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What is (a) Language?

COL 337
Fall 2021
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: CGST 215
Course Cluster and Certificates: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificate

Scholarly inquiries into language have always faced the distinctive (though not unique) problem of how to define their object of study. What is language? Language in general, human language, a particular language, language as opposed to dialect or idiolect, etc.

This course will not answer these questions. It will, however, examine the most important and influential ways that they have been formulated and answered throughout the Western tradition of linguistic inquiry. Our survey will be organized around two main tendencies that are sometimes distinct but often complementary. First, the question of origins: Where does (a) language come from, and what does this tell us about its nature? We'll look at etymology and theories of language change alongside thought experiments and evolutionary theories that try to narrate the emergence of language from nonhuman forms of animal communication. Second, the questions of structure and function: How does (a) language work; what do we use it to do? We'll look at the medieval trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, alongside the (approximate!) modern analogues of morphosyntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Our goal will be to get a sense of the major theoretical issues that have run through scholarly inquiries into language(s) across disciplines ranging from linguistics and philosophy through anthropology, sociology, and literary theory, to cognitive studies and evolutionary biology.

While our scope is large, our method will be narrow, focusing on close readings of important primary texts in the history of Western linguistic thought. Since our emphasis will be on the coherence of theoretical positions rather the coherence of historical narratives, we'll focus especially on works that have exerted the strongest influence on contemporary understandings of language, particularly those from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA COL
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode:
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (CSCT)(HRAD-MN)
Past Enrollment Probability: 75% - 89%

Last Updated on JUN-24-2024
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