Language is Everywhere:
The Linguistics of Biology, Culture, and Society across Time and Space

curated by Claire Bowern, Professor, Department of Linguistics




Through print, speech, and sign, we use language to interact with the world around us. Language provides the labels for the social categories we use to describe the world. It’s beautiful, and it’s also systematic. Yet it's so ubiquitous we often take it for granted. This Model Research Collection makes language more visible by showing the different ways it contributes to the study of our lives: how language opens a window into the mind and brain; how children acquire language; how languages are lost and created around the world; and how language can be used, like archaeology with words, to study the past.


The whole subject of linguistic investigation may be conveniently summed up in the single inquiry, “Why do we speak as we do?”

William Dwight Whitney, Language and the Study of Language
(New York: C. Scribner & company, 1867),  p.10


What is Language? What is Linguistics?

Linguistics is often called “the scientific study of language.” That is, it is the social science that looks at languages in/as systems, as codes with structure, and as biological behavior. Linguistics has many branches and many ways of approaching language. There are branches of linguistics that concern sounds, meaning, and grammatical structure. There are linguists who study how children acquire language and how the brain processes speech and sign. Linguists also study how languages change over time and how they vary within and between individuals and communities. All of these topics are touched on in brief. The material in this collection concentrates in large part on the aspects of language and linguistics that relate to other disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, the humanities, history, and computer science. However, a great deal of linguistics concerns language itself: language as a system, a set of (largely arbitrary) conventions that humans manipulate in systematic ways.

Dow Hall is the home for the Linguistics Department

Yale Courses

Language: Introduction to Linguistics (LING 110). This is a course about language as a window into the human mind and language as glue in human society. Nature, nurture, or both? Linguistics is a science that addresses this puzzle for human language. Language is one of the most complex of human behaviors, but it comes to us without effort. Language is common to all societies and is typically acquired without explicit instruction. Human languages vary within highly specific parameters. The conventions of speech communities exhibit variation and change over time within the confines of universal grammar, part of our biological endowment. The properties of universal grammar are discovered through the careful study of the structures of individual languages and comparison across languages. This course introduces analytical methods that are used to understand this fundamental aspect of human knowledge. In this introductory course students learn about the principles that underly all human languages, and what makes language special. We study language sounds, how words are formed, how humans compute meaning, as well as language in society, language change, and linguistic diversity. Professor: Claire Bowern

Language in America (LING 117). This course examines the linguistic landscape of the USA. Covering Indigenous, immigrant, and colonial languages, with a focus on contemporary issues of language and politics, race and ethnicity, discrimination, and reclamation. Language variation, including varieties of English (regional varieties, African American Language), and ideologies around language use (such as ‘English only’ movements). Professor: Roslyn Burns

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