Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Languages, Dialects, Speakers


Much of the fascination of the study of language lies in the fact that language is variable and changing, but not random or chaotic. Sound patterns, sentence structures, and meanings vary across languages, dialects, individuals, and even within a single individual depending on the speech situation. However, a closer examination typically reveals highly systematic patterns that hold true across all speakers, all dialects, and even all languages. This seminar is an introduction to the study of language variation. The emphasis will be on observing variation in language as it is actually used in everyday life, and trying to explain why such variation occurs and what its limits are. Each seminar participant will carry out a piece of linguistic research. This will involve identifying a variable linguistic phenomenon, inventing hypotheses as to the source and nature of this variation, and testing these hypotheses based on empirical data. 


Meet the Instructor(s)

Arto Anttila

"What led me into linguistics? Growing up as a monolingual speaker of Finnish in beautiful rural western Finland it came as a true revelation to me that there were other languages and that people were able to speak and understand them. (That may not impress you if you are from a multicultural community.) I thought languages must be structured a bit like mathematics, with rules for putting together words and sentences, and that it might be interesting to figure out what those rules are. I first heard about linguistics from my high school English teacher, an admirer of Bertrand Russell, who told us about Roger Schank. As an undergraduate I thought linguistics was fun and my teachers were supportive of my interests, giving me part-time jobs in various linguistics projects. But it was only as a graduate student at Stanford that I discovered how interesting linguistics really can be. After getting my Ph.D. I taught linguistics at Boston University and New York University before returning to Stanford. These days I spend a lot of my time thinking about phonology, metrics, and language variation. I have a special interest in the structure of Finnish, English, and Dagaare, a tone language of northwestern Ghana. I am very grateful to be part of such an exciting field."