Elizabeth Steding (department head), Laurie Zaring (program director)
Whenever we utter a word, no matter how mundane, we engage in a remarkable and (to the best of our knowledge) uniquely human behavior. The ability to use language is something that should amaze us, given the fact that language represents the most complex system of communication that we know of. Linguistics is the study of this system - what its pieces are, how they combine, and how we acquire this system, as well as how we use it to express who we are socially and culturally.
The highly interdisciplinary nature of linguistics makes it an ideal discipline for study at a liberal arts college. Linguistics offers valuable insights to students of other social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and social work. Students of English and classical and foreign languages also find knowledge about the structure, learning, and cross-cultural variation of language extremely helpful. Political science and business students benefit from insights on the politics of language, and physics, biology, and computer science students draw on linguistics to understand the physical properties of speech, neurolinguistics, and artificial intelligence.
View program learning goals for an explanation of learning outcomes in Linguistics.
Every time we utter a word, no matter how mundane, we engage in a remarkable and, to the best of our knowledge, uniquely human behavior. This course explores the human capacity to acquire and use language. Topics include the nature of dialectal differences and the sociolinguistic factors which determine them, the ways in which languages vary and the importance of linguistic diversity, and the nature of the knowledge of language and how it relates to child language acquisition and other aspects of human cognition.
The syntax of natural languages is a beautifully complex system of subconscious rules. What are they like? This course enables students to engage in building a theory of syntax. After an introduction to the basic tools of syntactic analysis, students tackle increasingly complex sets of data from English (and, occasionally, other languages), proposing and testing competing hypotheses against each other and refining them in light of new data. By the end of the course, students are able to identify syntactic puzzles in English or another language of their choice, propose analyses in the theory they have developed, and present their research in written and oral form.
When listening to the sounds of language, humans don't function like tape recorders; we overlook distinctions to which mechanical recording devices are sensitive, and we "hear" contrasts which are objectively not there. What we (think we) hear is determined by the sound system of the language we speak. This course examines the sound systems of human languages, focusing on how speech sounds are produced and perceived, and how these units come to be organized into a systematic network in the minds of speakers of languages.
This course examines what a word is: how we know one when we see one, how we assemble them from smaller pieces, and what meanings we use them to express. Drawing on examples from a wide range of languages, we develop an appreciation not only for how languages vary but for what all of this can tell us about the nature of the human mind.
What sorts of issues and ideas do linguists apply their knowledge of language to? This course provides an in-depth examination of one of these topics. The focus will vary each time and may include topics such as second language acquisition, language change, linguistic universals, and deciphering the grammar of an unfamiliar language. Students will gain significant practice in writing and oral presentation, including a research project. May be repeated for credit up to three times under three different topics. Offered on a rotating basis.
A directed research project that serves as the capstone course for the linguistics minor and that is designed to allow students to apply the knowledge gained in the minor to their major field of study.