24.900 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Linguistics

Assignment 3

Due: Session 22

Length: 3000 words

In this paper, you will report on the results of your linguistic fieldwork. Imagine that linguists knew nothing about your fieldwork language until you got to work on it, and you are the first linguist to conduct work on this language. You should write a preliminary “grammatical sketch” of the language. You will report and analyze the data from your own field notes; you should include only the data that you have collected yourself, not data gathered from other sources. You should assume an audience that knows a bit about linguistics—you should imagine that they know everything we’ve talked about in class—but nothing about your particular language. 

If you want to see what a grammatical sketch should look like, there is one very good example of one here: https://julietstanton.github.io/files/stanton_saafi_sketch.pdf (PDF - 4 MB) 

This sketch was written on the basis of much more work than you have had a chance to do; you certainly aren’t expected to provide this level of detail. But this sketch can give you a sense of the kinds of things people write about in this kind of work. 

Your sketch should be written in full sentences and paragraphs, offering data that support your claims about the language. You should follow the glossing conventions that we’ve talked about for this class, presenting numbered examples, with a line in the original language, a line of glosses, and then a translation, enclosed in single quotation marks: 

(1) a. ‘T-olomi-ptu-ni-ya               oqiton 

          3-away-carry-INAN-3PL    canoe 

          ‘They carried the canoe away with them’

     b. Moc-uwe-lams-uk-e 


          ‘His/her hair is messed up by the wind’ 

For the ‘language’ line, you should write the language in a way that will enable us to read it. If the language uses the Roman alphabet or has a standard Romanization, feel free to use that; if not, you should use IPA. 

For the ‘gloss’ line, you should use any abbreviations that you feel you need, and explain to us what they mean in a footnote at the beginning of the sketch (the footnote can start with “In this paper, I will use the following abbreviations: INAN=inanimate, PL= plural…”). Don’t worry about using the “wrong” abbreviations; you won’t be graded on whether your terms are the ones linguists generally use. If you’d like to see some guidelines that some linguists sometimes follow, there are some at https://www.eva.mpg.de/lingua/resources/glossing-rules.php.

The numbering allows you to refer to the examples in your text (that is you can say things like “we see in (1a) that Passamaquoddy verbs agree with both the subject and the object”). 

You should begin with a paragraph or two of background about the language, and about the person that you worked with. What language is it? Is it a particular dialect of a larger language? Where is it spoken, and by how many people? What language family does it belong to? Where did the person you are working with grow up, and (if relevant) what other languages do they speak? Make sure to ask permission before sharing any information that might be considered personal. 

You should describe the results you have already told us about in previous problem sets. Having done that, you may find that you have not yet written 3000 words, in which case you should try to find some more things to discuss. You should feel free to find topics of your own to investigate, possibly inspired by topics we’ve discussed in class; we are always happy to talk with you about possible topics if you’d like. A few suggestions follow: 

  • Describe the phonology of your language. What is its phonetic inventory? What kinds of consonant clusters does it allow? 
  • You have studied a little bit of the morphology of your language. What other morphemes have you found? 
  • We have studied some conditions on the behavior of pronouns and anaphors (words with meanings like he and herself). How do these expressions behave in the language you are studying? Are the rules for their behavior the same as those we’ve discussed in class? 
  • You were invited to find out how wh-questions are formed in your language. As we’ve seen, wh-questions are sometimes impossible (that is, wh-movement cannot proceed out of islands). Does the language you are studying exhibit the island effects we have discussed? 

Finally, you may very well discover that you haven’t had enough time to find out everything you’d like to. If there’s some aspect of the language that you’re interested in but haven’t had time to fully explore, you can tell us about that. What future work would you do on this language, given the time and resources? What other questions would you like to ask? What kind of data would you try to gather, and how? 

As always, you should feel free to consult with all of us (including your professor, your TA, and the writing advisors) about every aspect of this paper.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
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