Linguistics 0001     Lecture 1


The goal of Linguistics 0001 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 0001 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 six 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 -- contact information is on the course home page.

There will be six homework assignments, two midterms (given in class, and entirely multiple-choice or short fill-in answers), and a final project (due on the last day of class.) Use the course Canvas site to upload assignments.

NOTE: We will NOT have a final exam. Instead, we will have two "midterms". As a result, you will not need to wait until after the end of classes to leave for your winter break -- at least due to the final exam in this course.

Getting Help 

If something in the lectures or lecture notes raises questions for you, or if you are uncertain about some aspects of a homework assignment, or if you have scheduling issues, you can ask your TA -- during a scheduled recitation, via an email query, or during their office hours.

We will also be using the Canvas Ed Discussion feature. In principle this has several benefits, including letting other students answer your question and/or learn from the resulting answers and discussion.


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 up to 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.

"Will it be on the exam?"

This is generally the wrong question to ask, since the goal of the course is not to get you to memorize a list of items that you can accurately regurgitate on request. (What is the goal? See above...)

Still, the course has a lot of readings, containing many details, and other things will be mentioned or even featured in the lectures. And most of you have good reasons to care about what grades you get. So it's fair to ask how you should prepare for the two midterms.

Two answers to this question:

  1. If you do the readings and the homeworks, and pay attention in the lectures and recitations, you should be fine.
  2. As the midterms approach, we'll show you samples of past exams, and discuss the philosophy of exam preparation.

Additional readings

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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