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LINGUIST 21N: Linguistic Diversity and Universals: The Principles of Language Structure

The human capacity for language is able to support a staggering diversity of languages. But is anything possible in a human language, and is there anything that is common to all languages? Looking past the vast surface differences, linguists have discovered deep commonalities among the languages of the world as well as strict limits on the observed variation and on what a possible human language is. In this seminar, we will seek to uncover the building blocks of language and the laws that govern their interactions. Our goal will be to reach an understanding of the ways in which languages are systematically alike and different, as well as of the nature of language in general. We will investigate a variety of topics, including crosslinguistic differences and similarities with respect to word order, the grammatical structure of questions, and how languages mark subjects and objects. We will explore the structure of both sentences and words, identifying and studying their fundamental prope more »
The human capacity for language is able to support a staggering diversity of languages. But is anything possible in a human language, and is there anything that is common to all languages? Looking past the vast surface differences, linguists have discovered deep commonalities among the languages of the world as well as strict limits on the observed variation and on what a possible human language is. In this seminar, we will seek to uncover the building blocks of language and the laws that govern their interactions. Our goal will be to reach an understanding of the ways in which languages are systematically alike and different, as well as of the nature of language in general. We will investigate a variety of topics, including crosslinguistic differences and similarities with respect to word order, the grammatical structure of questions, and how languages mark subjects and objects. We will explore the structure of both sentences and words, identifying and studying their fundamental properties. In this pursuit, we will rely on data from a range of languages, such as English, Navajo, Zulu, and many others. This seminar will teach you how to view language as an object of scientific study, introducing you to central concepts and methods of linguistics (with a particular emphasis on syntax) along the way. It will give you the tools to describe and analyze even unfamiliar languages, and will teach you to construct explicit hypotheses about how language works and to test them empirically. There are no prerequisites for this course and no experience with linguistics will be assumed; the course is Socratically taught and there will be no textbook.
Terms: Aut | Units: 3 | Grading: Letter or Credit/No Credit
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