Spring 2023 Senior Capstone course: Topics in Menominee

Photo credits: Miranda Vescio

The focus of our Capstone in Linguistics course this semester was “Topics in Menominee Grammar.” Menominee is an Algonquian language indigenous to the areas now known as the States of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. The language is spoken by a number of elders and learners on the Menominee Reservation in northern Wisconsin, and used in immersion schooling there.

Our Capstone in Linguistics course is an opportunity for undergraduate Linguistics majors to synthesize information they have been learning throughout their undergraduate degree, including understanding of various content areas within linguistics such as morphology and phonology, academic research skills, linguistic data collection and analysis methodologies, critical thinking and evaluation, and written and oral presentation. It’s also a lot of fun!

Students typically take the class when they are seniors, or towards the end of their degree. They complete a semester-long data-collection and research project centered around the theme of the course, supported and directed by the professor.

Students in the class work together in groups, and provide one another with supportive and critical peer feedback.

The course was taught this spring by Professor Monica Macaulay, who has extensive experience with fieldwork and community outreach in several Native American languages, including Menominee. Professor Macaulay is co-director of the Wisconsin Indigenous Languages Lab with colleague Ryan Henke.

The learning goals this semester guided each student to construct a personalized database of Menominee language samples, to formulate a specific linguistic research question, and then to write a short paper detailing their analysis and findings supported by evidence from the database.

Students this semester formed research groups organized around five aspects of grammar:
  1. Prosody: several students investigated questions of prosody in Menominee, and contributed Menominee data to a larger project organized by Natalie Weber from Yale.
  2. Adverbs: Students investigated several interrelated questions, such as: How to define adverbs? Do they even exist in Menominee? What types are there? Where do they occur in the sentence?
  3. Subordination: A group of students investigated the structure and semantics of ‘if’-clauses in the language.
  4. Negative particles and markers: How are they positioned in main and subordinate clauses? What is their semantic scope?
  5. Relative root complements: What can serve as a RRC? Where are they positioned? Do they have to be overt?

We are very proud that our students were able to make real and significant contributions to our understanding of how Menominee works!

(See even more photos on the Language Sciences@UW-Madison Facebook page!)