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Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics

Leiden University 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 85 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 2125 ratings

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

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 mechanics...
  • Profile image for Marleen Larik
    Marleen Larik

    Marleen Larik completed this course.

    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 giving...
  • 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.
  • Profile image for Galaczi Zsófia
    Galaczi Zsófia

    Galaczi Zsófia completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very hard.

    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 to...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 of...
  • 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 digestable....
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 speaker...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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, pragmatics,...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 videos...
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting course. I completed it within three weeks during the Christmas holidays to keep me busy during the pandemic as I had nothing else to do and I've always been curious to find out more about how languages work as I am a multilingual and enjoy learning new languages as well as fun facts about languages. I enjoyed the professor's delivery and the students' participation, as well as the interview with the guest professors. There were some dry moments here and there were new terminology had to be introduced and explained but overall it was a very engaging experience which personally gave me lots of food for thought.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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, study...
  • Anonymous
    As a complete beginner in the topic of linguistics, I found this class engaging, educational, and just the right amount of challenging. I loved the lecture style, especially the sessions with informants, and the professor seemed like a really genuine, passionate person. I wish there was a part two!
  • Anonymous
    This is an excellent introductory course for someone who knows nothing about this subject. The videos and readings provided complementary information and the quizzes added to the learning. I think that the videos with the language informants were critical to understanding the concepts.
  • Profile image for Emine Elif Erdem
    Emine Elif Erdem
    For those of you who are interested in Linguistics , this is a great way to understand the concept.As an upcoming linguistics student I am thankful that I have the opportunity to understand what I will be studying during my education.
  • Deepak Jois

    Deepak Jois completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    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
    The course is very useful, very comprehensive. I like it so much and I recommend it to students of linguistics
  • Anonymous
    "Miracles of Linguistics" has been my first experience with MOOC's and a very positive one for that! The course is very well structured and the quizzes at the end of each module are very helpful to see if the content of that module is understood. The...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I loved this course, but it is not an introduction to linguistics. It is a very hard and difficult course. It took me from January 14th to April 24th to finish it. Too many hours. After completing the sixth module, I was very happy because I passed the last exam, only to be informed that there was a final exam, with 30 questions. It was accumulative. My heart sank. It took me more than a week to review all the material. I passed this final exam at my second chance. Too much stress, in my opinion.
  • Sayonara Del Carmen Bezemer
    The course seemed excellent to me. It was very different! I have taken several courses online, but with this course from Leiden University, I felt that while I was learning, there was someone on the other side who was really interested in my learning....
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Dear creators of the course!
    It was an amazing experience! Thank you!

    To those who are just planning to choose the course - this one is incredibly well done , I would highly recommend it to those who are real newbies and who want to understand smth about linguistics from the very basics.

    Thank you once again!

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