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Patterns in Language (Fall 2020)

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 (June 15, 2020)

Due to its size, this class along with its recitations will be held online. I am currently in the process of redesigning the class accordingly. This class will be held primarily asynchronously (i.e. as a self-paced class with content available during a set time frame), 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: 
    • Online and asynchronous — self-paced (see above)
    • Instructor: Lucas Champollion
  • Recitation (section 002):
    • Tuesdays, 4:55pm-6:10pm (see above)
    • Online and synchronous
    • Instructor: Alex Warstadt
  • Recitation (section 003): 
    • Wednesdays, 11:00am-12:15pm (see above)
    • Online and synchronous
    • Instructor: Anna Alsop
  • 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.

Course Requirements

  • TBD

Tentative syllabus (subject to change)

  • Week 1 (Aug 31)
    • Organization, Introduction
  • Week 2 (Sep 7)
    • Jupyter notebook crash course in Python
  • Week 3 (Sep 14)
    • Ch 1 (w/o Section 1.4): Encodings
  • Week 4 (Sep 21)
    • Ch 2: Writers’ Aids
  • Week 5 (Sep 28)
    • Ch 4: Search
  • Week 6 (Oct 5)
    • Regular expressions & command line
  • Week 7 (Oct 12)
    • TBD
  • Week 8 (Oct 19)
    • Ch 5: Classifiers and machine learning
  • Week 9 (Oct 26)
    • Ch 6: Dialog systems and AI
  • Week 10 (Nov 2)
    • Ch 6: Dialog systems and AI (continued)
  • Week 11 (Nov 9)
    • Ch 7: Machine translation
  • Week 12 (Nov 16)
    • Forensic linguistics
  • Week 13 (Nov 23)
    • Speech synthesis
  • Week 14 (Nov 30)
    • Ch 1 Section 1.4: Speech recognition
  • Week 15 (Dec 7)
    • Ch 8: Impact of LT / Google Flu Trends