Joseph Foster

Joseph Foster

Associate Professor Emeritus

Professional Summary

Dr. Joseph F. Foster’s major focus and most of his research has been in the area of Linguistic Typology. Originating from the anthropological tradition of cross-cultural and cross-linguistic comparative analysis, modern Linguistic Typology includes the study of such issues as:
-how widely languages can differ.
-what one can predict about a language from knowing other things about it, and why.
-what kinds of relationships, if any, exist between types of grammatical rules or constraints on the one hand and variation in extralinguistic facets of culture on the other.

More particularly, Dr. Foster’s work has involved the study of case systems, ergativity, accusativity, transitivity, and possession, and the grammatical encoding of culturally significant relations. He is currently attempting a cross-cultural study of vocativity as a grammaticalization of relations in discourse. His linguistic typological and cultural interests coincide in the study of Language Area (Sprachbund) phenomena particularly in N Eurasia and in the Balkans of SE Europe as areas where similar characteristics are shared among unrelated or not closely related languages.

Dr. Foster has also a general interest in the material and social bases for symbol systems, and has investigated in this vein such topics as music accompaniment styles, religious belief and social organization, and the astronomy and calendric lore of the preEuropean North American Plains. Dr. Foster is a member of the Ask a Linguist Panel and a frequent contributor of published reports on its site at


PhD.: U Illinois 1969


Linguistics, language typology and culture, religion and belief, archaeo- and ethnoastronomy; Boreal Asia; also a regular contributer to Ask A Linguist