Michael Ahland

Assistant Professor of Linguistics/TESOL

  • 585-567-9477 ext #4770
  • ChC 411
  • Intercultural Studies
Send Me An Email

  • 585-567-9477 ext #4770
  • ChC 411
  • Intercultural Studies
Send Me An Email


  • BS, University of Missouri, 1992
  • MA, University of Texas, 2004
  • PhD, University of Oregon, 2012

As the Assistant Professor of Linguistics and TESOL at Houghton College, I teach a wide variety of courses:

  • Introduction to Linguistics
  • Phonetics
  • Phonology
  • Grammar (a Functional-Typological Syntax course)
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Conversational Language Learning and Analytical Methods
  • English Grammar
  • 1st and 2nd Language Acquisition 
  • Language, Culture, and Thought (an Honors Seminar)
  • Linguistics for TESOL
  • TESOL Practicum

In addition to my teaching, I am also actively involved in linguistic research.  My primary research interests focus on the documentation, description, and analysis of under-studied and endangered languages from typological, historical, and functional theoretical perspectives. I am committed to moving beyond description and finding explanations for linguistic phenomena through the consideration of language across space and time, evolutionary pathways in grammatical development, typological tendencies, and the social history of speakers within their broader linguistic context. These forces are constantly at work to shape language and must be considered if we hope to understand why language is as it is. I am particularly interested in syntax, historical-comparative work, tone in East-African languages and the ways in which tone and syntax interface, the role of grammatical constructions in marking functional categories and the reconstruction of alignment systems (especially the so-called Marked Nominative pattern). 

I have been researching Ethiopian languages since 1999, working primarily in the Ethiopian-Semitic and Omotic families (with some fieldwork in Cushitic and Nilo-Saharan as well). My work has focused on three languages: Mesmes and Amharic (both Ethiopian-Semitic languages) and more recently Northern Mao (an Omotic language), since 2007.

Northern Mao Writing Workshop Participants with Copies of the New Anthology

In the summer of 2014, I returned to Ethiopia to facilitate a collaborative workshop with Northern Mao community leaders. The workshop was sponsored by the Benishangul-Gumuz Education Office and the Office of Culture and Tourism, and SIL Ethiopia. During the workshop, community leaders were able to finalize a practical orthography and produce a first anthology of literature by Mao writers for Mao readers. The collection of writings includes personal histories, folktales, proverbs, original poetry and helps on reading and writing the tonal diacritics. We also produced digital recordings of all these materials and included CDs with first-draft copies of the anthology. During this trip, I was assisted by one of my Houghton Linguistics students, Eliza Kelly, who helped greatly in typing and formatting the final manuscript. I was also assisted by Josh Smolder, a research linguist working with SIL Ethiopia on Ganza, another of the Mao languages.

Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D. Dissertation (University of Oregon, Chair: Doris Payne)

2012. A Grammar of Northern Mao (Màwés Aas'è)

Northern Mao community members working on a pedagogical grammar
The Mao area of Western Ethiopia



2010. Language Death in Mesmes: A Sociolinguistic and Historical-Comparative Examination of a Disappearing Ethiopian-Semitic Language

Selected Articles

2014. Subject marking interrupted: Perturbations from the development of Northern Mao’s future tense suffix.  Studies in African Linguistics 43.2.

2013. Degrammaticalization in Northern Mao’s pronominal innovations: from subject prefix to full pronoun 

2012. Review of Muriel Norde's 2009 book Degrammaticalization

2010. Aspects of Northern Mao (Bambassi-Diddesa) phonology

(Published online with sound files)

2009. From topic to subject: Grammatical change in the Amharic possessive construction

2006. Nasal Spreading, Rhinoglottophilia and the Genesis of a Non-Etymological Nasal Consonant in Mesmes

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