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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

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4.6 rating, based on 78 reviews

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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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

    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...
  • 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 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...
  • Profile image for Rushikesh D
    Rushikesh D
    This is a great course. The team worked very hard to make people understand the basics of Linguistics with the help of technology, history, facts and passion. I'd like to say thanks to everybody for their contribution to this course. I really really enjoyed...
  • 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
    The video lessons were mostly fine but there are some big problems with the course. I think my time would have been better spent just reading a book. One reason for my poor review is there was a lot of carelessness. There were a lot of errors such...
  • Anonymous
    This informative and highly interesting course is an excellent first step to understanding the study of linguistics. The course is given in English, and is divided into well defined chapters with lots of technical, scientific and in depth knowledge. It has an area for student debate and participation, includes debates between the professor and his students, and presents video material of the native speakers of at least six completely different languages. What a wealth. It is a challenging course. The student will find reading material to study and interviews to watch; source material that features academics, not the least of whom is the great Noam Chomsky. It's a great course. Its one to be proud of.
  • Anonymous
    Great introductory course for anyone who doesn't know anything about linguistics but has an affinity for languages. Well presented, well structured, interesting throughout.

    I have two suggestions for the people running this course:

    1) The explanation of Grice's Maxims in the context of linguistics was cursory at best. It was mentioned only in a short exchange, yet there were questions on it in the quizzes.

    2) It would be nice if students could have access to the correct answers to the quizzes, obviously being impeded to resubmit them after having seen them.
  • 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
    I thought the course was very well done and I definitely learned a lot. The tests were difficult because questions relied heavily on the language informants which was sometimes difficult to do being inexperienced. I also wish the feedback on the tests could give some kind of feedback instead of just saying if it was right or wrong because on some questions I did not know why it was wrong
  • 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....
  • Profile image for Isabel Lopes
    Isabel Lopes
    I really loved this course!

    They explained everything so clearly and in a fun way and, even though I had no previous experience in Linguistics, I was able to follow every class without any problem.

    I really recommend this course to anyone who wants to build a solid foundation in the Linguistics field!
  • 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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