Linguistics 001     Lecture 1


The goal of Linguistics 001 is to offer a  broad, self-contained introduction to all aspects of language and linguistics, suitable for undergraduates with a wide range of backgrounds and interests. We aim to teach you the basic facts, concepts, and skills that you need in order to think about speech, language, and communication in a clear and scientifically well-grounded way. An equally important goal is to teach you how to learn more: where to look, and how to understand what you find.

General information about course content is available from a  brief description . Details can be gotten from the schedule and the lecture notes that are linked to it.

This course was first given in its current form in the fall of 1997. Enrollment grew from 35 in the fall of 1997 to 121 in the fall of 2000, with more than 200 students attempting to enroll in that term. Because of this increased demand, we began offering the course in both fall and spring terms.

Each year, we've tried to adjust the course's form and content to reflect what we've learned in teaching it. Your comments and suggestions about this fall's effort will be welcomed.

Although it is not currently a prerequisite for other courses in  linguistics at Penn , Linguistics 001 will prepare you to get more out of other language-related courses you take in the future, and will give you a broader perspective on courses you may have taken in the past.

In addition to formal course work in linguistics at Penn, there are often opportunities for independent studies, research projects, and even paying research-related jobs. Contact the instructor for further information if you are interested.

Course Structure 

There are two lectures a week, Monday and Wednesday 12:00-1:00.

Each student should also participate in one recitation section each week. This term, there are eight recitation sections. The purpose of the recitation sections is to provide students with a forum for discussion and an opportunity to ask questions about lectures, readings, homework and exams.

The instructor and TAs can be reached by email, either to answer questions directly or to set up individual appointments:

Mark Liberman,
Haitao Cai,
Amy Goodwin Davies,
Helen Jeoung,
Karen Tseng.

In addition, we have a Piazza page where you can ask questions and hold discussions. The usual experience has been that questions asked on Piazza are answered within a few hours.

You should have gotten an email invitation to sign up for this class's Piazza page, and you should click on the link in that invitation if you haven't done so yet. If you haven't gotten an invitation, or you experience any problem signing up, let your TA know. Note that there are iPhone and Android mobile apps for Piazza, which some of you may prefer to the email/website version.

There will be six homework assignments, two midterms, and a final project (due on the last day of class.)

NOTE: As an experiment this year, we will NOT have a final exam. Instead, we will have two "midterms", one on Wednesday 10/22 and one on Monday 12/8. As a result, you will not need to wait until after December 18 to leave for your winter break -- at least due to the final exam in this course, which otherwise would have been scheduled on that day.


The two midterms and the term project will each count for 20% of your grade. The six homework exercises will count for 30% -- that's 5% each. The final 10% will depend on class participation (mainly in your recitation section).

Note that homework is a significant part of your grade. Each year, a few students fail to turn in some or all homework assignments, and are then taken aback by the effect.

Here is the distribution of raw numerical grades amoung the students in the 2006 version of the course. These were turned into letter grades in a conventional fashion, so that 80-83.3 was B-, 83.3-86.7 was B, 86.7-90 was B+, and so on. Thus nine students got a B-, etc. Grades over 100 were possible because of extra credit on exams and some homework assignments.

There are no guarantees that this particular distribution of grades will obtain -- the course is not "graded on the curve".

Extra Credit: During the course of the semester, there will be five "one minute gift" quizzes, given without notice in one of the lectures or recitations. Each will consist of a single question, which should be trivial to answer if you've been doing the reading and attending the lectures. If you get it right, you get one point of extra credit, for up to 5 points of extra credit (half a letter grade) during the course of the term.

The main purpose of these little quizzes is to let us see whether we're succeeding in getting the material to you. Any motivation that they may give you to keep up with the reading and course meetings (and to come to class!) will be an added benefit.


Although all readings for this course will be made available on line, there are many good introductory linguistics books, which you might want to borrow from the library or buy to have your own copy. A few that I can recommend are:

How Language Works, by Carol Genetti et al.
The Power of Babel, by John McWhorter
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
Introduction to Language by Fromkin and Rodman
Contemporary Linguistics  by O'Grady et al.
Linguistics  by Akmajian, Demers, Farmer and Harnish

Some recently-published linguistics books by Penn linguistics faculty (the first two are reasonably priced and accessible to a general audience):

Far from the Madding Gerund, by Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum
The Infinite Gift, by Charles Yang
From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic: A Linguistic History of English, by Don Ringe
Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change, by Bill Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg.

In addition, you may enjoy reading some of the language-oriented weblogs that have sprung up over the past few years. This includes one that I contribute to, Language Log, as well as many others that you can find in the Language Log blogroll.









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