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Leiden University

Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics

Leiden University and Meertens instituut (KNAW) via Coursera


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!

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 Adele Goldberg, 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!


  • Introduction to Linguistics
    • In this first week, we will try to determine what makes language human: why do (almost) all human beings have a language, and what makes human language different from animal communication systems? We will furthermore discuss the many different places where linguists work, and the many different methodologies that they use for conducting their research. You will moreover get to know all the other participants in this MOOC: my students Inge and Marten, as well as the speakers of six different languages. Finally, don't forget to watch our first expert interview: Marten and Inge have talked with Dr. Victoria Nyst of Leiden University, who has enlightened us in the fascinating world of sign languages! For the assignments with the support of Ethnologue, please make sure to study the instructions listed in 'required and optional readings' of this module.
  • The study of sound: Phonology and Phonetics
    • In this module we will delve into what appear to be the smallest building blocks of spoken language: 'sounds'. As we will see however, all is not what it seems, as we will in fact encounter an even smaller building block of language, a true atom. Another interesting thing about this module is that as of this week our 6 informants will all only speak their own language. Naturally, there is also an interview with my very special friend Prof. dr. Claartje Levelt, whom I have announced before.
  • The study of words and sentences: Morphology and Syntax
    • In this module we will discuss words and sentences. All languages have them; but as I will illustrate, they can be organized in very different ways in different languages. I will furthermore demonstrate what cupcakes have in common with words in a sentence. This module's interview is with one of the most cited and re-knowned linguists alive, Prof. Noam Chomsky! Finally, our 6 language informants will provide us with information about the word order in their languages.
  • The study of meaning: Pragmatics and Semantics
    • This module deals with a topic which many of you find very interesting: meaning. How do we determine what a word means? To what extent does our language influence our thinking? How can we change the world with language? As usual, we also have an additional interview with an expert of the current module's theme: in this module Barend Beekhuizen talks to Inge and Marten about his work as a Leiden PhD student in computational linguistics.
  • Language in the Brain
    • This module features all of the well-known parts of the current MOOC. Informants tell us about speech errors in their native tongue, I discuss everyday mistakes with my students Marten and Inge, and we have an interview with Prof. Niels Schiller of Leiden University. He discusses with us his own research among others. We moreover go on a little outing, to see linguists in their natural habitat! Furthermore, thanks to our friends at 'Babel, -The Language Magazine' we have some interesting reading for you. For example, linguist Jörg Schwyter tells us all about how he had to deal with aphasia, and how that has influenced him as a multilingual speaker.
  • Language in the Society
    • In the previous modules we have dissected the structure of languages, but now we will study language in its real context: how does language change? How do people use language to be polite? Our informants are demonstrating their acting skills, and furthermore we have an interview with Prof. Adele Goldberg! She presents us with an alternative view of language, compared to the one as previously discussed by Prof. Chomsky in the third module.

Taught by

Marc van Oostendorp


4.6 rating, based on 99 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 2351 ratings

Start your review of Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics

  • Anonymous
    I took this course to gain a basic, beginning-level understanding (not for credit), and it did provide me that. Overall, I enjoyed the learning opportunity. I wish I could give a better rating, but unfortunately there were some aspects of the mechan…
  • Profile image for Marleen Larik
    Marleen Larik
    I've always been passionate about language, and I am very grateful that this MOOC provided me with the opportunity to gain some beginner-level insights into the field of linguistics. The lecture videos were fantastic - short, to the point, and givin…
  • Profile image for Galaczi Zsófia
    Galaczi Zsófia
    I'm so mad at this course. First I wrote 'bad' by mistake but actually that's true as well. I only passed the tests for the second-third time and it made me so frustrated because I had been really looking forward to learn linguistics, paid attention…
  • Anonymous
    As someone who only had a passion for linguistics and language gathered from YouTube videos, this course has definitely been both a blessing and a treat for me. The structure was clear and easy to understand, and Professor Dr. van Oostendorp is a lively and knowledgeable teacher. I found every part of the course enjoyable, and the workload was manageable. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who has a passion for linguistics or learning languages, as it provides adequate knowledge and exposure needed for the field.
  • Anonymous
    I genuinely loved this course. The videos are informative without being patronising, but also don't feel too overwhelming or high of a level for someone who hasn't studied linguistics at university level. The professor is friendly and welcoming, and…
  • Deepak Jois
    This is probably the first linguistics course offered on Coursera. The course material is very engaging, and the instructors are fantastic. I especially liked the interaction sessions between the Professor and his two students Martin and Inge. The interview with Noam Chomsky was another great highlight.

    The assignments are really interesting, as they deepen your knowledge of the course material.
  • Anonymous
    This course was absolutely excellent and its content was complete and comprehensive and I am satisfied with this course, I hope I can participate in other courses as well. Thank you all
  • Anonymous
    I found this course fun and interesting especially for someone who is just dipping his toes in the world of linguistics in a broad sense. The videos and the content were varied and interesting and in general, seemed relevant and up to date. Some o…
  • Anonymous
    Overall, I really enjoyed this course and would highly recommend it to other language enthusiasts. It gives a very broad overview over the different disciplines of linguistics, with practical examples and with really interesting interview guests for…
  • Anonymous
    The course was an excellent introduction to Linguistics. It covered a lot of topics that seemed familiar to me in this field, and others which were new to me and very interesting to learn about. The videos and readings were easy enough to follow and…
  • The course is good, overall. But the quizzes focus on the tiny details that the professor whizzed past in the videos. Even when I watch the videos twice or three times, I still don't know the answer to the question asked in the quizzes. Other than that, it's a cool introductory course for linguistics.
  • Anonymous
    I'm a linguistics nerd, so I thoroughly enjoy courses that discuss linguistic concepts. I liked the setup of the course into six units, addressing very relevant topics in linguistics. The accompanying videos were entertaining, including the native s…
  • Anonymous
    This class was fantastic!!! I learned so much about linguistics that I didn’t know and it was presented in a collegial, non- threatening manner. Very enjoyable! The quizzes and final exam were quite challenging but you had the opportunity to take them as many times as needed and, in so doing, you learned so much more. I feel that Professor Dr. Mark and his students, Martin and Inge, are old friends and I will miss them but look forward to taking another course with them soon! This may just be the best course I have ever taken anywhere, online or in-person!!! Thank you!!!
  • Anonymous
    I was awesome. As a translation and interpretation student, I am really into linguistics and this course helped have a general perspective about it. I did not only learned but had fun as well since the concent was enriched by some interviews and discussions. The most of the questions the students asked through discussions were the questions arised in my mind after listening the lectures. Moreover, as a Turkish I really enjoyed listening a Turkish language informant. Thank you for all. It has been a great experience for me.
  • Anonymous
    I found this class to be very engaging. I was introduced to many topics in an easy to understand and an interesting manner. The variety of topics and materials for each module was a good mix of reading and viewing, and I felt that each module thoroughly explored its target topic. The quizzes were relatively useful for comprehension checks, and the discussion prompts were very useful for some deeper digging into the topic. I would highly recommend this course and will be looking for more courses from the Universeteit Leiden.
  • Anonymous
    I loved this course! When I started the course, I had just finished Guy Deutscher's The Unfolding of Language, so I was very interested in phonetics and grammar. In MOOC, more than just phonetics, I had the opportunity to learn about semantics, prag…
  • Anonymous
    The course builds up through videos, discussions with students, interviews with specialists, reading articles and also some practical elements of analyzing deferent languages, some familiar and some of them less familiar like Tarifit Berber. The vi…
  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed this course! I was always interested in languages and this was a first linguistics course I took. The course is logical, well structured for beginners - easy enough to understand, challenging enough to make you actually sit, read,…
  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed the course! I found it to be approachable and engaging, while providing a great introduction to the technical aspects of linguistics, with which I was completely unfamiliar. The informant sections were fascinating and really helpful…
  • Anonymous
    As this course is one of the older online courses, some of the materials may be out of date and the overall responsiveness of the course is diminished. But I just moved with what was given, and enjoyed the informants and all the supplementary material. You will complete the course with a good idea of where to look for more.

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