Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
The goal of the fall 2015 LIN 201 course with Professor Feldman is to provide an introduction to the scientific analysis of language, including its structure and uses. The course aims to give students an understanding of both the systematicity of language and the variation that exists within and across languages.
The course is divided into 12 weekly units, which often build on each other. The first half of the course up until the midterm covers the core foundational areas of linguistics: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Once students have a solid foundation in these areas, the course extends to new more abstract topics, including first and second language acquisition, language variation and change, writing systems, language processing and disorders, language evolution, and computational approaches to language.
The course flows by quickly as a new unit is discussed each week. Lectures and readings serve to teach the basics of each topic, while problem sets put this information into action by exploring and analyzing authentic data from a wide range of languages and language types.
Because the course is fast-paced, all the foundational concepts build off each other, and these concepts are required to understand the later sections of the course, it is easy for a student to quickly become lost if they do not keep up with the material. To prevent this from happening, it is important to review the lecture slides and readings the day after each lecture and make sure each new unit is understood in detail.
Although this course moves at a quick pace, no specific background knowledge is required as the foundational concepts are covered in the first half of the course. However, analysis of language data tends to be very mathematical and requires strong logic capabilities to find hidden patterns in the data, so make sure you are confident in these areas.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
Lecture occurs twice a week, precept is held once a week, and there are weekly readings and biweekly problem sets. Lecture and readings cover the same material, while precepts and problem sets apply this material to analyze language data.
Lectures are usually slide shows with sparse text that the professor uses to emphasize her points as she speaks. Because the slides do not have so much text, it is necessary to take detailed notes during lecture. This can sometimes be difficult because laptops are not allowed in lecture, so the textbook readings can be used to supplement any gaps in the notes. Lectures introduce new material on each slide at a fast pace, so it is important to listen carefully and make sure the main point of each new slide is understood. To efficiently prepare for lecture, it is recommended to read the assigned textbook chapters ahead of time.
Precepts meet once each week. Instead of going over the same information as from lecture, precepts apply the concepts to practice problems similar to those in the biweekly problem sets. Each precept works carefully through about 4-5 of these problems. During each problem, the preceptor shares techniques and tricks to help analyze language data effectively and quickly determine patterns and similarities among different languages. It is important to pay attention during precept as this information is extremely helpful in determining how to approach the problem sets, which are given out at the end of precept and due the week after. The preceptor is happy to repeat any step in the problem if you require further explanation, so do not hesitate to ask for help. While laptop use is allowed in precept, it is recommended to take notes by hand as many of the problems require drawing complex diagrams to help analyze the data. Make sure to bring the textbook to precept, as data from the textbook is used for most of the practice problems and it can serve as a good reference as well.
Learning For and From Assignments
Weekly readings are assigned in the accompanying textbook, The Language Files. This is a great textbook that explains everything in clear and simple language, so make sure to make use of this valuable asset. These readings usually cover the same material as the lectures. However, it is important to read the textbook either before or after lecture to make sure each new concept is understood in totality as notes from lecture can be incomplete because they have to be taken by hand. The textbook also goes into greater detail than the lectures on a few topics, so it is usually necessary to read to be able to solve the problem sets. The textbook is also a useful reference to help understand the problem sets because at the end of each section it gives advice on how this information can be applied to linguistics analysis problems. Furthermore, the textbook includes detailed solutions to a few exercise problems, and these are very helpful for the problem sets. When reading the textbook, it is recommended to underline or highlight key points of each section so they can be easily found again when doing the problem sets. I would recommend memorizing the phonetic and vowel tables in the back of the textbook, as it is useful for the problem sets and must be memorized for the midterm.
Problem sets are due approximately every other week, totaling to four problem sets throughout the semester. The questions on the problem sets are based off of the material covered in lecture and the textbook, but much thought and logic is required to apply these concepts to solve these problems. Therefore, it is necessary to pay close attention to the problem solving tips taught in precept and in a few sections of the textbook. At first the problem sets can seem challenging, but over time it becomes much easier to find logical connections and patterns in the tables of language data. Problem sets can take up to 8 hours to completely solve the problems and write up the solutions, so make sure to start working on these assignments early. Group work is not allowed on the problem sets, but if you completely understand the textbook and lecture notes the problem sets should not be too difficult.
In addition to the problem sets, there is a midterm and a take-home final. Both tests consist of problems that are very similar to those on the problem sets. Therefore, the best way to study for these tests is to review the lecture and textbook material and then redo the problem sets to make sure you completely understand the problem-solving process behind the solutions to these questions. The midterm is in class, so phonetic classifications must be memorized or else the problems on the test will be impossible. The midterm occurs halfway through the course and covers all the basic introductory material to the course. If you review all this material and the problem sets related to it, then the midterm should be completely manageable. The take-home final is open book, so no memorization is necessary to prepare for the final, although it is important to thoroughly review all the course material so you are familiar with all the types of problems seen on the final and how to approach them. Because the final is take-home, it is much longer than the problem sets and the midterm. Make sure to plan ahead to allocate at least a full day to working on the final so that you have time to properly write up each solution in detail.
I did not use any external resources (besides office hours) for this course. While the problem sets and take home final are open book, referring to anything but the textbook and lecture notes is prohibited. However, both were great resources and I could always find the information I needed in either the lecture notes or the textbook.
In addition to the written materials, the preceptors and professor were very happy to meet and discuss any questions about course material, problem sets, or answer more general questions about the course. I would really recommend meeting with one of the teachers if you are confused about any topic because they clearly explained to me any topic I was confused about so I always left more comfortable with the course material.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
Definitely take LIN 201 if you are looking for a well-rounded introduction to the basics of linguistics. I took LIN 201 because I was interested in pursuing a Linguistics certificate, and I have definitely left with a better sense of how linguistic analysis works and will most likely be doing the certificate.
I wish I had known how fast-paced the course is so I would have worked harder at the beginning of the semester to review all the important material to make sure I completely understood the fundamental concepts that the rest of the course is based on.
I would recommend taking this course either freshman or sophomore year if you are trying to decide whether to pursue a linguistics certificate so that you will have time to fulfill the rest of the certificate’s requirements.
While the course can be challenging at times, the workload is relatively light, so this could be a good course to take if you know the rest of your courses will be very time consuming. The workload also lessens a bit towards the end of the semester, which is helpful as it is usually the opposite for most classes. As each problem set counts for 10% of the course grade, make sure to check them over carefully, as getting one problem wrong can change your overall grade by quite a bit.
This course does not assume any previous knowledge, so you do not have to worry about feeling behind anyone else in the class. Anyone who works hard and utilizes the resources around them will have a chance to do well in the course. Good luck!