Video Lectures

Understanding Linguistics: The Science of Language

Professor John Hamilton McWhorter, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University

Lecture 1. What Is Linguistics?

Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. This lecture introduces your course’s key elements, from language’s building blocks to the many ways linguistic practitioners use them to learn more about us and the role of language in our lives.

Lecture 2. The Sounds of Language—Consonants

The English alphabet, with only 26 letters, offers only an approximate sense of the 44 sounds English uses. You learn how linguists therefore transcribe.

Lecture 3. The Other Sounds—Vowels

You continue your exploration of the International Phonetic Alphabet with a look at its vowels—a much larger resource than the five provided by the conventional alphabet—and are able to transcribe entire words and sentences in the IPA.

Lecture 4. In the Head versus On the Lips

Some sounds are “real” ones that distinguish meaning; others are just variations. In exploring how words are generated on two levels, you learn about a contrast basic to modern linguistics: the difference between phonemic and phonetic sounds.

Lecture 5. How to Make a Word

Just as actual sounds correspond only partially to the alphabet, the words we write correspond only partially to actual units of meaning. This lecture introduces you to the linguistic “unit of meaning” called a morpheme, several of which might be contained in a single word.

Lecture 7. Deep Structure and Surface Structure

You learn the evidence for Chomsky’s argument that the sentences we utter at “surface structure” level often emerge with a different constituent ordering than was in place at “deep structure” level—the result of processes of movement he originally called transformations.