Linguistics: The Science of Language

Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Summer 2017

Course Description:

From Twitter’s 140 characters to War and Peace’s 1,400 pages, language is an essential part of our psychological, cultural, and social experiences. As an ever-growing field of academic research, linguistics uses rigorous methodology to study four primary aspects of language: phonology (sound patterns), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence structure), and semantics (meaning). Using this framework, students analyze language as both a biological human instinct and as an important cultural artifact in human history and society. For example, by examining Yoda’s speech in the movie “The Empire Strikes Back”, students might analyze the syntax employed to determine the patterns by which he alters his word order from standard English, thus exploring questions of meaning and communication.

Investigating language through the lenses of psychology, vocal anatomy, cultural studies, and history, students discuss both the universal qualities of human language and the unique qualities of individual languages and dialects. In so doing, they come to understand language as a force that dynamically shapes and is shaped by history, biology, class, status, ethnicity, gender, and institutions like the media and the law. Students develop a diverse set of skills, ranging from a mastery of tools for the systematic study of language (e.g., the International Phonetic Alphabet) to a practical ability to evaluate the rhetorical tricks used by advertisers and politicians. Through lectures, discussions, group and independent projects, and readings, students examine the roots, complexity, and power of language.

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