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Language (Spring 2021)

This page gives a summary of the course. See the syllabus for more detailed and up-to-date information.

Course Description

This course is an introductory survey of the field of linguistics—the scientific study of language. During the semester, we will look at questions like the following: Is speaking an instinctual or a learned behavior? Why do children acquire language so much faster and easier than adults, and what are the stages of acquisition? What do the native speakers of a language know about the language’s word structure, sentence structure, sentence meaning, and pronunciation? How is language processed in the brain? How and why did language evolve into such a complex system? How is language affected by social class and race? The course will approach these questions from a scientific perspective, incorporating methodologies from mathematics and logic, as well as the social sciences (such as psychology and sociology). It will provide you with the necessary background to continue your studies in linguistics at a more advanced level if you choose to. It satisfies the Introductory Course requirement for Linguistics majors and is a prerequisite for some of the other courses. Language is a CORE exemptor for CAS students; it satisfies the Societies and Social Sciences course requirement.

This class will be held online and asynchronously (i.e. as a self-paced class with content available during a set time frame — there are no lectures to attend). There will be no lectures and no recitations (i.e. no meetings in which all participants need to be logged in simultaneously or physically present). You will interact with the instructor, your fellow students, and your classmates via Perusall, an online platform on which learning feels like being on social media. While you need to register for a recitation section for administrative purposes, there will be no meetings for class or recitations. We will use an electronic version of the textbook that will make collaborative commenting easier. The two teaching assistants and I will all be available for synchronous interaction via office hours on Zoom, and we will all read and react to your comments on Perusall. If you have feedback, questions, and concerns related to these points, you are encouraged to email me at

Course Details

  • Title: LING-UA 1 Language
  • Section 005: 
  • “Recitation” (section 006):
    • No recitation meetings — you need to register only for administrative purposes (see above)
    • Instructor: Soo-Hwan Lee ( – office hours Wednesday 4-5pm EST, or by appointment
  • “Recitation” (section 007): 
    • No recitation meetings — you need to register only for administrative purposes (see above)
    • Instructor: Alicia Mason ( – office hours Thursday 9-10am EST or by appointment
  • Prerequisites: None; this course assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics. Don’t worry if you are not a native speaker of English.


The primary textbook we will be using is Linguistics for Dummies, 1st edition, by Rose-Marie Déchaine, Strang Burton and Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson. Please don’t be offended by the title — we do not think you are dummies! This is a high-quality book written by world-class linguists. It appeared in a series that imposes the title on all of its books. Prof. Champollion has read the book from cover to cover before deciding to adopt it, and can attest that it is written in a very accessible way, without sacrificing accuracy or rigor; has no major factual errors; and does a good job at covering most facets of linguistics in a balanced way. The book is available online for just $12. You will be able to purchase it online via the Perusall platform (an access code will be sent to you on the first day of the semester). Please do not purchase the textbook in hard copy as you would then not be able to access it on Perusall.

If you have a textbook scholarship, you may also choose to purchase an access code from the NYU bookstore, having the code physically printed and shipped to you, and then typing it into Perusall. The price will be $12 as well. There is no specific advantage to this somewhat cumbersome procedure other than being able to use the scholarship.

To enhance Linguistics for Dummies, we will be assigning video and text from the textbook Essentials of Linguistics by Catherine Anderson, about the core areas of theoretical linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics), supplemented with discussion of psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic findings. All these materials will be accessible free of charge, and are licensed via Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike. We are indebted to Prof. Anderson for making these materials available to the linguistics community.


Course requirements

For reasons of fairness related to the pandemic, there will be no exams in this class. Instead, grades will be based primarily on reading assignments, which include Facebook-style discussions. See these Perusall scoring examples or email the instructor for more details.