History of Berkeley Linguistics

The University of California was founded in 1868 and moved to Berkeley in 1873. Since the 1890s, linguistics courses on individual languages and language families have been taught in language and literature departments. Courses on general linguistics began in 1901.

Please also see Leadership and Honors for more information specifically about recognition and awards won by department faculty over the years.


  • 1901: The first American "Department of Linguistics" was established at the University of California. It was headed by Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President of the University and an Indo-Europeanist (PhD Heidelberg 1885, working under the neogrammarian Hermann Osthoff) who wrote books on Greek accent, analogical change, and historical linguistics.
  • 1901: A. L. Kroeber, a recent PhD student of Franz Boas, initiated the Archaeological and Ethnographic Survey of California within a new Department of Anthropology. Fully funded by Phoebe Appersen Hearst, this included documentation of the state's Indigenous languages.
  • 1901-02: The first year's courses in Linguistics were "General Introduction to the Science of Language", "Indo-European Comparative Grammar" (both taught by Wheeler), "The Relationship of the Indo-European, Semitic, and Egyptian Families of Languages", and "Elementary Sanskrit".
  • 1904: Pliny Earle Goddard received the first PhD in Linguistics; his dissertation was The Morphology of the Hupa Language. He joined the faculty in Anthropology and taught linguistic courses there, beginning in 1903-04 with "Experimental Phonetics".
  • 1905-06: In the last year of Linguistics courses for several decades, offerings were "General Introduction to the Science of Language", "Indo-European Comparative Grammar", and "Elementary Sanskrit".
Benjamin Ide Wheeler and Phoebe Apperson Hearst
Benjamin Ide Wheeler and Phoebe Appersen Hearst


Pliny Earle GoddardPliny Earle Goddard
  • General linguistics continued in Anthropology, where Pliny Earle Goddard taught phonetics and introductory linguistics, and A. L. Kroeber taught comparative linguistics, linguistic field methods, and linguistic typology.
  • 1907-08: Edward Sapir held a research position at Berkeley, working on Yana language documentation under Kroeber. In the same year Goddard proposed to University of California President Wheeler that the Department of Anthropology be moved into a renewed Department of Linguistics, headed by Goddard. (This did not happen.)
  • 1908-09: At the end of this year, with the loss of Hearst financial support after the 1907 financial crisis, Goddard left Berkeley for the American Museum of Natural History.
  • 1909: Kroeber's "Noun incorporation in American languages" initiated a hundred-year debate over the analysis of polysynthesis.

The 1910s

  • 1910: T. T. Waterman, who had taken Goddard's phonetics course as an undergraduate and gone on to a Columbia PhD with Franz Boas, was hired to replace Goddard. He taught courses on phonetics (as well as anthropology) until he left Berkeley in 1918.
  • 1911: J. Alden Mason received his Anthropology PhD with a dissertation on Salinan culture; his graduate and later fieldwork also led to a published Salinan grammar (1918). 
  • 1911-16: While Ishi lived in Berkeley and San Francisco, A. L. Kroeber, T. T. Waterman, and (in 1915) Edward Sapir worked with him extensively to document Yana language and song. Over five hours of Yana sound recordings that Ishi made with Kroeber and Waterman are listed in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry.
  • 1916: L. S. Freeland entered the Anthropology graduate program, working on the Eastern Pomo, Nisenan, Lake Miwok, and Sierra Miwok languages. Her Language of the Sierra Miwok, substantially done when she left the graduate program in 1923, was never formally submitted for the PhD; it was finished in 1933 and published only in 1951.
  • 1918-20: The anthropologist Paul Radin taught at Berkeley. Based on 1918 fieldwork with Joe McCloud and Jim Tripo, he published a Wappo text volume (1924) and grammar (1929).  
A. L. Kroeber and Ishi
A. L. Kroeber and Ishi (Yana) in 1911

The 1920s

Jaime de Angulo and Jack Folsom (Achumawi), c. 1925
Jaime de Angulo and Jack Folsom working to document Achumawi language and cultural practices, Berkeley, c. 1925 
  • Comparative and historical linguistics continued in language and literature departments; linguistic fieldwork and typology were done in Anthropology despite the absence of formal courses.
  • 1920: The bohemian novelist and linguist Jaime de Angulo — "the American Ovid" (Ezra Pound) — taught anthropology in the 1920 Berkeley Summer Session and began a long engagement with local anthropologists and linguists.
  • 1920-33: De Angulo and L. S. Freeland collaborated on the documentation of at least eight indigenous California languages, with several significant publications and numerous unpublished manuscripts.
  • 1922-23: Gladys Reichard, a Columbia University student of Franz Boas, was based at Berkeley while doing fieldwork for her dissertation on WIyot grammar.
  • 1924: Berkeley's A. L. Kroeber and Benjamin Ide Wheeler and former faculty member Pliny Earle Goddard were among the 29 signers of the November 15 call for the creation of a Linguistic Society of America. (Goddard organized the December meeting in New York at which the LSA came into existence.)
  • 1927: Dorothy Demetracopoulou entered the Anthropology graduate program (PhD 1931). Her Wintu fieldwork in 1929-30 led to a series of well-known papers through the 1940s on the relationship between Wintu linguistic categories and habitual thought.
  • 1928: Charles Voegelin entered the Anthropology graduate program. For training in linguistic methods he was sent by his academic supervisor, A. L. Kroeber, to work with de Angulo.

The 1930s

  • 1930-32: The Danish linguist Hans Jørgen Uldall (a student of Otto Jespersen and the phonetician Daniel Jones) came to Berkeley to do fieldwork on Nisenan and other California languages. He worked with A. L. Kroeber and tutored Jaime de Angulo, L.S. Freeland, and Charles Voegelin in phonetics.
  • 1932: Voegelin's PhD dissertation (in Anthropology), published as Tübatulabal Grammar (1935), was the second completed University of California dissertation to comprise a grammar of a California language. It furnished the content of Morris Swadesh & Voegelin's influential "A problem in phonological alternation" (1939).
  • 1935-37: Abraham M. Halpern, whose University of Chicago dissertation would set the paradigm for research on Yuman languages, began his graduate career at Berkeley with major fieldwork on Pomoan languages and Quechan. (He left due to funding limitations for fieldwork.)
Achumawi transcription, 1931From Hans Jørgen Uldall's transcription of an Achumawi story told by Artie Griffith (1931)


Mary R. Haas in 1930Mary R. Haas (Earlham College yearbook, 1930)
  • 1940: Murray B. Emeneau, who had studied at Yale with Franklin Edgerton and Edward Sapir, came to Berkeley as an assistant professor of Sanskrit and general linguistics. Under Sapir's influence, he had turned his research from Sanskrit to work on previously unstudied Dravidian languages.
  • 1943: Mary R. Haas came to Berkeley as a lecturer in Siamese (Thai). Having written a grammar of Tunica and worked on Natchez and Muskogean languages, she began Thai research for the Army. Haas reflected on her life and careerin a 1984 video interview.
  • 1943-45: The Army Specialized Training Program brought linguists to campus and reoriented the work of those already here, including Haas (teaching Thai) and Emeneau (who began work on Vietnamese).
  • 1946: Yakov Malkiel (Spanish & Portuguese) founded Romance Philology, the preeminent American journal in Romance linguistics, which he would continue to edit until 1982.


  • 1947: An interdepartmental Group in Linguistics was formed to grant master's and doctoral degrees. Courses in general linguistics were taught in Classics (by Murray B. Emeneau) and Oriental Languages (by Mary R. Haas).
  • 1947: Yuen Ren Chao joined Berkeley's Department of Oriental Languages and Group in Linguistics. Chao "laid the foundation of linguistics in China" (in William S-Y. Wang's words): his Chinese Romanization was adopted by the Chinese government in 1928, and he directed the linguistic surveys of the Academica Sinica in the 1930s. Chao talked about his life in a series of 1974 interviews, transcribed online.
  • 1949: In a June 6 memorandum to UC President Sproul, the Group in Linguistics asked that a (new) Department of Linguistics be formed. This request was turned down for reasons of funding.
  • 1951: The University of California hosted its first Linguistic Institute, directed by C. Douglas Chrétien.
  • 1952: After Emeneau was offered a chair at Yale, the Dean of the College of Letters & Sciences recommended in a May 5 memorandum to President Sproul that a (new) Department of Linguistics be established at Berkeley, together with a Survey of California Indian Languages.
Y. R. Chao around 1916
Yuen Ren Chao (c. 1916, Wikipedia)


William Shipley and Maym GallagherWilliam Shipley (PhD 1959, Maidu Grammar) working in 1955 with Maym Gallagher on Northeastern Maidu
  • 1953: A new Department of Linguistics offered courses, with C. Douglas Chrétien, Murray B. Emeneau, and Mary R. Haas holding Linguistics appointments, and affiliated faculty Madison Beeler, Denzel Carr, Yuen Ren Chao, Yakov Malkiel, Oleg Maslenikov, David Reed (later at Northwestern), and Francis Whitfield.
  • 1953: The Survey of California Indian Languages was established under Haas's leadership.
  • 1953: David DeCamp's PhD dissertation The Pronunciation of English in San Francisco (in the English Department) was among the first modern sociolinguistic analyses. He later first described the "creole continuum".
  • 1953-57: Murray B. Emeneau served as department chair.
  • 1954: Emma Wintler Johnson's Studies in East Armenian Grammar was the first PhD dissertation in the modern Department of Linguistics.
  • 1956:Emeneau's "India as a linguistic area", a seminal work in areal linguistics, introduced the term "linguistic area" to American linguists.
  • 1956-58: In these years Sydney LambWilliam Shipley, and Madison Beeler, respectively, joined the Linguistics faculty (in Beeler's case from German).
  • 1957: Richard Montague finished his PhD dissertation (in Philosophy) Contributions to the Axiomatic Foundations of Set Theory, working with Alfred Tarski. Montague later laid the foundations of formal semantics.
  • 1957-64: Mary R. Haas served as department chair.
  • 1958: Haas's "Algonkian-Ritwan: The end of a controversy" demonstrated that Wiyot and Yurok (in California) are related to the Algonquian languages (of central-eastern North America).


  • 1961:Dell Hymes (later at Penn and Virginia) joined the faculty.
  • 1961: T. Burrow and Murray B. Emeneau's Dravidian Etymological Dictionary, the major reference work in its field, was published.
  • 1962:John J. Gumperz (from Near Eastern Languages) and Jesse Sawyer (from Rhetoric and Speech) joined the Linguistics faculty.
  • 1962: The Language Laboratory (in 1984 renamed the Berkeley Language Center) was established at the initiative of Sawyer and Mary R. Haas, with Sawyer as its director, to house archived linguistic field (and other) recordings and serve the technological needs of language teaching.
  • 1963: Wallace Chafe (later at UC Santa Barbara) joined the faculty.
  • 1963: The first Berkeley Linguistics dissertations not based on fieldwork were Frederic Jenkins's French Endocentric Nominals and Sheldon Klein's Automatic Decoding of Written English
  • 1964: Haas's Thai-English Student's Dictionary appeared — her "crowning achievement in Thai studies" (in James A. Matisoff's words).
  • 1964: David Reed joined the Linguistics faculty (from English), and brought with him the Linguistic Atlas ofthe Pacific Coast
  • 1964-65: Linguistics had 48 undergraduate majors and 57 enrolled graduate students, according to campus records.
  • 1964-70: David Reed served as department chair.
John Gumperz
John J. Gumperz (center), while doing fieldwork in Khalapur, India, 1955


William S-Y. Wang
William S-Y. Wang in 2014

  • 1965: William S.-Y. Wang and Karl Zimmer joined the faculty.
  • 1966: Yakov Malkiel (from Spanish & Portuguese) and Barend van Nooten joined the faculty.
  • 1967: H. P. Grice (in Philosophy) and Richard Stanley joined the faculty.
  • 1967:William S-Y. Wang founded the Phonology Laboratory.
  • 1967-68: This was the last year when knowledge of Greek or Latin, and knowledge of French or German, were prerequisites for declaring the undergraduate Linguistics major; and the last year when Linguistics majors were required to take Sanskrit.
  • 1968: One of the most important modern contributions to Chinese linguistics, Yuen Ren Chao's monumental A Grammar of Spoken Chinese was published.
  • 1968-69: This was the first year an undergraduate syntax course appeared in the curriculum (Linguistics 106, "Transformational Grammar").
  • 1969: William S-Y. Wang's "Competing changes as a cause of residue" introduced the term "lexical diffusion" in the study of sound change.
  • 1969: Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, by the Berkeley anthropologists Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, was a landmark in research on language, cognition, and culture.


  • 1970: James A. Matisoff and John J. Ohala joined the faculty.
  • 1970: Madison Beeler's "Sibilant harmony in Chumash", based on philological research and fieldwork with the last first-language speaker of a Chumash language, first described the phenomenon of sibilant harmony.
  • 1970-74: Wallace Chafe served as department chair.
  • 1971: Charles J. Fillmore joined the faculty.
  • 1971: Fillmore's Santa Cruz Lectures on Deixis (published in 1975) made a central contribution to the emerging field of linguistic pragmatics.
  • 1972: George Lakoff, Robin Tolmach Lakoff, and (in Slavic) Johanna Nichols joined the faculty.
  • 1972: Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place created the modern field of language and gender. A new edition with the original text and commentaries was published in 2004.
  • 1972: Leonard Talmy's PhD dissertation Semantic Structures in English and Atsugewi has become a classic in the semantic typology of event structure and location and motion predicates.
  • 1973: Matisoff's The Grammar of Lahu was published, later called "the most complete and adequate grammar in existence of a Tibeto-Burman language" (Language 1982).
  • 1974-79: Karl Zimmer served as department chair
Lakoff, "Language and Woman's Place"


BLS 1 (cover)Title page of BLS 1 (1975)


Metaphors We Live By (cover)


James A. Matisoff
James A. Matisoff in 2008


  • 1991-2002: Larry M. Hyman served as department chair.
  • 1992: Sharon Inkelas joined the faculty.
  • 1992: Johanna Nichols published Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time, winner of the Linguistic Society of America's Leonard Bloomfield Book Award in 1994.
  • 1994: The 20th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society was dedicated to Charles J. Fillmore for his 65th birthday.
  • 1994: The Comparative Bantu Online Dictionary was initiated by Larry M. Hyman and John B. Lowe at Berkeley, with National Science Foundation support and an international team of collaborators.
  • 1995: Barend van Nooten and Gary Holland's Rig Veda: A Metrically Restored Text was a watershed in the study of the oldest literary text in any Indo-European language outside Anatolia.
  • 1995: Under Leanne Hinton's leadership and in collaboration with the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, Berkeley hosted the first biennial Breath of Life Language Restoration Workshop.
Charles J. Fillmore and Lily Wong Fillmore
Charles J. Fillmore and Lily Wong Fillmore


Murray B. Emeneau in 1999
Murray B. Emeneau at the 1999 Linguistics graduation
  • 1995: Andrew Garrett and John McWhorter (later at Columbia University) joined the faculty.
  • 1996: After Mary R. Haas died (on May 17), a campus memorial was held with remembrances from students and colleagues. As Karl Teeter (PhD 1952, The Wiyot Language) put it then, she trained more Americanists than Boas "and even more than Boas and Sapir together".
  • 1999: Berkeley faculty and students organized the 14th International Congress of Phonetic Science, San Francisco.


  • 2000: Ian Maddieson joined the faculty.
  • 2001: Leanne Hinton and Ken Hale co-edited The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice.
  • 2001: Berkeley hosted the 32nd Annual Conference on African Linguistics and the 33rd Algonquian Conference.
  • 2002-05: Leanne Hinton served as department chair.
  • 2002: Larry M. Hyman's "Suffix ordering in Bantu: A morphocentric approach" gave evidence supporting an important theory of templatic affix ordering.
  • 2003: Geoffrey Nunberg joined the Berkeley faculty (in the School of Information).
  • 2004: At department founder Murray B. Emeneau's 100th birthday party on campus, 370 Dwinelle was renamed the "Murray Barnson Emeneau Room". Prof. Emeneau passed away on August 29, 2005, at the age of 101.
  • 2004: Line Mikkelsen joined the faculty.
Larry M. Hyman
Larry M. Hyman, longest-serving Berkeley department chair (1991-2002), in a 2008 Field Methods class that drew widespread media attention


LSA 2009 poster by Laurie Caird
LSA 2009 poster by Laurie Caird


  • 2011: Peter Jenks joined the faculty.
  • 2011: For the 6th edition of Peter Ladefoged's classic A Course in Phonetics, Keith Johnson became a co-author. Ladefoged and Johnson's 7th edition was published in 2015.
  • 2011: A $1 million gift from the family of Robert L. Oswalt (PhD 1961, A Kashaya Grammar) created an endangered-language grant program to support fieldwork by Berkeley students and others.
  • 2011: The California Language Archive, an online catalog and digital repository of materials relating to languages of North and South America, was created with NEH support.
  • 2011: In Voices of Berkeley, all new Cal undergraduates were invited to join a phonetic research project, exploring the phonetic diversity of the incoming class and giving researchers a database of speech patterns at Cal.
  • 2012: A new Fieldwork Laboratory, directed by Peter Jenks and Lev Michael, was set up as a resource for students working with consultants or processing field data.
  • 2013: The Linguistics Research Apprentice Practicum was created, a program that teams up graduate student mentors and undergraduate apprentices in original research projects designed by mentors under faculty supervision.
  • 2013-18: Andrew Garrett served as department chair.
Wax cylinder recordings of the Tunica languageWax cylinder recordings of Tunica, made by Mary R. Haas in the 1930s, digitized in 2015 and accessible online via the California Language Archive


Sharon Inkelas, Social Sciences Distinguished Service AwardSharon Inkelas, after receiving the 2015-16 Distinguished Service Award, Division of Social Sciences, in February 2017


  • 2020: Gasper Begus joined the faculty.
  • 2020: During the COVID-19 campus closure, the Linguistics Department celebrated its graduates virtually for the first time, not in person, with a web page and videos assembled by faculty and alumni.
  • 2021: Hannah Sande joined the faculty.
  • 2022: Terry Regier became department chair.
2020 Linguistics graduates2020 BA, MA, and PhD Linguistics degree recipients