24.900 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Linguistics

Assignment 2

Due: Session 15

Length: approximately 1000 words (≈ 4 pages, double-spaced)

In this assignment, you are to write a research proposal, in which you describe an unsolved problem, your hypothesis, and how you would test it given time and materials for research. 

By this point in the course, we have seen possible solutions to a number of linguistic problems; there are other kinds of issues that we have not yet discussed, and others that we will never touch on at all. Your job in this writing assignment is to pick some questions that you wish you knew the answer to, and explain how you might go about understanding them better. 

Your question may, but need not, center on the language that you have started doing fieldwork on for the class. You could, for example, decide to concentrate on some of the cross-linguistic differences that you have talked about in class, and try to find out how the language you are working on behaves: 

  • We’ve seen that languages differ with respect to the kinds of clusters of consonants they allow; English has words, for example, that begin with a stop followed by a liquid (like dress), but Japanese does not allow words to begin this way (which is why English dress is borrowed into Japanese as doresu). How does the language you’re working on behave? You could ask the speaker you are working with what happens to words that are borrowed into the language from other languages (you could, for example, make up a set of words that are impermissible, and ask the speaker what changes would be made to them if they were borrowed). 
  • Languages vary with respect to their phonetic inventories; the sets of consonants and vowels they have. What is the phonetic inventory of your language? 
  • Languages have different systems for placement of stress in words. Does your language have stress? What determines where it is positioned? And how is it realized? You could make some recordings of stressed words and use Praat to analyze them; does stress affect the pitch of the stressed syllable, for example? or its loudness? You could also compare the effects of stress in the language you’re studying to those in your own native language. 
  • Languages differ, as we saw, with respect to the behavior of their morphology. Does your language use affixes, for example, to convert verbs into adjectives or nouns? Consider some of the morphemes we discussed in English, and try finding out how the language you’re studying expresses the same meanings. 

These are just some ideas to get you started; you shouldn’t feel constrained to choose any of them. You also don’t have to write about the language you’re working on at all; you can find some other topic in linguistics, either one we’ve covered or one we haven’t mentioned at all, and tell us what you would like to know about it. We are happy to talk with you about possible topics; if you have a topic you’d like to explore, check with your TA or your class instructors.

Once you have identified a topic you would like to explore, you should: 

  • describe the topic fully and clearly, assuming an audience that has taken 24.900 but has no other specialized knowledge. 
  • discuss what you would like to find out about this domain. Outline hypotheses about possible answers to the questions you are posing. 
  • propose how you would go about gathering data bearing on the topic. 
  • discuss briefly how the data might turn out.

Rubric for the Research Proposal

Criteria Pts


Topic and its background (5pts) 
A clear problem/ question (5pts) 
Data illustrating the problem (5pts) 
Importance of the problem (5pts) 
The hypotheses (5pts)

25 pts 

Research Data

The data needed to answer the question.

20 pts 


Information about the subjects (4pts) 
A detailed account of the testing conditions (4pts) 
Description of the recording process (3pts) 
Explanation of the data analysis process (4pts)

15 pts 

Predictions and Significance

Possible outcomes of your research (5pts) 
Value/significance of answering the research question (5pts)

10 pts 


The proposal has a clear section structure with proper headings (5pts). 
The key elements are arranged in a logical sequence (5pts). 
The paragraphs are structured around a central, unifying idea (5pts). 
Transitions & signal phrases are used to highlight connections among the main points (5pts).

20 pts 

Clarity and Mechanics

The writing is clear and easy to read (5pts). 
The proposal does not have grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors (5pts).

10 pts 
Total Points: 100

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments
Problem Sets