Max Planck Institute
for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Linguistics

Leipzig Glossing Rules


Conventions for interlinear morpheme-by-morpheme glosses

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About the rules

The Leipzig Glossing Rules have been developed jointly by the Department of
Linguistics of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
(Bernard Comrie, Martin Haspelmath) and by the Department of Linguistics
of the University of Leipzig (Balthasar Bickel). They consist of ten rules for the
"syntax" and "semantics" of interlinear glosses, and an appendix with a
proposed "lexicon" of abbreviated category labels. The rules cover a large part
of linguists' needs in glossing texts, but most authors will feel the need to add
(or modify) certain conventions (especially category labels). Still, it will be
useful to have a standard set of conventions that linguists can refer to, and the
Leipzig Rules are proposed as such to the community of linguists. The Rules
are intended to reflect common usage, and only very few (mostly optional)
innovations are proposed.

We intend to update the Leipzig Glossing Rules occasionally, so feedback is
highly welcome.

Leipzig, last change: May 31, 2015
Further updates will be managed by the Committee of Editors of Linguistics Journals.

Important references:
Lehmann, Christian. 1982. "Directions for interlinear morphemic translations".
Folia Linguistica 16: 199-224.
Croft, William. 2003. Typology and universals. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, pp. xix-xxv.


The rules

(revised version of February 2008)


Interlinear morpheme-by-morpheme glosses give information about the
meanings and grammatical properties of individual words and parts of
words. Linguists by and large conform to certain notational conventions in
glossing, and the main purpose of this document is to make the most widely
used conventions explicit.

Depending on the author's purposes and the readers' assumed background
knowledge, different degrees of detail will be chosen. The current rules
therefore allow some flexibility in various respects, and sometimes alternative
options are mentioned.

The main purpose that is assumed here is the presentation of an example in a
research paper or book. When an entire corpus is tagged, somewhat different
considerations may apply (e.g. one may want to add information about larger
units such as words or phrases; the rules here only allow for information
about morphemes).

It should also be noted that there are often multiple ways of analyzing the
morphological patterns of a language. The glossing conventions do not help
linguists in deciding between them, but merely provide standard ways of
abbreviating possible descriptions. Moreover, glossing is rarely a complete
morphological description, and it should be kept in mind that its purpose is
not to state an analysis, but to give some further possibly relevant information
on the structure of a text or an example, beyond the idiomatic translation.

A remark on the treatment of glosses in data cited from other sources: Glosses
are part of the analysis, not part of the data. When citing an example from a
published source, the gloss may be changed by the author if they prefer
different terminology, a different style or a different analysis.


Rule 1: Word-by-word alignment

Interlinear glosses are left-aligned vertically, word by word, with the example. E.g.

(1) Indonesian (Sneddon 1996:237)

  • Mereka
  • di
  • Jakarta
  • sekarang.
  • They
  • in
  • Jakarta
  • now

'They are in Jakarta now.'



Rule 2: Morpheme-by-morpheme correspondence

Segmentable morphemes are separated by hyphens, both in the example and
in the gloss. There must be exactly the same number of hyphens in the
example and in the gloss. E.g.

(2) Lezgian (Haspelmath 1993:207)

  • Gila
  • abur-u-n
  • ferma
  • hamišaluǧ
  • güǧüna
  • amuq’-da-č.
  • now
  • they-OBL-GEN
  • farm
  • forever
  • behind
  • stay-FUT-NEG

‘Now their farm will not stay behind forever.’

Since hyphens and vertical alignment make the text look unusual, authors
may want to add another line at the beginning, containing the unmodified
text, or resort to the option described in Rule 4 (and especially 4C).
Clitic boundaries are marked by an equals sign, both in the object
language and in the gloss.

(3) West Greenlandic (Fortescue 1984:127)

  • palasi=lu
  • niuirtur=lu
  • priest=and
  • shopkeeper=and

'both the priest and the shopkeeper'

Rule 2A. (Optional)
If morphologically bound elements constitute distinct prosodic or
phonological words, a hyphen and a single space may be used together in the
object language (but not in the gloss).

(4) Hakha Lai

  • a-nii -láay
  • 3SG-laugh-FUT

's/he will laugh'


Rule 3: Grammatical category labels

Grammatical morphemes are generally rendered by abbreviated grammatical
category labels, printed in upper case letters (usually small capitals). A list of
standard abbreviations (which are widely known among linguists) is given at
the end of this document.

Deviations from these standard abbreviations may of course be necessary
in particular cases, e.g. if a category is highly frequent in a language, so that a
shorter abbreviation is more convenient, e.g. CPL (instead of COMPL) for
"completive", PF (instead of PRF) for "perfect", etc. If a category is very rare, it
may be simplest not to abbreviate its label at all.

In many cases, either a category label or a word from the metalanguage is
acceptable. Thus, both of

(5) Russian

  • My
  • s
  • Marko
  • poexa-l-i
  • avtobus-om
  • v
  • Peredelkino.
  • 1PL
  • COM
  • Marko
  • go-PST-PL
  • bus-INS
  • All
  • Peredelkino.
  • we
  • with
  • Marko
  • go-PST-PL
  • bus-by
  • to
  • Peredelkino.

'Marko and I went to Perdelkino by bus.'


Rule 4: One-to-many correspondences

When a single object-language element is rendered by several metalanguage
elements (words or abbreviations), these are separated by periods. E.g.

(6) Turkish

  • çık-mak
  • come.out-INF

'to come out'

(7) Latin

  • insul-arum
  • island-GEN.PL

'of the islands'

(8) French

  • aux
  • chevaux
  • to.ART.PL
  • horse.PL

'to the horses'

(9) German

  • unser-n
  • Väter-n
  • our-DAT.PL
  • father.PL-DAT.PL

'to our fathers'

(10) Hittite (Lehmann 1982:211)

  • n=an
  • apedani
  • mehuni
  • essandu.
  • CONN=him
  • that.DAT.SG
  • time.DAT.SG
  • eat.they.shall

'They shall celebrate him on that date.' (CONN = connective)

(11) Jaminjung (Schultze-Berndt 2000:92)

  • nanggayan
  • guny-bi-yarluga?
  • who
  • 2DU.A.3SG.P-FUT-poke

'Who do you two want to spear?'

The ordering of the two metalanguage elements may be determined by
various principles that are not easy to generalize over, so no rule will be
provided for this.

There are various reasons for a one-to-many correspondence between
object-language elements and gloss elements. These are conflated by the
uniform use of the period. If one wants to distinguish between them, one may
follow Rules 4A-E.



Rule 4A. (Optional)

If an object-language element is neither formally nor semantically segmentable and only the metalanguage happens to lack a single-word equivalent, the underscore may be used instead of the period.

(12) Turkish (cf. 6)

  • çık-mak
  • come_out-INF

'to come out'


Rule 4B. (Optional)

If an object-language element is formally unsegmentable but has two clearly distinguishable meanings or grammatical properties, the semi-colon may be used. E.g.

(13) Latin (cf. 7)

  • insul-arum
  • island-GEN;PL

'of the islands'

(14) French

  • aux
  • chevaux
  • to;ART;PL
  • horse;PL

'to the horses'


Rule 4C. (Optional)

If an object-language element is formally and semantically segmentable, but the author does not want to show the formal segmentation (because it is irrelevant and/or to keep the text intact), the colon may be used. E.g.

(15) Hittite (Lehmann 1982:211) (cf. 10)

  • n=an
  • apedani
  • mehuni
  • essandu.
  • CONN=him
  • that:DAT;SG
  • time:DAT;SG
  • eat:they:shall

'They shall celebrate him on that date.'


Rule 4D. (Optional)

If a grammatical property in the object-language is signaled by a
morphophonological change (ablaut, mutation, tone alternation, etc.), the
backslash is used to separate the category label and the rest of the gloss.

(16) German (cf. 9)

  • unser-n
  • Väter-n
  • our-DAT.PL
  • father.PL-DAT.PL

'to our fathers' (cf. singular Vater)

(17) Irish

  • bhris-is
  • PST\break-2SG

'you broke' (cf. nonpast bris-)

(18) Kinyarwanda

  • mú-kòrà
  • SBJV\1PL-work

'that we work' (cf. indicative mù-kòrà)


Rule 4E. (Optional)

If a language has person-number affixes that express the agent-like and the
patient-like argument of a transitive verb simultaneously, the symbol ">" may
be used in the gloss to indicate that the first is the agent-like argument and the
second is the patient-like argument.

(19) Jaminjung (Schultze-Berndt 2000:92) (cf. 11)

  • nanggayan
  • guny-bi-yarluga?
  • who
  • 2DU>3SG-FUT-poke

'Who do you two want to spear?'



Rule 5: Person and number labels

Person and number are not separated by a period when they occur in this order. E.g.

(20) Italian

  • and-iamo
  • go-PRS.1PL (not: go-PRS.1.PL)

'we go'


Rule 5A. (Optional)

Number and gender markers are very frequent in some languages, especially
when combined with person. Several authors therefore use non-capitalized
shortened abbreviations without a period. If this option is adopted, then the
second gloss is used in (21).

(21) Belhare

  • ne-e
  • a-khim-chi
  • n-yuNNa
  • that.DAT.SG
  • 3NSG-be.NPST
  • 1sPOSS-house-PL
  • 3ns-be.NPST

'Here are my houses.''


Rule 6: Non-overt elements

If the morpheme-by-morpheme gloss contains an element that does not
correspond to an overt element in the example, it can be enclosed in square
brackets. An obvious alternative is to include an overt "Ø" in the objectlanguage
text, which is separated by a hyphen like an overt element.

(22) Latin

  • puer
  • or:
  • puer-Ø
  • boy[NOM.SG]
  • boy-NOM.SG
  • ‘boy’
  • ‘boy’




Rule 7: Inherent categories

Inherent, non-overt categories such as gender may be indicated in the gloss, but a
special boundary symbol, the round parenthesis, is used. E.g.

(23) Hunzib (van den Berg 1995:46)

  • oz#-di-g
  • xõxe
  • m-uq'e-r
  • boy-OBL-AD
  • tree(G4)
  • G4-bend-PRET

'Because of the boy the tree bent.' (G4 = 4th gender, AD = adessive, PRET = preterite)


Rule 8: Bipartite elements

Grammatical or lexical elements that consist of two parts which are treated as
distinct morphological entities (e.g. bipartite stems such as Lakhota na-xʔu̧ 'hear') may be treated in two different ways:

(i) The gloss may simply be repeated:

(24) Lakhota

  • na-wíčha-wa-xʔu̧
  • hear-3PL.UND-1SG.ACT-hear

'I hear them' (UND = undergoer, ACT = actor)

(i) The gloss may simply be repeated:

(25) Lakhota

  • na-wíčha-wa-xʔu̧
  • hear-3PL.UND-1SG.ACT- STEM

'I hear them'

Circumfixes are "bipartite affixes" and can be treated in the same way, e.g.

(26) German

  • ge-seh-en
  • or:
  • ge-seh-en
  • PTCP-see-PTCP
  • PTCP-see-CIRC
  • 'seen'
  • 'seen'


Rule 9: Infixes

Infixes are enclosed by angle brackets, and so is the object-language
counterpart in the gloss.

(27) Tagalog

  • b<um>ili (stem: bili)
  • <ACTFOC>buy


(28) Latin

  • reli<n>qu-ere (stem: reliqu-)
  • leave<PRS>-INF

'to leave'

Infixes are generally easily identifiable as left-peripheral (as in 27) or as rightperipheral (as in 28), and this determines the position of the gloss
corresponding to the infix with respect to the gloss of the stem. If the infix is
not clearly peripheral, some other basis for linearizing the gloss has to be



Rule 10: Reduplication

Reduplication is treated similarly to affixation, but with a tilde (instead of an
ordinary hyphen) connecting the copied element to the stem.

(29) Hebrew

  • yerak~rak-im
  • green~ATT-M.PL

'greenish ones' (ATT= attenuative)

(30) Tagalog

  • bi~bili
  • IPFV~buy

'is buying'

(31) Tagalog

  • b<um>i~bili
  • <ACTFOC>IPFV~buy

'is buying' (ACTFOC = Actor focus)


Appendix: List of Standard Abbreviations

1 first person
2 second person
3 third person
A agent-like argument of canonical transitive verb
ABL ablative
ABS absolutive
ACC accusative
ADJ adjective
ADV adverb(ial)
AGR agreement
ALL allative
ANTIP antipassive
APPL applicative
ART article
AUX auxiliary
BEN benefactive
CAUS causative
CLF classifier
COM comitative
COMP complementizer
COMPL completive
COND conditional
COP copula
CVB converb
DAT dative
DECL declarative
DEF definite
DEM demonstrative
DET determiner
DIST distal
DISTR distributive
DU dual
DUR durative
ERG ergative
EXCL exclusive
F feminine
FOC focus
FUT future
GEN genitive
IMP imperative
INCL inclusive
IND indicative
INDF indefinite
INF infinitive
INS instrumental
INTR intransitive
IPFV imperfective
IRR irrealis
LOC locative
M masculine
N neuter
N- non- (e.g. NSG nonsingular, NPST nonpast)
NEG negation, negative
NMLZ nominalizer/nominalization
NOM nominative
OBJ object
OBL oblique
P patient-like argument of canonical transitive verb
PASS passive
PFV perfective
PL plural
POSS possessive
PRED predicative
PRF perfect
PRS present
PROG progressive
PROH prohibitive
PROX proximal/proximate
PST past
PTCP participle
PURP purposive
Q question particle/marker
QUOT quotative
RECP reciprocal
REFL reflexive
REL relative
RES resultative
S single argument of canonical intransitive verb
SBJ subject
SBJV subjunctive
SG singular
TOP topic
TR transitive
VOC vocative




Fortescue, Michael. 1984. West Greenlandic. (Croom Helm descriptive grammars) London: Croom Helm.

Haspelmath, Martin
. 1993. A grammar of Lezgian. (Mouton Grammar Library, 9). Berlin - New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lehmann, Christian. 1983. "Directions for interlinear morphemic translations". Folia Linguistica 16: 193-224.

Schultze-Berndt, Eva. 2000. Simple and complex verbs in Jaminjung: A study of event categorization in an Australian language. Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen Ph.D. Dissertation.

Sneddon, James Neil
. 1996. Indonesian: A comprehensive grammar. London: Routledge.

van den Berg, Helma. 1995. A Grammar of Hunzib. (Lincom Studies in Caucasian Linguistics, 1.) München: Lincom Europa.