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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All languages have exceptions alongside overarching rules and regularities. How does a young child tease them apart within just a few years of language acquisition? In this book, drawing an economic analogy, Charles Yang argues that just as the price of goods is determined by the balance between supply and demand, the price of linguistic productivity arises from the quantitative considerations of rules and exceptions. The learner postulates a productive rule only if it results in a more efficient organization of language, with the number of exceptions falling below a critical threshold. 

Supported by a wide range of cases with corpus evidence, Yang's Tolerance Principle gives a unified account of many long-standing puzzles in linguistics and psychology, including why children effortlessly acquire rules of language that perplex otherwise capable adults. His focus on computational efficiency provides novel insight on how language interacts with the other components of cognition and how the ability for language might have emerged during the course of human evolution.

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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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This volume brings together some of the most recent developments in the field of experimental pragmatics, specifically empirical approaches to theoretical issues in presupposition theory. It includes studies of the online processing of presupposed content; investigations of the interpretive properties of presuppositions in various linguistic contexts; comparative perspectives relative to other aspects of meaning, such as asserted content and implicatures; cross-linguistic comparisons of presupposition triggers; and perspectives from language acquisition. Taken together, these novel contributions provide a snapshot of state-of-the art developments in this area and will serve as a point of reference for numerous emerging avenues of future work. It makes for an ideal set of readings for advanced university courses on experimental studies of meaning and is a must-read for anyone interested in experimental research on meaning in natural 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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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.