Dr Timothy Feist

Research Interests

I am currently researching the role that (grammatical) gender and classifiers play in the tracking of referents across discourse, which is being conducted under the auspices of the AHRC-funded project ‘Combining gender and classifiers in natural language’. In order to do this I am conducting a parallel study of narrative texts in four languages: Spanish (a language with gender); Kilivila (a language with classifiers); Mian (a language with both gender and classifiers; and Skolt Saami (a language with no nominal classification system).

Prior to this, I was working on the ‘Endangered complexity: inflectional classes in Oto-Manguean Languages’ project, which was concerned with investigating the extent to which languages can tolerate the inflectional idiosyncrasy brought about by inflectional class distinctions. In addressing this question, my colleague, Enrique Palancar, and I collated and analysed data from twenty Oto-Manguean languages. The Oto-Manguean languages, spoken predominantly in Mexico, display highly complex inflectional systems, involving suffixes, prefixes, stem alternations and complex tonal patterns, all of which may fall into different inflectional classes and act orthogonally to each other. By examining data from these languages, which display such an unparalleled diversity and richness of inflectional class systems, we gained a much clearer understanding of the range of typological possibilities where inflectional classes are concerned.

More generally, my research interests include:

  • Morphology
  • Morphophonology
  • Typology
  • Language documentation and description
  • Finno-Ugric languages (Skolt Saami, Finnish)

Before joining the Surrey Morphology Group in 2012, I was based at The University of Manchester where I worked on a grammatical description of Skolt Saami, a highly endangered and under-described language spoken in the far northeast of Finland. This work involved several field trips to the villages where the language is spoken to collect primary data for analysis.

Departmental Duties

I am an Early Career Researcher (ECR) representative for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).

Contact Me

Phone: 01483 68 2856

Find me on campus
Room: 44 AC 05


Journal articles

  • Palancar EL, Feist T. (2015) 'Agreeing with subjects in number: The rare split of Amuzgo verbal inflection'. WALTER DE GRUYTER GMBH LINGUISTIC TYPOLOGY, 19 (3), pp. 337-383.

Conference papers

  • Feist T. (2016) 'Keeping track of discourse participants: Just how helpful are gender and classifiers?'. The University of Surrey, Guildford: Workshop on Gender and Classifiers: Diachronic and Synchronic Variation
  • Feist T, Palancar E. (2015) 'The rare plural subject split of Amuzgo verbs'. University of Chicago Center in Paris, Paris: Journée d'étude: ‘Approches formelles, quantitatives et descriptives des systèmes morphologiques
  • Feist T, Palancar E. (2014) 'The singular/plural split and the marking of verb inflectional classes in San Pedro Amuzgo'. Budapest, Hungary: 16th International Morphology Meeting (IMM 16)
  • Feist T. (2014) 'Construyendo una base de datos de acceso libre sobre la morfología verbal de las lenguas otomangues'. Oaxaca, Mexico: Coloquio sobre lenguas otomangues y vecinas (COLOV) 6
  • Feist T, Palancar E. (2014) 'Patrones en la flexión tonal del cuicateco'. Oaxaca, Mexico: Coloquio sobre lenguas otomangues y vecinas (COLOV) 6
  • Feist T. (2014) 'Constructing a database of Oto-Manguean inflectional classes'. The University of Surrey, Guildford: Workshop on Inflectional morphology and verb classes in the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico
  • Feist T. (2013) 'Inflection working overtime: The case of zero stems in Cuicatec'. The University of Manchester: Manchester Forum in Linguistics
  • Feist T. (2013) 'Choosing what bit? Tone and inflection in Cuicatec'. SOAS, London: Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) 2013
  • Feist T, Palancar E. (2013) 'Disentangling the tonal inflection of Cuicatec'. Maison de la Recherche, Université de Paris 3, Paris: Workshop: Tons et Paradigmes Flexionnels: Modélisation et Parcimonie
  • Feist T. (2013) 'The essive case in Skolt Saami'. The University of Tartu, Estonia: Grammar and Context 2013
    [ Status: Accepted ]


    Skolt Saami is one of a number of Uralic languages which makes use of the essive case. The essive case appears to be exclusively used by Uralic languages and is thus a typologically rare case. In this presentation, I discuss the form and the function of the essive in Skolt Saami and also consider how this is similar to, and how it differs from, the essive in other Uralic languages. The form of the essive case in Skolt Saami is –n or –Vn (where V is a vowel which depends on the inflectional class of the stem). This is similar, therefore, to the Finnish essive marker – na/–nä and it is possible that the Skolt Saami essive was historically vowel-final, since many word-final vowels have been lost in the language. The essive case, together with the rarely-used partitive case, are unique among the nine cases of Skolt Saami in that they each display only a single form for both singular and plural referents. Consider the following example (Feist 2010), where the essive marker -n on jälstempõrttân is clearly being used for a plural referent as indicated by the presence of a plural accusative object, here the plural demonstrative pronoun tõid. tõid oummu aʹlǧǧe laaddâd jiõcceez jälstempõrttân DIST.PL.ACC person.PL.NOM begin.PST.3PL repair.INF REFL.ILL.3PL dwelling.house.ESS people started to repair those (barracks) for themselves as residential houses With regard to its function, the essive case in Skolt Saami is used to indicate a state or mode of existence, as observed in other Uralic languages. koon muõr vaʹldde, tõn mâŋŋa puäʹldde leʹbe REL.SG.ACC tree.SG.ACC take.PST.3PL DIST.SG.ACC later burn.PRS.3PL or aunnsen õʹnne material.ESS use.PST.3PL whichever tree they took, they later burnt it or used it as material (Feist 2010) In addition to being used to mark nouns, the essive can be used on predicate adjectives, as the following example illustrates. âʹlmmredd lij jeäʹǩǩää ruõpsseen horizon.SG.NOM PRS.3SG in.the.evening red.ESS in the evening, the horizon is red (Moshnikoff et al. 2009) A second function of the essive in Skolt Saami is particularly noteworthy, as this use of the essive case appears to be unique to Skolt Saami. In addition to indicating a state or mode of existence (essive), the Skolt Saami essive is used to indicate a change of state, which in other Uralic languages (such as Finnish) are marked with a separate translative case. The essive case in Skolt Saami might, therefore, be more accurately referred to as the essive-translative case. teʹl Eʹmmel muuʹtti siʹjjid låʹdden: paaʹrnid čuânjan then God.SG.NOM change.PST.3SG 3PL.ACC bird.ESS boy.PL.ACC goose.ESS da niõđid njuhččân and girl.PL.ACC swan.ESS then God changed them into birds: the boys (he turned) into geese and the girls (he turned) into swans (Feist 2010) This use of the essive to express a change of state is not limited to nouns, but can also be used in predicate adjective constructions, where the adjective is an object complement. åålm kälkkii põõrt čappeen man.SG.NOM paint.PST.3SG house.SG.ACC black.ESS the man painted the house black (Feist 2010) It is hoped that this overview of the form and function of the essive case in Skolt Saami will help to inform the study of the essive case in the Uralic family as a whole.

  • Feist T. (2013) 'Morphophonological complexity in Skolt Saami verbal inflection'. The University of Surrey, Guildford: Southeast Morphology Meeting


  • Palancar E, Baerman M, Feist T. (2016) New lights on inflectional classes: Endangered complexity in the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico..
    [ Status: In preparation ]
  • Feist T. (2015) A grammar of Skolt Saami. Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura (Finno-Ugrian Society)

Book chapters

  • Feist T, Palancar E. (2016) 'Tracing the emergence of inflectional tone in Cuicatec'. in Palancar E, Léonard JL (eds.) Tone and inflection: New facts and new perspectives De Gruyter Mouton
  • Feist T. (2016) 'The essive case in Skolt Saami'. in de Groot C (ed.) Uralic Essive and the Expression of Impermanent State John Benjamins
    [ Status: Accepted ]


    This volume is the first book length study into the essive, a relatively unknown case marker like English ‘as (a child)’. It focuses on the distribution of the essive in contemporary Uralic languages with special attention to the opposition between permanent and impermanent state. The volume presents large sets of new data and insights into the use of the essive in nineteen Uralic languages on the basis of a typological linguistic questionnaire. The typological variation is discussed within the linguistic domains of non-verbal main predication, secondary predication, complementation, and manner, temporal, and circumstantial adverbial phrases. The descriptions and analyses are presented in such a way that they are accessible to linguists in general, descriptive and theoretical linguists, and specialists in Uralic and/or linguistic typology. The data and approach offer many starting points for further investigations within but also outside the Uralic language family.

Internet publications

  • Feist T, Palancar EL. Oto-Manguean Inflectional Class Database. University of Surrey
  • Fedden O, Feist T, Baerman M, Brown D, Corbett G, Senft G. (2015) Mian and Kilivila Collection. The University of Surrey

Theses and dissertations

  • Feist T. A grammar of Skolt Saami. The University of Manchester

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