Karin Michelson: Research




My research has been focused on the Northern Iroquoian languages and in particular on Oneida, which I have worked on since 1979 at Oneida Nation of the Thames in Ontario, Canada.


The Northern Iroquoian languages (which include Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora, and Huron in addition to Oneida) are among the better-documented languages of North America. The early descriptions by the Jesuits (such as the 17th century Mohawk dictionary by Jacques Bruyas and the 19th century dictionary and grammatical sketch by J.A. Cuoq), the cosmologies by J.N.B. Hewitt, and the wonderful rendition of an Iroquois Condolence Council by Horatio Hale provide a rich record of important aspects of Iroquois culture as well as of the languages. And in modern times, we are fortunate to have Floyd Lounsbury's Oneida Verb Morphology (1953) as a basis for further study, as well as much other published work. An annotated bibliography is Michelson (2011).  (List of references cited)


Oneida, like other Iroquoian languages, is polysynthetic with many morphemes per word, extensive noun incorporation and bound obligatory pronouns that form extremely large verbal paradigms. The organization of Michelson and Doxtator (2002), An Oneida-English English-Oneida Dictionary, is an attempt to confront the challenges of Oneida morphology (sample page from dictionary.) One source of data for the dictionary was a substantial stock of recordings from about ten speakers (mostly life histories, often humourful). Since the publication of the dictionary I have continued to record excellent speakers who have helped me understand the Oneida language. Because these also give us a perspective on Oneida life in the early to late-mid 20th century, I have been preparing the recorded material for eventual distribution (sample text).


Some current research interests:


  • Instrumental phonetic studies: Tsan Huang and I did an instrumental study of Oneida plosives (pdf).
  • Morpho-syntax and Semantics. In recent years Jean-Pierre Koenig and I have collaborated a lot, investigating various aspects of the morphology, syntax and semantics of Oneida, and in particular, in the context of what properties of language are universal, or frequent or infrequent.
  • Oneida grammar: A description of common syntactic and discourse structure of Oneida, as attested in over 50 recorded texts appears as Part III of Michelson, Kennedy and Doxtator (in press). A more comprehensive grammar is in the works.

Sound files from Glimpses of Oneida Life