Discovery Series: Dr. James Matisoff

Date & Time: 
Wednesday, October 26, 2022 - 1:00pm

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Discovery Series Presents:

Topic: Sweet memories of fieldwork in the pre-computer era
Speaker:  Dr. James Matisoff, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkley


  • How does a linguist uncover the structure of a language? 
  • How do communities share that knowledge?
  • How did linguists document languages before the digital age?

In this Discovery Series discussion, world-renowned linguist and polyglot Dr. James Matisoff reveals the exciting world of linguistic field investigations. He will review his memoirs that detail documentation of the culture and language of the Lahu community in Thailand.

Bio: Dr. Matisoff is emeritus faculty at the Berkeley Linguistics Department of which he has been a member since 1970. He is an authority on Southeast Asian linguistics, especially on the diverse group of languages comprising the Tibeto-Burman family. His work on Lahu constitutes the most comprehensive treatment of the Tibeto-Burman language of the Lolish subgroup; documentation includes a linguistic grammar, dictionary, and most recently, an annotated text collection. He co-founded the annual International Conferences on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics in 1968, has been Principal Investigator of the Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus project (STEDT) since 1987.

"In my opinion, nothing is more fun for a linguist than learning a little-known language by spending a prolonged period of time among its speakers in an exotic part of the world. Starting from scratch and learning enough to write a grammar, dictionary, and a collection of texts in such a language is an immensely satisfying experience. There is no better way to foster international understanding than getting to know people through their language."