Language and Human Nature: A Self-Study Curriculum

The goal of this series is to give you an introduction to theoretical linguistics as a cognitive science. Unlike other presentations of the basics of linguistics – and there are many excellent ones – this one takes a definite and unapologetic theoretical stance. This is an introduction to linguistics through the lens of the framework of generative grammar, most famously associated with the work of Noam Chomsky.

Although generative grammar is not universally accepted among linguists, it has given birth to such a large and well-articulated body of work that understanding it will lead quickly to understanding the large questions which are at stake in the field. This focus also allows us to go much deeper into big conceptual questions than the typical introductory course can, such as: What does language tell us about human nature? What is the relationship between language and thought? How does linguistics fit into the wider search for understanding the natural world and our place in it?

  • Module 1: What Is Language?
  • Module 2: Linguistics Within Cognitive Science
  • Module 3: Alternative Approaches to Language
  • Module 4: Formal Grammars
  • Module 5: Linguistic Representations
  • Module 6: Syntactic Structure
  • Module 7: Language Diversity & Language and Thought
  • Module 8: Innate Knowledge
  • Module 9: The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition
  • Module 10: Language, Society, and History
  • Module 11: Linguistics and Philosophy
  • Module 12: Formal Linguistics in the History of Ideas

If you'd like to study this with me, check out my Altminster profile.


This curriculum currently makes use of extensive reading selections and exercises from a textbook. In the future, I plan to produce more of my own teaching material, but for now, to follow along you'll need access to this book:

  • Isac, Daniela and Charles Reiss (2008). I-Language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science. Oxford: OUP.

Subscribe to my linguistics newsletter

If you'd like to stay up to date with my progress in bringing linguistics out of the ivory tower, I invite you to join the 570+ people receiving my newsletter.