Max Planck Institute
for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Linguistics

Typological tools for field linguistics


Stimulus Kits

Many aspects of language can better be investigated by providing a stimulus that evokes the desired linguistic activity than by asking a question.

  • Pear Story
    The Pear Story is based on a silent video clip. Native speaker consultants are asked to tell the story of the video in their own words. The video clip is found in the Pear Story Website by Dr. Mary S. Erbaugh (
  • Scope Fieldwork Project
    This material was developed by Benjamin Bruening of the University of Delaware as part of a project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (grant number BCS-0518308). The purpose of the project is to investigate the syntax of quantifiers and scope in the languages of the world. To this end, the PI has created a series of pictures that can be used to elicit scope judgments from native speakers of the language being investigated.

    The study of quantificational elements (words like everything or nothing) in natural languages is an important source of evidence for syntactic structure and how syntactic operations work and interact. In numerous languages referential noun phrases reveal little about the syntax and its interface with semantics, particularly in free-word-order languages where such noun phrases can be freely reordered with few semantic consequences, and even dropped when their reference can be determined through salience or agreement. Quantificational elements, however, exhibit a much more constrained behavior, and interact with each other in ways that can reveal much about the structure of even free-word-order languages.

    While such phenomena are of the utmost importance in investigating syntax and semantics, they can also be notoriously difficult to elicit judgments about, particularly when working through the medium of another language, as so often happens in the field, rather than exclusively in the language under investigation. The goal of this project is to develop a set of materials to aid in the investigation of quantificational phenomena in linguistic field work. To this end, the PI has created a series of pictures that can be used to test the meanings of sentences containing quantifiers.

    The director of the project is Benjamin Bruening, who is solely responsible for the content of this website. Yaping Tsai helped to prepare the materials and to do fieldwork as a research assistant. Gina Cook and Masahiro Yamada also worked on the project as graduate assistants.

     Material of the Scope Fieldwork Project

  • L & C Field Manuals and Stimulus Materials
    This site contains a bonanza of material for the field elicitation of semantics data and for the field collection of verbal behaviour. The stimulus kits included here are unique resources that have been compiled over nearly twenty years of investigation of under-studied languages by the Language & Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen. For years these field manuals have been available on demand, but now they have been put online. The website site containing these stimulus kits will serve as the online repository for both older manuals and for new ones currently under development. Free registration is required to access the materials.

    Developed by: Language & Cognition Group Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

  • Story-builder: Picture Cards for Language Activities
    Story-builder is an adaptable set of picture cards designed to facilitate creative story-telling and elicit natural speech on a wide range of topics. Speakers use 'character cards' and 'action cards' to create visual stories, which can be narrated in the speakers' own words. The deck can be adapted for a wide range of purposes, from field linguistic research to language pedagogy and games.

    The Story-builder deck visually represents basic verbs from across the semantic spectrum, making it particularly useful for studying verb classes and argument structure. Used in the classroom, the cards can support individual and group learning activities for students of any skill level.

    Story-builder was initiated as a research course project in the Cognitive Systems program at the University of British Columbia. Feedback and questions are very welcome, and may be directed to the creator (Katie Sardinha,

  • Totem Field Storyboards
    The storyboard technique is a language data collection method that tries to gather authentic speech with as little influence from a contact language as possible. Storyboards are pictorial representations of stories, which speakers are asked to tell in their own words. What we call 'targeted construction storyboards' have the additional property that the story is designed to include at least one targeted context that can be used to test hypotheses about the relation between linguistic forms and that context. The storyboards thus combine the advantages of spontaneous speech with the benefit of being able to test hypotheses about particular linguistic elements or constructions. They also allow identical contexts to be tested across different languages and by different researchers.

    Storyboards can be use to elicit semantic, pragmatic, syntactic, morphological, phonological or phonetic data. We welcome feedback about any of our storyboards! (Lisa Matthewson, www.

    Reference: Burton, Strang and Lisa Matthewson 2015. Targeted Construction Storyboards in Semantic Fieldwork. In R. Bochnak and L. Matthewson (eds.), Semantic Fieldwork Methodology, Oxford University Press, 135-156.