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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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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Bringing the advances of theoretical linguistics to the study of language change in a systematic way, this innovative textbook shows that theoretical linguistics can be used to solve problems where traditional approaches to historical linguistics have failed to produce satisfying results, and that the results of historical research can have an impact on theory. The book first explains the nature of human language and the sources of language change in broad terms. It then focuses on different types of language change from contemporary viewpoints, before exploring comparative reconstruction — the most spectacular success of traditional historical linguistics — and the problems inherent in trying to devise new methods for linguistic comparison. Positioned at the cutting edge of the field, the book argues that this approach can and should lead to the re-integration of historical linguistics as one of the core areas in the study of language.

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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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This book examines the diversity among American dialects and presents the counterintuitive finding that geographically localized dialects of North American English are increasingly diverging from one another over time. Labov describes the political forces that drive these ongoing changes, as well as the political consequences in public debate. The author also considers the recent geographical reversal of political parties in the Blue States and the Red States and the parallels between dialect differences and the results of recent presidential elections. Finally, in attempting to account for the history and geography of linguistic change among whites, Labov highlights fascinating correlations between patterns of linguistic divergence and the politics of race and slavery, going back to the antebellum United States. Complemented by an online collection of audio files that illustrate key dialectical nuances, Dialect Diversity in America offers an unparalleled sociolinguistic study from a preeminent scholar in the field.

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Drawing on cutting-edge developments in biology, neurology, psychology, and linguistics, Charles Yang's The Infinite Gift takes us inside the astonishingly complex but largely subconscious process by which children learn to talk and to understand the spoken word. Yang also puts forth an exciting new theory that we learn our native languages in part by unlearning the grammars of all the rest.

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This book is the first since 1897 to describe the earliest reconstructable stages of the prehistory of English. It outlines the grammar of Proto-Indo-European, considers the changes by which one dialect of that prehistoric language developed into Proto-Germanic, and provides a detailed account of the grammar of Proto-Germanic. The next volume will consider the development of Proto-Germanic into Old English.