Born in Germany, Sapir was brought to the United States in 1889 at the age of five. As a student at Columbia, where he worked with Franz Boas, he received a Masters in Germanics and a PhD (1909) on the Takelma language, spoken in Oregon. While working at Berkeley and UPenn, Sapir did fieldwork on Takelma, Chinook, Yana, Southern Paiute and Ute.
From 1910, as an anthropologist at the Canadian National Museum in Ottawa, Sapir conducted did fieldwork on a large number of languages including Nootka and Sarcee, an Athabaskan language.
In 1925 Sapir moved to the University of Chicago, where he continued to do fieldwork on languages including Navajo and Hupa, before accepting the offer of a Sterling Professorship at Yale in 1931. He attracted a number of students at Yale, including Stanley Newman, Morris Swadesh, Mary Haas and Benjamin Whorf.
Sapir was a colleague of Bloomfield at Chicago, and corresponded extensively with Trubetzkoy in the 1930s. When the International Phonological Association was established in Prague in 1932, Sapir was elected as the sole American member of its board. He continued to be the primary link between European and American phonologists until his death in 1939.
[adapted from S.R. Anderson, Phonology in the Twentieth Century, pp. 217-221].