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Patterns in Language (Fall 2020)

For information about the Spring 2021 course Language, go to

Course Description

If a computer can beat humans at Jeopardy!, does it follow that machines can think? Is it possible to predict the spread of the flu based on patterns in Google searches? Did Shakespeare really write that sonnet? Scientists use patterns in language to answer these questions, using the same concepts that underlie such everyday applications as search engines, automatic translators, speech recognition, spell-checkers, and auto-correction tools. We examine these applications, focusing on the technological and linguistic ideas behind them and gaining practical hands-on experience and insight into how they work. No programming experience is required; students only need curiosity about language and some everyday experience with computers.

Covid-19 update (August 26, 2020)

Due to its size, this class along with its recitations will be held online. The class itself will be held asynchronously (i.e. as a self-paced class with content available during a set time frame — there are no lectures to attend), but the recitations will be held synchronously (i.e. as a real-time class with virtual sessions and all participants logged in simultaneously). Accommodations will be provided for students located in time zones that make it impractical to attend the recitations in real time. We will use an electronic version of the textbook that will make collaborative commenting easier. This version will be made available to you automatically at a cost of $27. Students with feedback, questions, and concerns related to these points are encouraged to email me at

Course Details

  • Title: LING-UA 6 Patterns in Language
  • Section 001: 
  • Recitation (section 002):
    • Tuesdays, 4:55pm-6:10pm EST (see above)
    • Online and synchronous
    • Instructor: Alex Warstadt ( – office hours Wednesday 4pm-5pm EST or by appointment
    • First meeting: Tuesday, September 8, 2020
    • Albert Link
  • Recitation (section 003): 
    • Wednesdays, 11:00am-12:15pm EST (see above)
    • Online and synchronous
    • Instructor: Anna Alsop ( – office hours Thursday 9am-10am EST or by appointment
    • First meeting: Wednesday, September 2, 2020
    • Albert Link
  • Prerequisites: None; this course assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics or computer science, and only high-school level math background. Don’t worry if you are not a native speaker of English.


Language and Computers by Markus Dickinson, Chris Brew, Detmar Meurers

An electronic version of the book will be made available for $27 and must be purchased as part of the first course assignment. Students should not buy the textbook on their own as it is not possible to use other versions of the book for collaborative commenting, which will be part of this course. Students for whom the price of the book represents a financial hardship, or who already own a different version, should contact the instructor.


Don’t worry about setting up accounts on these pages now, we’ll do that at a later stage.

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 problem sets and reading assignments.

Problem sets (manual and programming) will be worth 65% of the course grade, and the lowest two problem sets will be dropped.

Reading assignments, which include Facebook-style discussions, will be worth 25% of the course grade.

Recitation will be worth 10% of the course grade. If you can’t join synchronously, you are required to watch the recording before the following week’s recitation (either by 4:54pm EST on Tuesdays for Alex’s recitation, or by 10:59am EST on Wednesdays for Anna’s recitation).