A full list of research projects can be found by going to the individual research areas. This is a sampler of several currently active projects in the department.
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.
The Department's Award-Winning Staff
The Linguistics Department is supported by four oustanding staff members. Department Manager Paula Floro, a UC Berkeley graduate, has been with the department since 1996. She oversees the programmatic and operational needs of the department, including the budget, external grants, faculty and staff appointments, and department infrastructure and space. Floro has served on a number of important campus committees, including the Letters & Science Administrative Advisory Committee and the Academic Business Officers Group/Management Council, both of which she chaired. Floro has received both an individual and a group Chancellor's Distinguished Service Award and several campus “Spot” awards for exceptional performance.
Staff Graduate Advisor Belén Flores has been with the department since 1993. She advises current and prospective graduate students, assisting with admissions, funding, teaching assignments, and degree requirements. Flores is also the department's visiting scholar coordinator, handling visa issues and other aspects of international scholarship. Flores has received the Chancellor's Distinguished Service Award as well as a “Spot” award for performance excellence. Several Lingustics PhD dissertations have been fondly dedicated to her.
Staff Undergraduate Advisor Jane Paris joined the department in the spring of 2012. The holder of an MS (in Higher Education and Student Affairs) and a BA (in Journalism and Political Science) from Indiana University, Paris has extensive experience in undergraduate advising, having served most recently as a College Advisor in Letters & Science. Paris advises Linguistics majors about course selection, graduation requirements, the honors program, and many other facets of the undergraduate experience; she also oversees the Linguistics Department Commencement ceremony. Paris, who has a popular blog, has received campus "Spot" awards for her work with career planning and social media in undergraduate advising.
Information Systems Analyst Ronald Sprouse, a graduate of Pomona College with an MA in Linguistics from UC Berkeley, provides technical support to students and faculty in the department, to the Phonology and Psycholinguistics laboratories, and to the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages as well as the new California Language Archive. Sprouse also plays a key role in the externally funded research projects of students and faculty. He has received campus "Spot" awards for his work with the "Voices of Berkeley" project and the California Language Archive.
California Language Archive
The California Language Archive, an online catalog and digital repository of UC Berkeley language archives, is the largest university archive of indigenous language materials in North America and is managed by students and faculty in Berkeley's Linguistics Department. As of June 2011, it catalogs the holdings of the Berkeley Language Center (over 1700 hours of sound recordings, collected from 1949-2011) and the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages (about 2500 manuscript items, including over 60,000 scanned images, collected from 1902-2011). By the end of summer 2011, several thousand wax cylinder sound recordings in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology will also be included in the CLA. All of California's indigenous languages are represented in these collection, and many other Native languages throughout the western hemisphere. The CLA provides not only a framework for student and faculty research at Berkeley, but also a context for undergraduates and graduate students to become leaders in the growing field of language documentation and archiving.
The Máíhɨki Project centrally involves community members that are trained in linguistics by the Berkeley team as researchers, and will develop and test new approaches to language revitalization, including family-based language revitalization techniques. The long-term documentation goals for the Máíhɨki Project include the compilation of an extensive dictionary and a substantial collection of oral texts that document important aspects of Máíhuna history and cultural practices, and the preparation of a comprehensive descriptive grammar and a substantial set of materials for teaching and learning Máíhɨki.
Karuk dictionary and texts
The Karuk dictionary and text project, led by Andrew Garrett and Line Mikkelsen, aims to create comprehensive and usable online research, teaching, and learning tools for Karuk, an indigenous language of northern California with fewer than a dozen first-language speakers. We have made an interactive online version of a dictionary created by Bill Bright and Susan Gehr, and are augmenting it with audio recordings from current fieldwork. We are also digitizing and annotating published texts and integrating these with the online dictionary, and creating practical descriptions of Karuk grammar. The next phase is the creation of a Karuk treebank (parsed syntactic corpus). This will contain published texts and unexamined audio material from earlier fieldwork by a variety of scholars. The Karuk treebank will also be integrated with the online dictionary, yielding a unparalled, open-access resource for endangered language work.
Omagua: Documentation and Sociohistorical Analysis
Lev Michael and a group of students are documenting and developing a grammatical description of Omagua, a highly endangered language of Peruvian Amazonia, and are working to understand the linguistic and social history of this remarkable language. Omagua was the language of one of the largest and most powerful pre-Colombian Amazonian societies, and was spoken along most of the upper main Amazon River. However, Omagua is now spoken by fewer than ten elderly individuals, and the Omagua research group has the privilege of working with several of them: Amelia Huanaquiri, Arnaldo Huanaquiri, Lino Huanío, and Alicia Huanío . Together they are documenting the grammar and lexicon of this language, and creating a large corpus of Omagua narratives and other texts that are useful both as a historical resource for the Omagua community and as a basis for linguistic analysis.
Intriguingly, recent work suggests that Omagua is a creole language arising from contact between speakers of some language of the large Tupí-Guaraní family and some as-yet-undetermined indigenous language. Beyond the fundamental task of analyzing and describing this historically important language, therefore, the Omagua research group is attempting to better understand the relation of Omagua to the Tupí-Guaraní family and other nearby language families. The team is making use of both linguistic analysis and historical records to develop a picture of the sociohistorical circumstances of its genesis and to evaluate the hypothesis that it is creole language. If Omagua does indeed prove to be a creole language, this would have significant consequences for work on language contact, creole linguistics, and our understanding of the social and cultural history of Pre-Colombian Amazonia.
During the Summer 2010, UC Berkeley students Zachary O'Hagan, Clare Sandy, Tammy Stark, and Vivian Wauters worked with the Omagua speakers to document the language, and Zachary O'Hagan and Clare Sandy returned for a second fieldwork period in Summer 2011.
Optimal Construction Morphology (Sharon Inkelas)Sharon Inkelas and Gabriela Caballero (PhD 2008) are developing a theoretical production model of morphology, called Optimal Construction Morphology, whose aim is to predict the optimal combination of morphological constructions that can produce a word of a given target meaning in a given language. OCM builds on earlier theories such as Lexical Morphology and Phonology, A-Morphous Morphology, Paradigm Function Morphology, and Construction Grammar, synthesizing the contributions of realizational, item-based and cyclic morphological theories in novel ways. In OCM, each layer of morphology in a complex word is the winner of a competition. All the possible single morphological constructions that could combine with a given stem compete, in Optimality-theoretic fashion, to see which does the best job of bringing the word under construction into conformity with the target meaning. Thus far, Inkelas and Caballero have focused on the phenomena of blocking (worse blocks *badd-er and *worse-r) and its apparent opposite, multiple exponence (e.g. tol-d, in which the root and the suffix both mark past tense). The co-existence of anti-redundancy (blocking) and redundancy (multiple exponence) in morphology has long been a thorn in the side of morphological theories; OCM promises to illuminate this uneasy co-existence.
Word meanings across languages (Terry Regier)
Word meanings across languages are sometimes viewed as reflecting a universal conceptual repertoire - or, at the other extreme, culturally varying linguistic convention. This project 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.
Phonetics and Phonology Forum (Phorum)Phorum is a lively weekly talk and discussion series, coordinated by graduate students and attended by students, visitors and faculty. Phorum features presentations on all aspects of phonology and phonetics by Berkeley linguists and out-of-town visitors. A schedule of talks for the current semester can be found here.
The Neural Theory of Language project (George Lakoff, Eve Sweetser)
The Neural Theory of Language (NTL) project is an interdisciplinary research effort to answer the question: How does the brain compute the mind? Specific research questions include: How can the brain -- a highly structured network of neurons -- support thought and language? How do the specific neural structures of the human brain shape the nature of thought and language? How are language and thought related to other neural systems, including perception, motor control, and social cognition? What are the computational properties of neural systems? What are the applications of neural computing?
The Yurok Language Project (Andrew Garrett)
The Yurok Language Project combines active fieldwork with Yurok elders with philological analysis of earlier fieldnotes and recordings to develop a Yurok documentary corpus. The Yurok materials are organized into a single digital archive, publicly available on the project web site, which incorporates information from as early as 1850 to the present day. The goal of the project is both to document and promote scholary research into Yurok and to contribute to the language revitalization efforts of the Yurok community. The scope of the Yurok Language Project includes formal classes in public schools, community language classes, summer camps, and other activities sponsored by the Yurok Tribe and by Yurok community groups.
The Phonology Laboratory (Keith Johnson, Director; John Ohala, emeritus Director) is a research and teaching laboratory within the Linguistics Department. The lab is equipped with instrumental and software resources for acoustic, perceptual, and articulatory phonetic research. Home to a thriving group of visiting scholars, postdoctoral fellows, and student researchers, research in the phonology lab is sponsored by federally funded research projects on speech production and perception. The lab hosts a weekly talk series (Phonetics and Phonology Forum) and publishes an Annual Report.
Survey of California and Other Indian Languages
The Survey of California and Other Indian Languages has three main activities: language documentation; archiving; and community service and public outreach. The Survey was founded by Mary Haas and Murray Emeneau in 1952, a year before the present Department of Linguistics, and it continues the linguistic work of the Archaeological and Ethnographic Survey of California, established by A. L. Kroeber in 1901. Its work is currently supervised by Andrew Garrett (Director) and Leanne Hinton (emeritus Director).
The Survey sponsors documentary linguistic work throughout California and elsewhere in the western hemisphere. Most published grammars and dictionaries of California Indian languages are based on work supported by the Survey, usually by Berkeley graduate students, and we have also sponsored extensive research in Algonquian, Mayan, Uto-Aztecan, Zapotec, and other language families mainly spoken outside California. In our permanent archive we have 2000 separately cataloged items (field notes and other unpublished materials), with manuscripts dating as early as 1902 covering 130 separate languages and at least half of the 100 indigenous languages of California. The archive is climate controlled, will soon be managed by a professional archivist (under a three-year NSF-NEH grant), and is in the middle of a project to digitize its holdings and make them available on the internet. Finally, as the state's primary repository of native language documentation the Survey sponsors programs to make its collections accessible to Native people. For example, the biennial Breath of Life Workshop brings to campus California Indians whose languages no longer have native speakers, so they can learn how to use our archives, learn about their languages, and in some cases begin language revitalization projects.
Cross linguistic studies on spoken language processing (Keith Johnson)The long-term objective of this NIH-funded research project is to understand human spoken language processing (particularly speech perception and auditory word recognition) in linguistic context. Speech signals are unique in human experience because they are highly familiar, and have great practical significance in daily life. Therefore, it is not too surprising to find that people develop optimized processing strategies tuned specifically for speech. In this work we study how this tuning process may be sensitive to linguistic structure. Cross-linguistic spoken language research is important because without it we are in danger of concluding that the phenomena found in one language (or even dialect) are somehow normative for speakers of other languages. Such a narrow understanding of 'normal' spoken language processing is likely to have a negative impact on clinical speech and hearing practice in a pluralistic society.
The Xtone project (Larry Hyman)
The Cross-Linguistic Tonal Database (XTone) is a web-accessible forum developed at Berkeley to which interested researchers worldwide can contribute basic descriptive characterizations of as many tone systems as possible, with the goal of discovering new language-specific and cross-linguistic tone patterns. While tone is known to be especially prevalent in Subsaharan Africa, East and Southeast Asia, and parts of New Guinea, Meso-America and Amazonia, languages with tonal contrasts are found in almost all parts of the globe. The database has been organized to highlight four aspects of tone systems: inventories of tones and tone-bearing units; inventories of tone alternations; inventories of the tonal melodies found within grammatical domains of different sizes; interactions of tone with other phonological properties.
Syntax and Semantics Circle
The Syntax & Semantics Circle is a weekly forum dedicated to discussion of the descriptive, experimental, and theoretical study of syntax and semantics, featuring presentations of ongoing research by members of the Berkeley Linguistics Department and other departments, as well as discussion of previously published works. The current schedule can be found here.