LINGUIST List 14.1932

Tue Jul 15 2003

Sum: Using UPSID in Teaching Linguistics

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Zoe Toft, Using UPSID in teaching linguistics

Message 1: Using UPSID in teaching linguistics

Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 12:00:31 +0000
From: Zoe Toft <>
Subject: Using UPSID in teaching linguistics

Dear all,

A couple of weeks ago I put out a request to hear from people who have
used UPSID in their teaching (Linguist 14.1869).

UPSID (the UCLA Phonological Segment Inventory Database) contains the
phonemic systems of 451 of worlds languages. It is available in
machine readable form (an order form for which can be found at and has
often been used in comparative phonetic and phonological research (see
refs below). I hope to use it next year in teaching to cover a range
of issues including typology, markedness, documentation and an
introduction to statistics and in preparing for this I thought I might
gain inspiration from how other people have used the database.

Tucker Childs (Portland State University) described how he used the
earlier version of UPSID (based on 317 languages, published in
Maddieson 1984, which Tucker helpfully pointed out is summarized in
Maddieson 1986) in his typology class: As part of that class each
student has to choose a language to evaluate in terms of a number of
different readings they do throughout the course. With regard to UPSID
they are asked to evaluate their languages inventory in terms of the
prototypical inventory described in Maddieson (1986).

Alexei Kochetov (Simon Fraser University) described how he used UPSID
in his graduate phonology. As part of the students' individual
research projects, they had to select a phonological contrast (e.g.,
ejective stops)and to make basic searches using UPSID 451 (number of
languages, segment types, place of articulation, areal distribution,
etc.)To help his students get started he provides them with basic
handout on using UPSID (in its current DOS format its not as use
friendly as we might wish in an ideal world).

My sincere thanks to Tucker and Alexei for sharing these ideas.

Heres the list of references which could be used relating to UPSID
that I have been able to identify:

Epstein, M. (2000) All the sounds of all the worlds languages. UCLA
Working Papers in Phonetics 99:1-3

Maddieson, I. (1984) Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge University

Maddieson, I. (1986). The size and structure of phonological
inventories: analysis of UPSID. In Experimental Phonology, eds. John
J. Ohala and Jeri J. Jaeger, 105-124. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Maddieson, I. (1991a) Investigating Linguistic Universals. UCLA
Working Papers in Phonetics 78:26-37

Maddieson, I. (1991b) Testing the Universality of Phonological
Generalizations with a phonetically specified segment database:
results and limitations. Phonetica 48:193-206

Maddieson, I. & Precoda, K. (1989) Updating UPSID. UCLA Working Papers
in Phonetics 74: 104-111

Pericliev, V. & Valdes-Perez, R. (n.d.) Differentiating 451 languages
in terms of their segment inventories. Ms available from

Simpson, A. (1999) Fundamental Problems in Comparative Phonetics and
Phonology: Does UPSID help to solve them? ICPhS99 349-352

Best wishes,
Zo� Toft
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