After finishing high school, he decided to pursue a scholarly career rather than a musical one. He enrolled at Columbia University in New York. During his senior year, he attended a class taught by Franz Boas concerning American Indian languages. With references from Boas and Ruth Benedict, he was accepted as a graduate student by Melville J. Herskovits at Northwestern University in Chicago. During the course of his graduate studies, Greenberg did fieldwork among the Hausa people of Nigeria, where he learned the Hausa language. The subject of his doctoral dissertation was the influence of Islam on a Hausa group that, unlike most others, had not converted to it.
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