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.

This semester, all lectures and recitations will be virtual -- details to be supplied later. 

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.

In addition, we have a Piazza site where you can ask questions and hold discussions. (Please sign up at if you're not already enrolled). Experience in past years has been that questions asked in such a forum are usually answered within a few hours.

There will be six homework assignments, two midterms, and a final project (due December 9.) Use the course Canvas site to upload assignments.

NOTE: We will NOT have a final exam. Instead, we usually have two "midterms" -- but this fall, we will substitute a research paper due at the same time as the final project, on the last day of class.


The research paper and the term project will each count for 30% 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".

"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...)

And this semester, there are no exams, so that gives us another reason not to answer.

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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