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; in syntax and semantics; pragmatics; sociolinguistics and language revitalization; historical linguistics; typology; and cognitive linguistics. Berkeley PhDs tend to be interdisciplinary and creative, benefitting from interactions with distinguished faculty in such other Berkeley departments as anthropology, computer science, philosophy, psychology, and departments devoted to particular languages. The Department emphasizes research that seeks to discover and provide deep explanations for general properties of linguistic form, meaning, and usage.
In the Spotlight
South American Areal Phonology Project
The South American Areal Phonology Project aims to identify traces of language contact in the phonologies, or sound systems, of South American languages. Understanding how language contact has affected the phonologies of South American languages is important in two ways. First, the diffusion of linguistic features between languages generally occurs in contexts of intense social interaction between the speakers of the languages involved. This means that identifying traces of phonological diffusion between South American languages gives us insight into the sociocultural history of the region, including inter-cultural contact during the Pre-Colombian period. Second, an understanding of language contact in South America will play a role in linguistic reconstruction by allowing us to identify linguistic features that may be widespread due to language contact, but do not reconstruct to the proto-languages of the continent. The South American Areal Phonology Project is being carried out by Lev Michael, Tammy Stark, and Will Chang.
In September 2012 we launched an online interface for the South American Phonological Inventories Database (SAPhon), which allows allows anyone with an interest in the phonologies of South American languages to explore the sound systems of the continent. SAPhon provides over 350 phonological inventories and a set of useful search tools including a phoneme search that allows visitors to search for languages which have, or lack, particular segments in their inventories.