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Fieldwork methods


Admission requirements

This course has two prerequisites

  1. A course in articulatory phonetics, such as the BA Taalwetenschap course ‘Klanken van de wereld’ (=‘Sounds of the World’) or an equivalent, is a prerequisite.
    Students with no previous training in articulatory phonetics are required to make up for this deficiency before or during the Field Methods course. Please contact the lecturer if you have questions.

  2. A basic knowledge of linguistic concepts and how to apply them to language data is assumed; as described for morphology and syntax in e.g.

  • Payne, Thomas E., 2006. Exploring language structure: A student’s guide. Cambridge: CUP.

  • Kroeger, Paul R., 2005. Analyzing grammar: An Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
    and for phonetics and phonology in e.g.

  • Gussenhoven, C. and H. Jacobs. 1998 (2nd ed.) Understanding Phonology. London: Arnold

  • Davenport, Mike and S.J. Hannahs. 2005 (2nd ed.) Introducing Phonetics and Phonology. London: Arnold.


An exciting part of studying linguistics is learning about a language from speakers rather than from books. This course is aimed at preparing students for a real-world field situation by working with a native speaker of a language unfamiliar to them. The main goal is to document and analyze central areas of the language, ranging from sounds, to words, to sentences and utterances. The course will additionally include the use of tools and techniques for eliciting, recording, transcribing, archiving and presenting linguistic material, while ethical and practical issues of working in the field will also be discussed. Students will carry out both group work and an individual project.

Course objectives

  1. To be able to record, transcribe and annotate speech data of a previously unfamiliar language, through the interaction with a native speaker.

  2. To be able to gather data from the language through elicitation of word lists and grammar, as well as analysis of (spoken) texts .

  3. To be able to organise linguistic data in a database.

  4. To have achieved a basic analysis of the phonology, morphology and syntax of the language and be able to present this coherently in written form .

  5. To be able to identify which data gaps still exist for the analysis .

  6. To be able to evaluate usefulness of different elicitation methods for different linguistic domains.

  7. To be able to evaluate the relationship between the collected primary data and the theory that shapes linguistic research questions.

  8. To have acquired skills in the use of audio and video recording techniques as well as relevant software (Elan, Toolbox, etc.).

  9. To have an overview of the practical issues related to fieldwork (choosing a field site, orthography design, how to work with speakers, etc.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction

Combination of lecture, seminar, and research

  • Each week we meet twice: (1) one class of 2 hours where we collect data in class and have plenary discussion of data collection, analysis, and practical or ethical issues as they arise, and (2) one class of 1 hour for information on data recording, organisation, storage, and software, as well as specific analytical questions that arose during group work outside class.

  • In addition to these 3 ‘contact hours’, students also collect their own data with the native speaker outside class, in groups of 2-3, for minimally 30 minutes per week.

  • Students taking this course must be prepared to attend all classes and to work intensively throughout the course.

  • In the first part of the course, we collect lexical data and get to know tools for data recording, organisation and storage. In the second part, we collect and transcribe textual data, and work on the phonological analysis. In the third part, we analyse the textual data using direct elicitation and analyse the morphology and aspects of the syntax of the language.

  • Students take turns in being the manager of the field sessions in class. Duties include: prepare the sesssion, keep elicitation going, take notes of the results, transcribe, gloss and translate the data, submit a written report before the next class, to be discussed in that class.

Course Load

  • time spent on attending lectures: 30 hours

  • time for work with consultant outside class: 10 hours

  • time for studying the compulsory literature: 80 hours

  • time for completing assignments during the course: 70 hours

  • time to write the term paper: 90 hours

Assessment Method

I. Performance in field sessions, transcription, data annotation, class attendance (20%)

II. Essay 1: Introduction to the language (1 page)

III. Essay 2: Phonology sketch (5 pages) (20%)

IV. Essay 3: Morpho-syntax sketch (approx 8-10 pages) (20%)

V. Term paper: A grammar sketch of minimally 20 pages (plus appendix) (40%).
It contains:
(i) An introduction to the language (revision of essay 1)
(ii) A chapter on the phonology (revision of essay 2)
(iii) A chapter on the morpho-syntax (revision of essay 3)
(iv) A chapter on a special topic chosen by the student (3-5 pages),
(v) An Appendix with (a) a text of a few minutes (transcribed, glossed and translated), (b) A word list (local language-English, English-local language)
The term paper is due before the end of the semester. Not meeting this deadline means that the next opportunity to have your work graded will be at the end of the following semester.


This course is supported by Blackboard. Access Blackboard is crucial.

Reading list

  • Bowern, Claire. 2008. Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide. Palgrave MacMillan.

  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. and Willem J. de Reuse. 2011. Handbook of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork. London: Springer.

  • Payne, Thomas. 1997. Describing Morphosyntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Students should register through uSis. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:


MA Linguistics departmental office, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:


The language we will study depends on the availability of a native speaker consultant during the course, and is usually known a few weeks before the start of the course.