Michael Edward Krauss, professor emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks, internationally renowned scholar of Alaska Native languages, and a champion of endangered languages, died in Needham, Massachusetts, on Aug. 11, at the age of 84.
Early life and education
Michael Edward Krauss was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1934, to Lester Krauss, a Mount Sinai Hospital surgeon, and Ethel Krauss (née Sklarsky), first head of the Hospital Auxiliaries Organization of Ohio. A teenager with strong linguistic interests (he was known to translate his Latin homework into self-taught Greek), he entered college early, graduating in two years from the University of Chicago, at the age of 18. His education continued with a second bachelor's degree (in Romance languages) from Case Western Reserve University, followed by linguistics study at Columbia University in New York, which awarded him a master's in 1955.
Further study at the University of Paris led to work with speakers of Irish Gaelic in the Aran Islands, and by 25, Krauss had completed a Ph.D. at Harvard in linguistics and Celtic. A subsequent two years studying Norse linguistics in Iceland and the Faroe Islands earned him a third bachelor's degree, in Icelandic philology from the University of Iceland.
In 1960, Krauss was hired by the University of Alaska Fairbanks for what was officially intended as a two-year position teaching French and linguistics as a Carnegie Fellow. But his focus on the languages of small ethnic groups would help turn that appointment into a career working with Alaska Native languages.
A decade later, aided by the State of Alaska and National Science Foundation funding, he recruited a team of linguists dedicated to working with 20 Native languages and founded the Alaska Native Language Center (ANLC). With the number of Native children learning those languages from their parents declining rapidly due to culturally destructive government policies, Krauss lobbied state legislators, and the entire ANLC team worked closely with Native elders to develop writing systems and document vocabulary, grammar and folktales. Krauss also oversaw the production of language teaching materials at ANLC, as well as academic publications. A vast collection of written data, audio recordings and publications was compiled into an archive that became an independent entity in 2013, the Michael E. Krauss Alaska Native Language Archive (ANLA).
Although Krauss' work touched on most of the Alaska languages studied by ANLC, his specialty was Eyak, a language of the Copper River region, of which only six speakers remained. In 1975, he edited "In Honor of Eyak: The Art of Anna Nelson Harry," an annotated collection of folktales presented in Eyak with English translation and audio. At the time of his death, he was at work on the final editing of an Eyak reference grammar, dictionary and story collection, and although Marie Smith Jones, its last native speaker, died in 2008, material compiled during Krauss' study of Eyak continues to serve as an important resource for language revitalization efforts.
In the 1990s, Krauss stood at the forefront of an effort to realign the field of linguistics from predominantly theoretical study, toward documentation, preservation and even revival of endangered languages. In a 1991 address to the Linguistic Society of America, he delivered a clarion call for linguists' practical engagement with the richness of the world's many endangered indigenous languages, to help stem the tide of language loss.
Krauss retired from UAF as Professor Emeritus in 2000.
Personal life and qualities
During his first semester of teaching in Alaska, Krauss lost both parents to an automobile accident. At their funeral he reconnected with Jane Lowell, a childhood friend, and the couple would go on to marry in 1962. Jane's sons from a previous marriage, Marcus and Stephen, would eventually be joined by Ethan, Alexandra and Isaac, and two foster children, Gene Gregory and Lisa Favero.
A loving husband and father, Krauss could also be stern and had high expectations of his children. While he loved teaching, the prodigious energy he brought to his scholarship ensured that expectations of his students and colleagues at UAF were similarly high. His tendency to work long days, often all through the night, made him a formidable advocate in his struggle on behalf of indigenous languages.
Krauss was a dedicated member of the Fairbanks Jewish community, teaching Hebrew in the Jewish Sunday school and blowing the shofar during the High Holidays. Though not devoutly religious himself, he felt strongly about preserving his Jewish identity and passing it on to his children.
His lifelong hobby was music, playing classical piano and regularly accompanying his children's musical performances. Drawn most to Bach, he was also an enthusiast of modern composers and folk music from diverse cultures.
Krauss' wife, Jane, died of cancer in 2003, after 41 years of marriage. He remarried in 2007, to Margaret (Molly) Lee, a fellow UAF professor. The couple continued to live in Fairbanks until 2016, when they moved to the Boston area to be closer to family. Krauss enjoyed time with his grandchildren, and regular trips to Molly's family ranch in Santa Barbara. His health declined rapidly after suffering a pelvic fracture in June, and visits from numerous close friends and family preceded his death on Aug. 11. He is survived by Molly Lee; a brother, Richard Krauss; six children; 15 grandchildren, and one great-grandaughter.
A public memorial honoring Dr. Krauss' professional life and career will be held from 4-6 p.m., Sept. 22 in the Davis Concert Hall at UAF with a potluck to follow immediately afterward in the Great Hall. A memorial service for friends and family will be held at the University Community Presbyterian Church from noon to 1 p.m., Sept. 23.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in memory of Dr. Krauss to the Alaska Native Language Archive, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Contributions may be made via check or online at engage.alaska.edu/uaf
and reference "In memory of Dr. Michael Krauss." In the event of questions, please contact UAF Development at 907-474-2619.