The Structure of Human Language

LING 467/667

Spring 1998


This is a first course in phonology, syntax and semantics. The overall goal of the course will be to address the question of the extent to which the nature of language is determined by the properties of the mind/brain rather than by language specific rules. This goal will be approached by applying linguistic methods to the solution of problems in phonology, semantics and syntax. We will examine how the organization and structure of English differs from that of other languages. Students will be expected to solve problems for each class. Most classes will consist of discussion and comparison of different students' solutions. Generalizations about the structure of language as a mental faculty will be extrapolated from the solutions to the problems.

The course is directed at juniors and seniors as well as beginning graduate students. No previous knowledge of linguistics is presupposed, but an introduction to linguistics, cognitive science or formal logic is helpful. The course is intended primarily for students in cognitive science, computer science, education, English as a second language, language pedagogy (both English and foreign language) and psychology. It should be of interest to anyone who has noticed the structured complexity of human language and who has wondered how it works.


1) Language Files, Dept. of Linguistics, Ohio State University

2) The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker, W. Morrow and Co.

Computer Tools

We will make use of several new computer tools intended to let students study syntax and semantics in an interactive and interesting way:

1) Trees 2.0.1, a Macintosh program for exploring syntax, by Tony Kroch and Sean Crist, licensed for download by Delaware students at

2) Syntactica, a NeXT and Windows 95 program for exploring syntax, by Richard Larson, David S. Warren, Juliana Freire and Kostis Sagonas, available in beta version for downloading at

3) Semantica, a Windows 95 program for exploring semantics, by Richard Larson, David S. Warren, Juliana Freire de Lima e Silva, Patricia Gomez and Kostis Sagonas, soon to be available for downloading at


The course will be divided into three roughly equal sections, the first on phonology (how words are built from sounds), the second syntax (how sentences are constructed from words) and the third semantics (how the meaning of sentences is constructed from the meaning of words and how the words are put together into sentences). The course will be 100% "hands-on". Students should expect to have assignments that must be completed for every class. The course should be an exciting one for anyone who is interested in exploring how language really works.

Study Helps


Grades will be based primarily on performance on problem sets solved during the course.


Professor Peter Cole