LSA 206: Field semantics and semantic typology

Birgit Hellwig | session 2 | TuTh 3:30 – 5:15, 101 Moffitt Hall

Semantics is of central importance in the description and documentation of languages — even if "only" to gloss lexical and grammatical items, and compare them to other items in terms of their meanings and functions. Many linguists would go further, and are explicitly interested in semantic typologies and the possibilities of comparing semantic structures across languages. While the importance of semantics is thus generally recognized, field semantics poses specific methodological challenges: field researchers often do not have easy access to native speaker intuitions, to large and diversified text corpora and to comprehensively documented grammatical structures — all indispensable aids to any semantic study. This course focuses on such methodological issues: it discusses various data-gathering techniques, illustrating their advantages and disadvantages from a semantic perspective; and it gives an introduction to some successful cross-linguistic semantic studies and the methodologies they are based on.

Reading: Selected materials available online.

Prerequisites: some background in field methods and descriptive & documentary linguistics; no background in semantics required.

Areas of linguistics: Fieldwork and language documentation; Syntax, semantics, and morphology; Languages of Africa

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