during the period 1940-1971, he was employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, first as a Specialist in Indian Languages,and after 1950, in Navajo Tribal Relations. In 1971, he joined the staff of the Modern Languages Department at the University of New Mexico where he taught classes in Navajo Linguistics and collaborated with Professor Bernard Spolsky in research conducted by the Navajo Reading Study. It was during this period that a grant was received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to permit Young, jointly with his longtime Navajo colleague, William Morgan Sr., to embark on a major project designed for the compilation of an extensive bilingual Navajo-English / English-Navajo dictionary and grammar. It was published in 1980 under the title, The Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary . This work was published again in 1987 in revised form, and this was followed in 1992 by An Analytical Lexicon of Navajo, compiled with the assistance of Sally Midgette. Both works were published by the University of New Mexico Press.

    In 1968, Young wrote a history of the Navajo for publication in a commemorative edition of The Gallup Independent celebrating the centennial of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 between the United States Government and the Navajo Tribe. During the 1950's,he compiled a detailed historical-statistical study entitled The Navajo Yearbook,which was published in annual editions and widely distributed to State, Federal, and Tribal officials. In 1989, Young wrote A Political History of the Navajo Tribe, published by Navajo Community College (now Diné College). Finally, in 2000, the University of New Mexico Press published his treatise on the Navajo verb, under the title, The Navajo Verb System.

    In 1969, Young received an honorary doctorate from the University of New Mexico. He received the Department of the Interior's Superior Service Award in 1972. In 1994, he received the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities award for Excellence in the Humanities, and in 1996, he and his colleague, William Morgan were honored by the Navajo Tribe in a special session of the Navajo Nation Government.

    Robert Wendell Young, 94, a resident of Albuquerque since 1966, died Tuesday, February 20, 2007. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Olga Maloni Young, and daughter, Linda Sue Young, both of Albuquerque. He had resided in the Southwest since 1935, mainly on the Navajo Nation. He was a renowned linguist whose work focused primarily on the Navajo Language. A graduate of the University of Illinois (1935), he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of New Mexico in 1969. He is best known for his unabridged and scholarly Navajo-English dictionaries, done in collaboration with Dr. William Morgan, a native speaker of Navajo. Working with John Harrington of the Smithsonian Institute in the late 1930's, he and Morgan crafted the Navajo alphabet in use today. He edited and typeset extensive materials written in Navajo, and championed quality Navajo bilingual education for seventy years. He also wrote and edited many other books, articles and compendiums on Navajo history, government, and politics, and on Navajo grammar. Working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dr. Young collaborated extensively with the Navajo Tribal Council, the Navajo court system, and professional interpreters groups. As an Area Tribal Operations Officer for the BIA from 1962-1971, he was also responsible for liaison with 24 Pueblo and other tribal groups. He was a Sergeant in the Marine Corps during World Was II, where he earned special merit as an Indian Interpreter,and where his fluency in Navajo was utilized in the testing and selection of Navajos trained as Code Talkers. Dr. Young was an adjunct Professor of Linguistics at UNM, beginning in 1971, where he taught classes in the Navajo language and co-directed the Navajo Reading Study. In 1980 The Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary was published and from 1980-1991 he compiled the Analytical Lexicon of Navajo, published in 1991. In 2000 his The Navajo Verb System - - An Overview was published. Dr. Young received the Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Dept. of the Interior in 1969, an award for Excellence in the Humanities from the NM Endowment for the Humanities in 1994, and in 2006 the Kenneth L. Hale Award from the Linguistic Society of America for his outstanding linguistic scholarship in documenting the Navajo Language. He was a member of several national linguistic and anthropological groups and was also a member of the Elks Club. Cremation has taken place and no formal funeral services are planned. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Robert W. Young Scholarship Fund at UNM, C/O UNM foundation, MSC07-4260, 1UNM, Albuquerque, NM 87131. French Mortuary 1111 University Blvd. NE 843-6333