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Welcome to the Berkeley Linguistics Department! With the first linguistics department to be established in North America (in 1901), Berkeley has a rich and distinguished tradition of rigorous linguistic documentation and theoretical innovation, making it an exciting and fulfilling place to carry out linguistic research. Its original mission, due to the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the Sanskrit and Dravidian scholar Murray B. Emeneau, was the recording and describing of unwritten languages, especially American Indian languages spoken in California and elsewhere in the United States. The current Department of Linguistics continues this tradition, integrating careful, scholarly documentation with cutting-edge theoretical work in phonetics, phonology and morphology; syntax, semantics, and pragmatics; psycholinguistics; sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics; historical linguistics; typology; and cognitive linguistics.

In the Spotlight

Máíhɨki Project

Lev Michael working with Máíhɨki speakers.

Máíhɨki is a minimally documented Tukanoan language spoken in northern Peruvian Amazonia by the Máíhuna people. Very few young Máíhunas currently speak the language of their parents and grandparents, but as part of a broader effort to maintain a distinct Máíhuna identity, Máíhuna community leaders and a team of UC Berkeley researchers led by Lev Michael have launched a multi-year project to document Máíhɨki and support its revitalization.

The Máíhɨki Project centrally involves community members that are trained in linguistics by the Berkeley team as researchers, and will develop and test new approaches to language revitalization, including family-based language revitalization techniques. The long-term documentation goals for the Máíhɨki Project include the compilation of an extensive dictionary and a substantial collection of oral texts that document important aspects of Máíhuna history and cultural practices, and the preparation of a comprehensive descriptive grammar and a substantial set of materials for teaching and learning Máíhɨki.

In addition to the importance that the documentation of Máíhɨki has to the Máíhuna people, research on this language also promises to be important for linguistics. Due to the unique genetic and areal relationship it has to the languages of northwest Amazonia, Máíhɨki can give linguists insight into theoretically important language contact processes in the region and into the history of the Tukanoan language family. Máíhɨki is also rich in the kinds of Amazonian grammatical phenomena that have drawn the attention of typologists in recent years, including a complex system of classifiers, morphological frustratives, and complex serial verb constructions. Ongoing fieldwork includes graduate student Stephanie Farmer and Cabeceras Aid Project fieldworker Christine Beier.

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