Welcome!

Welcome to the Berkeley Linguistics Department! With the first linguistics department to be established in North America (in 1901), Berkeley has a rich and distinguished tradition of rigorous linguistic documentation and theoretical innovation, making it an exciting and fulfilling place to carry out linguistic research. Its original mission, due to the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the Sanskrit and Dravidian scholar Murray B. Emeneau, was the recording and describing of unwritten languages, especially American Indian languages spoken in California and elsewhere in the United States. The current Department of Linguistics continues this tradition, integrating careful, scholarly documentation with cutting-edge theoretical work in phonetics, phonology and morphology; syntax, semantics, and pragmatics; psycholinguistics; sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics; historical linguistics; typology; and cognitive linguistics.

In the Spotlight

Word meanings across languages

Word meanings across languages are sometimes viewed as reflecting a universal conceptual repertoire - or, at the other extreme, culturally varying linguistic convention. This project, headed by Terry Regier, explores a third possibility: that there are better and worse ways of partitioning semantic space for the purposes of communication, and that systems of word meanings across languages tend to reflect near-optimal partitions of such a space. This idea can in principle account for both universal tendencies and some degree of linguistic convention. Ongoing work tests the idea against cross-language databases of spatial terms and color terms, and extensions are planned to other semantic domains.

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