About Fieldwork and Language Documentation

The Berkeley Linguistics Department is committed to the documentation, description, and analysis of understudied languages. Founded with a focus on Native American languages, especially in California, Berkeley Linguistics has since also developed strong research traditions in languages of Africa, Amazonia, the Caucasus and northern Eurasia, and South and Southeast Asia.

Our work with speakers of understudied languages is characterized by a combination of methodological sophistication and theoretical engagement, as well as a concern with community-oriented applications of research. At Berkeley, fieldwork underlies research in a variety of areas, including historical and areal linguistics; language and social context; phonology, phonetics, and morphology; and syntax and semantics. Many Berkeley linguists are also active in the development of descriptive and documentary materials such as dictionaries, corpora, and descriptive grammars. Such resources often play a central role in collaborative work with communities focused on language education and revitalization.

Fieldwork-based research at Berkeley is supported by the Fieldwork Lab, which provides resources for data collection and processing, and meeting space for local work with language consultants; and by the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, which provides funding for student fieldwork (through the Robert L. Oswalt Endangered Language Grants) and maintains the California Language Archive, a digital archive for linguistic materials from around world. Faculty and students focusing on field research in phonetics also work closely with the PhonLab.

Training our students in collecting and analyzing primary linguistic data through work with native speakers is a central part of the graduate program. The core of this training is a two-semester Field Methods course taken by all students, which gives them skills to document, describe, and analyze unfamiliar languages. A list of languages studied in Field Methods courses in recent years can be found here.

Hannah Sande, Guébie fieldwork, 2016
Agodio Olivier, Serikpa Emil, and Hannah Sande recording and translating Guébie (Kru) texts (Côte d'Ivoire, 2016)

Lev Michael documenting Máíjìkì avian vocabulary
Máíhɨ̃kì speakers Julian Ríos, Gilberto Pérez, and Alberto Mosoline, with Lev Michael, using audio recordings and field guides to associate scientific names with bird names in Máíhɨ̃ (Tukanoan; Nueva Vida, Loreto, Peru, 2010)
Darya Kavitskaya, Crimean Tatar fieldwork, Crimea
Darya Kavitskaya with speakers of Northern Crimean Tatar (Crimea, 2016)

Jonathan Manker, Han fieldwork, 2013
Hän (Athabascan) speakers Ruth Ridley, Ethel Beck, and Bertha Ulvi working on a video documentation project with Jonathan Manker (Eagle, Alaska, 2013)