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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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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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.

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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.

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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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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.