Linguistics 210
Introduction to Linguistic Analysis
Section 101, Spring Half-Term 1999

Instructor: John Lawler (
Prerequisites: None. This is the basic course,
satisfying the prerequisites for
most other courses in linguistics.
10-12 MTWTh, 1624 Chemistry, 5/4 - 6/17/99 (Note Room Change)
Credits: 4
Distribution: Social Science (SS) ... at least officially,
though in practice we will veer into
Humanities, Natural Science,
and Not Excluded at times.

Edward Sapir said:

"Everything that we have so far seen to be true of language points to the fact that it is the most significant and colossal work that the human spirit has evolved -- nothing short of a finished form of expression for all communicable experience. This form may be endlessly varied by the individual without thereby losing its distinctive contours; and it is constantly reshaping itself as is all art. Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and anonymous work of unconscious generations."
At about the same time (circa 1920), Krazy Kat said:

True, all true. As Krazy suggests, this "massive and inclusive art" is also the information bottleneck of the human condition. A vast amount of our knowledge, including virtually everything we learn in formal education, comes to us through Language. Consequently, learning to analyze language, in ways that work for all languages, and to describe it objectively, is an indispensable tool for intellectuals, and one that stimulates in addition the habit of close attention to language, which is one of the things necessary for effective writing, not to mention clear thinking. Further, an understanding of how language really works (in contrast to the linguistic mythologies usually taught in schools) gives one a metaphorical place to stand that facilitates the study of anything that is described in language, which means just about everything.

Over the last century, linguistic scientists have amassed an array of analytic procedures, concepts, and findings that allow one to de-mystify speech, grammar, and language use, and to discover a number of surprising facts about one's own and others' languages. This course is a small (maximum 30) 8-week, 4-credit intensive introduction to the methods linguists use for describing languages (although general training in analytic thought is our ultimate goal). We will meet Monday through Thursday, for four two-hour classes a week, from Tuesday, May 4th through Thursday, June 17th.

Drawing on examples from a large number of the world's languages, we will devote one week to each of the major areas of linguistic analysis, in order:

  1. Introduction
  2. Morphology
  3. Phonetics
  4. Phonology
  5. Syntax
  6. Semantics
  7. Pragmatics
By focusing simultaneously on language data, and on the techniques used to make sense of these data, we will see that our understanding of the object of inquiry (language) is influenced by our methods of inquiry.

There will be weekly quizzes and daily data analysis problems, which will form the context for our discussion. In addition, there will be a comprehensive final take-home exam, which may be done in groups. This class is especially recommended for those with interests in scientific analysis (including mathematics, computing, and engineering), since the analytic methods discussed are generalizable easily.

There is no textbook; materials for analysis and handouts are in a coursepack. No prerequisites except an interest in language and thinking.

Check Times, Location, and Availability

John Lawler
Linguistics Program
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 USA