William H. Jacobsen Papers

 Collection — Box: BSQAP0449
Identifier: BAQ090

Scope and Contents

The collection contains manuscripts and drafts, as well as some correspondence related to publishing connections, of some of William H. Jacobsen Jr.'s works on Basque Language, including Vizcayan Basque Vowel Harmony, Historical Implications of the Western Basque Tonal Accent, and Basque Language Origin Theories, as well as the English translation and adaptation of Juan Oñatibia’s Introductory Basque Grammar.


  • c.1971-2000


Language of Materials

Materials are mostly in English, there are some words written in Basque.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site.

Biographical / Historical

William H. Jacobsen (1931-2014) was born on November 15, 1931 in San Diego, CA to Cmdr. William H. Jacobsen, USN ret., and Julie Froatz Jacobsen. He graduated from Point Loma High School, San Diego, in 1949, and went on to graduate from Harvard University in 1953. Jacobsen then pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he engaged in fieldwork on Salinan and Washo under the auspices of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages. He received his Ph.D. in 1964 from the University of California, Berkeley. Jacobsen was a professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he taught for thirty years until his retirement in 1994. While he was fluent in many languages, including all the main Romance languages and Sanskrit, he was a specialist in Native American languages, including Washoe, Makah, Salinan, Nez Perce and Nootkan. He also worked extensively on Basque.

His early fieldwork on Salinan and Washoe was part of a Survey of California Indian Languages and was sponsored by UC Berkeley. At UC Berkeley, he also worked on an early machine language translation project. Beginning with his time as an assistant professor at the University of Washington, he spent many summers in Neah Bay, WA, working with Makah elders to record their language. He wrote the Definitive Grammar of the Washoe Language, devised writing systems, created materials for teaching tribal members Washoe and Makah, and published many papers in linguistics. He served as president of the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas, received the Outstanding Researcher Award from the University of Nevada, Reno, and received the Nevada Humanities Award.

During the decades that he worked as a UNR professor, Jacobsen was a familiar figure at the Center for Basque Studies. At the Center, he taught courses on Basque linguistics and sat on the doctoral committees of graduate students. Even after retirement, he taught classes at the Center for Basque Studies. Among his many contributions to the study of the Basque language, his work on the Basque accent stands out; the foremost Basque linguist, Koldo Mitxelena, made extensive reference to this work in the last edition of his canonical Fonética histórica vasca.


THE WILLIAM A. DOUGLASS CENTER FOR BASQUE STUDIES. UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA RENO. In Memoriam, William H. Jacobsen, 1931-2014. [Online] https://basque.unr.edu/Jacobsen-memoriam.html


0.5 Cubic Feet (one box)


Various speeches and lectures written by William H. Jacobsen regarding Vizcayan Basque Vowel Harmony, Tonal Accent and Basque Language origin theories, English translation and adaptation of Juan Oñatibia’s Introductory Basque Grammar, correspondence and notes.

Related Materials

Jon Oñatibia papers, BAQ021. Jon Bilbao Basque Library, University Library, University of Nevada, Reno.

William H. Jacobsen most of the academic career was spent as a professor of linguistics at the University of Nevada (Reno). Throughout his academic career Jacobsen created several materials and, most of them, are located in the University of Nevada although, the materials about Indigenous Languages of North America, are deposited in California Language Archive with the collection number 2014-21. https://cla.berkeley.edu/list.php?collid=11110

A Guide to the papers of William H. Jacobsen
In Progress
Irati Urkitza Ansoleaga/Iñaki Arrieta Baro
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Jon Bilbao Basque Library Repository

1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)