Language is a defining characteristic of humans that plays a central role in virtually all aspects of human activity, interaction, knowledge, and thought. Because language is at the same time a socio- cultural phenomenon and a formal system grounded in human cognition and biology, its study rests at the intellectual intersection of the humanities and the social, biological, and behavioral sciences. As such, language study is an important component of a liberal education.
In this theme semester, language will be viewed as a window on the human mind, brain, and society. It will be the nexus for investigating issues in philosophy of mind, cognition and cognitive neuroscience, linguistic theory, developmental and social psychology, social-cultural anthropology, ethnic and gender studies, evolutionary biology, information theory, and more.
Click here to learn more about past and future LSA Theme Semesters.
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Did you know that:
…the words we have for things are arbitrary. There’s nothing ‘desk-y’ about a ‘desk’ or ‘yawn-y’ about a ‘yawn.’ Even words that express sounds have an arbitrary element: a dog bow-wows in English, how-hows in Hebrew, and wang-wangs in Mandarin Chinese. [Language Files 2004]
… University of Michigan offers you the opportunity to study more than 65 different languages? Students at University of Michigan have the unique chance to learn languages unavailable at most schools, including Ojibwe, Kazak, Tamil, Wolof, and many others.
… University of Michigan offered the Western Hemisphere’s first intensive English-as-a-Foreign-Language course on a university campus? The English Language Institute was founded in 1941, and in the seventy years since, the ELI has grown into a model of English-language teaching and research.
… University of Michigan ensures that every 3rd and 4th grader in Ann Arbor public schools is taught Spanish? Through the Ann Arbor Language Partnership, undergraduates at University of Michigan are placed in 110 classrooms every year to teach Spanish to elementary students.
… there’s no ‘longest sentence’ in any language? It’s a unique aspect of human language that you could start a sentence right now and keep adding to it, morning, noon, and night, for the rest of your life (not that we recommend this – it could alienate friends, family, and sleepy roommates!).
… University of Michigan houses the largest collection of papyrus in the Western Hemisphere? Located in the Hatcher Library, the Papyrus Collection contains more 16,000 papyrus fragments.
…when children say something like “I goed,” it’s not so much a mistake as proof they are hard-wired for language. At an earlier age than most kids wipe their own noses, they’ve figured out what a verb is and what to add to it to make it past tense!
…over half of the world’s languages don’t have writing systems. That means if you don’t like your handwriting, you have lots of options.