Semantic Fieldwork Methods

Judith Tonhauser – Ohio State University
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2347 Mason Hall

See Course Description

This course introduces participants to the methodology of collecting semantic/pragmatic data in collaboration with linguistically untrained native speaker consultants.

Data that may inform semantic/pragmatic theorizing are typically quite complex, consisting of 1) one or more grammatical sentences that are 2) uttered in an appropriately designed context, and 3) a native speaker’s judgment about the acceptability or the truth of the sentence(s) uttered in that context.

The goal of the course is to familiarize students with the empirical, theoretical and methodological considerations relevant to obtaining such data. In particular, topics to be discussed include the kinds of judgments obtainable from native speakers, distinguishing syntactically ill-formed from semantically/pragmatically anomalous sentences/utterances, the importance of context and how to appropriately control for it, reporting semantic/pragmatic data, and the generalizability of results.

The course also examines the benefits of and difficulties with exploring semantic/pragmatic research questions through texts. The relative merits of one-on-one elicitation and controlled experiments with linguistically untrained native speakers are also considered.

Although much of the data provided for in-class discussion comes from Paraguayan Guaraní (Tupí-Guaraní), in particular studies of temporal and nominal reference, and of presuppositions and other projective contents, the course aims to prepare participants to conduct semantic/pragmatic fieldwork on any topic in any language. Note that this course does not have a regular practical component during which course participants work with a native speaker consultant; Professor Keren Rice’s field methods course ( is highly recommended for this purpose.

This course is targeted at students already familiar with formal syntax, semantics and pragmatics who wish to collect data with native speakers, as well as students who already have experience in conducting research with native speakers and want to extend their research to semantic/pragmatic topics. Interested course participants should contact the instructor ( with questions about the course content and suitability.

, , ,