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Viola Waterhouse
Viola Waterhouse
(1918-1997)
May Morrison and Viola Waterhouse

Viola Waterhouse was born in 1918 in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1940 she graduated from Wheaton College (Illinois) where she spent an additional year at the Wheaton Graduate School as a graduate assistant. In 1942 she attended the Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma and joined SIL that summer, beginning work in Mexico later that same year. She was assigned to work among the Chontal of Oaxaca along with her first teammate, May Morrison.


Vi, as she was commonly known, received a master's degree in linguistics from Indiana University in 1949 and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1958. Her dissertation, The grammatical structure of Oaxaca Chontal, applied tagmemic theory to a previously unstudied language for which she had helped to develop a written form for the first time. Very early in her career with SIL, she was invited to be a teaching assistant at the summer courses at the University of Oklahoma. She also wrote numerous articles about the Chontal language and on other linguistic topics, including the theory of tagmemics. As a linguistic consultant with SIL, she assisted many of her colleagues in writing up their linguistic material, including volumes on languages of Colombia and Peru which she edited. She also served as the first SIL bibliographer and edited three SIL International bibliographies.


With her second teammate Muriel Parrot and several key Oaxaca Chontal colleagues, Vi prepared and published reading primers and books of Chontal stories to encourage literacy, completed a translation of the New Testament (published in 1991), and contributed a volume for the Archivo de Lenguas Indígenas published by the Colegio de México.