Linguistics 202/502: Introduction to Field Linguistics

Mark Liberman

This course provides instruction and practice in primary linguistic research, combining study of reference materials and work with a native-speaker consultant.  The emphasis is on quickly building a grammatical sketch and a lexicon adequate to support further research. Despite what the course register says, there are no prerequisites beyond a basic knowledge of linguistic terminology and a willingness to do the course work.

Students will do a term project investigating some phenomenon in the language studied, which in spring 1998 will be Somali. For all students, the first goal is to learn to "get up to speed" on a new language quickly, as well as to gain detailed practical experience in the characteristics of the particular language studied. For advanced students, another key goal is to create data for a research project in some area of linguistics, and to write up at least a preliminary version of such a project.

Schedule and course structure

There are two kinds of meeting times: "plenary" and "individual," scheduled as follows:
Day Time Type
Tuesday 12:00-1:30 Plenary
Tuesday 1:30-3:00 Individual
Thursday 10:30-12:00 Individual
Thursday 12:00-1:30 Plenary

The first couple of weeks will consist of a quick survey of the language, including basic ear training and the use of the standard orthography, the basics of inflection and derivation, and basic sentence structure.


There will be weekly assignments, in some cases based on reading (paper or on-line materials), in other cases based on work with the language consultant.


Schedule (due date)
1. Tues., Jan. 20 Read (web pages): 
General information about Somali 
Somali writing system 
Noun morphology in standard Somali 
The "ATR" feature in Somali vowels 
2. Thurs. Jan. 22 Read (web pages): 
Preverbal particles 
Morphological exercise 1 
3. Tues. Jan. 27 Read: Saeed chapter on verbs 
         (handed out in class) 
Morphological exercise 2 
4. Tues. Feb. 3 Do: Transcription exercise 1 
5. Tues. Feb. 17 Read: Saeed chapters on clause structure
Do: Make your project web page,
       based on the template