Free Online Courses by Coursera


Free Online Courses by Coursera

Free Online Course

Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics

Everywhere, every day, everybody uses language. There is no human society, no matter how small or how isolated, which does not employ a language that is rich and diverse. This course introduces you to linguistics, featuring interviews with well-known linguists and with speakers of many different languages. Join us to explore the miracles of human language!

Sessions start March 30, 2015

Statement of Accomplishment

Course at a Glance

5 weeks of study

4-6 hours/week


Earn official recognition for your work

  • Verified Certificate

About the Course

The Miracles of Human Language introduces you to the many-faceted study of languages, which has amazed humans since the beginning of history. Together with speakers of many other languages around the world, as well as with famous linguists such as Noam Chomsky and William Labov, you will learn to understand and analyse how your native tongue is at the same time similar and different from many other languages. You will learn the basic concepts of linguistics, get to know some of the key features of big and small languages and get insight into what linguists do.

This course gives an introduction into the study of languages, the field of linguistics. With the support of the basic linguistic terminology that is offered in the course, you will soon be able to comment both on variety between languages, as well as on a single language’s internal structure. Anyone who wishes to understand how languages work, and how they can give us insight into the human mind is very welcome to join.

The course is useful if you want to get a fairly quick introduction into linguistics, for instance because you are considering studying it further, or because you are interested in a neighbouring discipline such as psychology, computer science or anthropology. Furthermore, the course will help you develop analytical skills.

If you are curious to understand how language works and how it gives insight into the human mind, this course is definitely for you!

Course Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction to Linguistics

Week 2: The Study of Sound: Phonology and Phonetics

Week 3: The Study of Words and Sentences: Morphology and Syntax

Week 4: The Study of Meaning: Pragmatics and Semantics

Week 5: Language in Society

Recommended Background

For participating in this course, no specific background is required.

Anyone with an interest in language is welcome to take a peek around the corner, and to join us during this basic exploration of the field of linguistics.

Suggested Readings

All materials you need will be open-access, which means that they are freely available to everyone enrolled in the course.

Course Format

The course consists of 5 weeks of video lectures, 5 weekly quizzes and a final exam. Each week, a different domain from the field of linguistics is highlighted in the video lectures. During the weekly quizzes you will be asked to apply what you have learned in that week’s videos. In practice, this means that you will watch one or more videos in which an informant provides a look into his or her native language. You will then take the role of a linguist doing fieldwork, and you will try to unravel how a particular feature is present in this language.

Some of the videos in this MOOC will consist of short lectures by Professor Van Oostendorp, but in several of them you will see him discuss issues with students Inge Otto and Marten van der Meulen. Inge and Marten have also assisted Van Oostendorp in many aspects in the production of this course.


  1. Do I earn Leiden University credits upon completion of this class? 
    No. This course is not part of a formal qualification from Leiden University.

    2.What resources will I need for this class?
    Compulsory reading materials will be downloadable for free from the course website.

    3. What are the learning outcomes of this course and why should I take it?
    First and foremost, this course will introduce you into one of the most crucial aspects of human beings: human language. And in practice, by following this course you will gain:

  • Knowledge of how understanding languages gives us insight into the human faculty
  • Knowledge of linguistic terminology and classifying tools
  • Experience with working with basic fieldwork methodologies
  • Experience with analysing linguistic data in a basic way
  • Insight into linguistic variety and the possible forces behind it
  1. Why do you offer this course for free?
    Leiden University is grounded in a long standing tradition in providing students the space for obtaining a thorough and multifaceted education. This MOOC offers us the possibility to share our knowledge globally.

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