Welcome to the Department of Linguistics.

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, from the sounds and gestures of speech up to the organization of words, sentences, and meaning. Linguistics is also concerned with the relationship between language and cognition, society, and history.

The Department of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania is the oldest modern linguistics department in the United States, founded by Zellig Harris in 1947. The department is known for its interdisciplinary research, spanning many subfields of linguistics, as well as integration of theory, corpus research, field work, and cognitive and computer science.

The department has both a graduate Ph.D. program and undergraduate major and minors. For the specializations of our faculty, please see the research section.

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In Voice and v, Julie Anne Legate investigates the syntactic structure of voice, using Acehnese as the empirical starting point. A central claim is that voice is encoded in a functional projection, VoiceP, which is distinct from, and higher than, vP. Legate further claims that VoiceP may be associated with phi-features that semantically restrict the external argument position but do not saturate it. Through minor variations in the properties of VoiceP, Legate explains a wide range of non-canonical voice constructions, including: agent-agreeing passives, grammatical object passives, impersonals, object voice constructions, and applicative voice in causatives. Her analysis draws on data from a typologically diverse set of languages, not only Malayo-Polynesian, but also Celtic, Scandinavian, and Slavic.

Voice and v provides a detailed investigation into the syntactic structure of an understudied Malayo-Polynesian language, and thereby reveals important insights for the theoretical analysis of voice and the verb phrase. Moreover, the work applies and broadens these insights to a range of related passive-like constructions crosslinguistically. Voice and v thus joins a handful of model volumes that enlist typological depth and breadth to further our development of modern linguistic theory.

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The Atlas of North American English provides the first overall view of the pronunciation and vowel systems of the dialects of the U.S. and Canada. The Atlas re-defines the regional dialects of American English on the basis of sound changes active in the 1990s and draws new boundaries reflecting those changes. It is based on a telephone survey of 762 local speakers, representing all the urbanized areas of North America.

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This book is the first detailed examination of morphology and phonology from a phase-cyclic point of view (that is, one that takes into account recent developments in Distributed Morphology and the Minimalist program) and the only recent detailed treatment of allomorphy, a phenomenon that is central to understanding how the grammar of human language works. In addition to making new theoretical proposals about morphology and phonology in terms of a cyclic theory, Embick addresses a schism in the field between phonological theories such as Optimality Theory and other (mostly syntactic) theories such as those associated with the Minimalist program. He presents sustained empirical arguments that the Localist view of grammar associated with the Minimalist program (and Distributed Morphology in particular) is correct, and that the Globalism espoused by many forms of Optimality Theory is incorrect.

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In this book Robin Clark explains in an accessible manner the usefulness of game theory in thinking about a wide range of issues in linguistics. Clark argues that we use grammar strategically to signal our intended meanings: our choices as speaker are conditioned by what choices the hearer will make interpreting what we say. Game theory — according to which the outcome of a decision depends on the choices of others — provides a formal system that allows us to develop theories about the kind of decision making that is crucial to understanding linguistic behavior. Clark argues the only way to understand meaning is to grapple with its social nature: that it is the social that gives content to our mental lives. The resulting theory of use will allow us to account for many aspects of linguistic meaning, and the grammar itself can be simplified. The book includes an extended argument in favor of the social basis of meaning; a brief introduction to game theory, with a focus on coordination games and cooperation; discussions of common knowledge and games of partial information; models of games for pronouns and politeness; and the development of a system of social coordination of reference.

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This volume, which completes Labov’s seminal Principles of Linguistic Change trilogy, examines the cognitive and cultural factors responsible for linguistic change, tracing the life history of these developments, from triggering events to driving forces and endpoints. It explores the major insights obtained by combining sociolinguistics with the results of dialect geography on a large scale; demonstrates under what conditions dialects diverge from one another; and establishes an essential distinction between transmission within the community and diffusion across communities.

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Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum collect some of their most insightful and amusing material from Language Log, their popular website. Often irreverent and hilarious, these brief essays take on many sacred cows. Language Log is a site where serious professional linguists go to have fun. There's plenty of fun and plenty to get you thinking about language in new ways in this collection.