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Summary Details

Query:   Using UPSID in teaching linguistics
Author:  Zoe Toft
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   General Linguistics

Summary:   Dear all,

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

UPSID (the UCLA Phonological Segment Inventory Database) contains the phonemic systems of 451 of world?s 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 language?s 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 it?s not as use friendly as we might wish in an ideal world).

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

Here?s 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 Press:Cambridge.

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

LL Issue: 14.1932
Date Posted: 15-Jul-2003
Original Query: Read original query


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