Taught by Professor Alexander Pichugin

What are human languages? How many languages are there in the world? How did languages originate? What are their functions? How different are human languages from animal or technological communication systems? Who are the speakers of all those languages? How are languages classified? What are language families? What is a language and what is a dialect? How do people study languages? What theories of language are most prominent in the history of human thought? How is language theorized now?

These and many other questions will be explored in this interdisciplinary honors seminar, which is designed to engage students in the discussion and development of writing skills focusing on the connections between history, culture, and linguistics. It is intended for all students interested in languages, language theories, as well as their history and their present state.

The seminar will begin with an exploration of some general theoretical questions about the nature of language, including questions of what language is, how it relates to cognition, how it is acquired by children and adults. We will examine Saussure’s structural approach to language, Skinner’s behaviorist theory, as well as Chomsky’s Universal Grammar in application to European languages as well as discuss some linguistic universalia.

In the second part of the seminar, we will trace the history of some world languages and see how and why they have developed to what they are now. Here, we will approach the languages comparatively. In this part we will also look into different writing systems of these languages.

As a learning outcome of the seminar, students will develop their abilities to approach language both analytically and synthetically, exploring the connection between structure, history, and politics in critical and creative ways. As a practical outcome, the students will develop important skills in working with language facts by practicing oral and written interpretation, which will advance their ability to speak and write in general.

The seminar is designed to satisfy the Core Curriculum goal “Writing and Communication in the Discipline [WCd]”.