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    These are short, easy-to-follow text & video overviews on popular ideas and themes in linguistics.

  • Does language make us human? Language vs. languages | So what is this thing we call language? And what are individual languages?
  • Where to draw the line? Languages vs. dialects | What makes a language a language? When are two different ways of speaking completely different languages, and when are they merely dialects of the same language?
  • Good Grammar, Bad Grammar | learn about three basic approaches to language and grammar: prescriptive, descriptive and theoretical.
  • Your Brain on Language | brains do amazing things. This brief tour winds through neurons, aphasiacs and psycholinguists to start unraveling how our brains enable us to speak to and understand each other.
  • Linguistic Relativity & Linguistic Determinism | Does language shape the way we think? What is the relationship between language and culture? Learn more as Benjamin Lee Whorf and modern psychologists try to unravel the details.
  • What is Linguistics? | A very short introduction to how linguists study language. Learn about theoretical, descriptive & applied linguistics, and encounter some common linguistic tools.
  • Language & the Nativism/Empiricism Debate | Get some perspective on the nature/nurture controversy as it applies to language. Did humans build language as a cultural artifact? Is language genetically hardwired? Is language all about variations or universals? How does any of this impact the way lessons are presented on
  • What is Meaning? Semantics, Semiotics, Logic & the Meaning of Words | How do words and other signs mean something? How is meaning studied? Get a brief idea of the various approaches to meaning in language.

  • Core lessons

    More focused text & video lessons on specific topics in linguistics.

  • Intro to the IPA (basic phonetics) | Learn to use the IPA to boost your understanding of pronunciation in any language. These lessons teach you about the features of vowels, consonants and speech sounds, as well as how to use the IPA to represent human speech. Relates to the book IPA for Language Learning, available below.
  • Sounds in Language - an Introduction to Pronunciation (basic phonology) | Learn to apply the IPA and features of speech sounds to individual spoken languages. We'll work through the pronunciation system of Latin American Spanish and discover Spanish phonemes & allophones, syllable structure, stress accent, and rules for understanding sounds in their environments. Relates to some concepts in the book IPA for Language Learning, which you can purchase below.
  • The Grammar of Words (basic morphology) | These lessons teach the fundamentals of words and parts of words, covering the essentials of morphology for language learners. Parallels the first six chapters of the book Native Grammar, available below.
  • The Grammar of Sentences (basic syntax) | Introduces the basics of the arrangement of words into phrases, clauses and sentences. Builds on "Intro to the Grammar of Words" above. Relates to the final two chapters of Native Grammar, available below.
  • The Verb and Its Arguments (basic morphosyntax) | On this page you will learn the basics of morphosyntax, which will provide you with a first step towards a more sophisticated understanding of verbs, nouns, and the grammar of sentences.
  • Computing Grammar: Parse Trees, X-Bar Theory & Ambiguity | The fundamentals of building syntax trees to break down and process natural language grammar. This lesson builds on morphology, syntax and the verb and its arguments (lessons above).
  • Optimality Theory: rules vs. constraints in language & grammar | A short introduction to Optimality Theory, which treats grammar as a system of ranked, violable, competing constraints instead of a set of unbreakable rules. Follow the analogy of two friends deciding on their plans for the night to get an intuitive idea of Optimality Theory, then use the same insights to analyze the pronunciation of plural -s in English.
  • How Languages Develop, Change & Relate (historical linguistics) | This webpage will teach you about language families, language relationship and change over time. You will learn how to look for and compare cognates in related languages and how to reconstruct parent or proto-languages based on sound correspondences. Please take the intro to phonetics and intro to phonology (above) before this course.
  • Word Origins (etymology) | Learn to research and discuss the origin of individual words, with attention to sound change and meaning change over time. We'll look at the etymology of the Modern English word "queen", which is a story unto itself, but also sheds light on the key concepts in etymology.
  • Types of Sound Change | The intro to historical linguistics and the lesson on basic etymology both brought up the topic of "sound changes". Now dig deeper into the various types of ways that sounds change over time in a language.

  • Backup resources

  • Glossary of Grammar Terms in Linguistics | A short dictionary of words with definitions, ranging from the easy stuff of nouns and verbs to more challenging concepts like allomorphs, focus and transitivity. Includes examples from world languages for some terms.
  • Language Family Maps | Maps that detail the geographic location of languages in select language families. Includes an informative overview of each language family.
  • Linguistics Questions | Answers to some questions about linguistics, language and individual languages.