Picture of Bettina Spreng

Bettina Spreng Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Faculty Member in Linguistics

Arts 911

Research Area(s)

  • Case and Agreement
  • Theoretical Syntax
  • Tense and Aspect
  • Polysynthesis
  • Inuit languages
  • Child Language Acquisition
  • Language revitalisation

About me

Sometimes, it still astonishes me how little we know about so many languages and how fast we are losing the linguistic diversity on this planet. The last speaker of a language dies every 2 weeks. We will be going from about 6000 languages today to less than half of that by the end of the century. Of the about 80 indigenous languages in Canada today, about 3 have a good chance of survival in some way, shape or form. Linguists both indigenous and not, educators, speakers, language activists, and anyone who understands the impact of language loss are at the forefront of stemming that tide. 

My other research interest therefore lies in first language acquisition, especially how it pertains to language revitalisation. Children are the ones that have the ability to acquire their native language in an easy manner, provided there is enough exposure to the language in the environment. 

I am therefore strongly advocating indigenous language immersion in education at a very young age. And not just language immersion but a way of educating not only in the language but also using educational practices from the cultural context as well. Language immersion cannot exist in a vacuum and must be done with a cultural context. 

The more children are exposed to the language, taught in the language, and interact with their peers in their language, the better the chance for resisting language shift and loss in a world that is so strongly dominated by English and its cultural background.

Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism. Oddly enough, not on its multilingualism. One does not really exist without the other.


Aspect contrasts in Inuktitut. Topics in Inuit Semantics. Amerindia 38, 201-232
On the Conditions for Antipassives. Language and Linguistics Compass, Volume 4, Issue 7, pages 556–575, July 2010
(with Michael Barrie): Noun Incorporation and the progressive in German. Lingua. 119.2, 374-388
Antipassive morphology and case assignment in Inuktitut. Alana Johns, Diane Massam, & Juvenal Ndayiragije (eds.): Ergativity: Emerging Issues, Kluwer: Dordrecht, 247-270
Little v in Inuktitut: Antipassive revisited. Linguistica Atlantica 23, 155-190

(with Veronika Makarova): Chapter 5: Syntax. In Makarova, Veronika. 2015. Linguistic Universe: An Introduction to Linguistics, Kendall: Vancouver, BC.
Events in Inuktitut: voice alternations and viewpoint aspect. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society, University of Chicago, 473-487
(with Midori Hayashi): Is Inuktitut Tenseless? Proceedings of the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association
Third Person Arguments in Inuktitut. Proceedings of the Workshop on the Structure and Constituency of the Languages of the Americas 10, UBCWPL 17, eds. Armoskaite, Solveiga and James J. Thompson. 215-225
Error Patterns in the Acquisition of German Plural Morphology: Evidence for the relevance of grammatical gender as a cue. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics, vol. 23.2, 147-172
How to derive a verb: Syntactic objects in Inuktitut. Proceedings of the Workshop on the Structure and Constituency of the Languages of the Americas 2004, UBCWPL vol. 15, University of British Columbia, 93-106
Verb Classes in Inuktitut and the Transitivity Hierarchy: ‘Aspects’ of Antipassive. Proceedings of the Workshop on the Structure and Constituency of the Languages of the Americas 2001, UBCWPL Vol. 7, University of British Columbia
The Passive in Basque. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Niagara Linguistic Society 2000, University of Toronto. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 19, 87-106
Antipassive and Distributed Morphology. Proceedings of the 2000 Annual meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association, Cahiérs Linguistique d’Ottawa University of Ottawa, 339-346
Plural in German: A test case for late insertion. Proceedings of the 2000 Western Conference on Linguistics, California State University, Fresno, vol. 12, 467-478

2012: Ph.D. Linguistics, University of Toronto: Viewpoint Aspect in Inuktitut: The Syntax and Semantics of Antipassives

Teaching & Supervision

Currently teaching: 2019/2020

LING806: Syntax and Morphology for Applied Linguistics
LING241: Introduction to Syntax

Courses taught: 

University of Saskatchewan:

LING245: Lexicology
LING247: The World’s Major Languages
LING111: The Structure of Language  
LING110: Introduction to Grammar (English)
LING345: Introduction to Research Methods in Linguistics
LING343: Child Language Development
LING242: Phonetics
LING346: Language in Time and Space
LING241: Introduction to Syntax  
LING252: Languages and Cultures of Canada
LING341: Semantics
LING342: Aboriginal Languages of Canada
LING403: Research Methods in Linguistics

LING806: Syntax and Morphology for Applied Linguistics
ESOL806: Practicum for MATESOL
LING8111: Advanced Sociolinguistic Theory and Method

Seneca College for Applied Arts and Technology:

Culture and Society: Social Foundations in ESL
Introduction to Linguistics

University of Toronto:

Morphological Patterns in Languages
English Grammar  
Introduction to Language


Indigenous Inuit ergativity first language acquisition language documentation language revitalisation object case alternations understudied languages voice alternations

Among linguists, I neither fancy myself a semanticist, nor a pure-blooded syntactician. My main interests lie in interface phenomena, especially in how any changes in case-agreement configurations influence the tense and aspect semantics of the clause. I have investigated the syntax and semantics of antipassives and passives in Inuktitut. 

I have been fascinated by Inuktitut and its properties since I stumbled into an intro class to Inuktitut in my third year of Linguistics in Germany and it is the main reason I eventually continued on with a PhD in Canada, so I could be where the language is spoken.

I prefer researching so-called understudied languages, simply because they are often also languages that are in danger of dying before we can gain any insight from their properties about us and our minds. I have been working with speakers of Inuktitut since 2001 and hope to continue to do so. I am constantly looking for fluent speakers who might want to work with me. 

I have also started a little project on progressives in Swabian (an understudied dialect of Alemannic a dialect group of German mainly spoken in the Southern regions of Germany, in Switzerland, and Austria), and I think it might be interesting to see how they work in Plautdietsch. So, if anyone knows someone who might be willing to spare me a few hours per month telling me about their language, please let me know.

Education & Training

PhD Linguistics, University of Toronto

M.A. Transfer year, University of Ottawa

M.A. Linguistics and German Literature and Linguistics, University of Stuttgart, Germany

Zwischenprüfung (B.A. equivalent) University of Stuttgart, Germany