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LIN 01 — The Origin and Structure of English Words

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Mondays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 9 weeks
Date(s): Apr 1—Jun 3
Time: 7:00—9:05 pm
Drop Deadline: Apr 14
Units: 2
Tuition: $485
Instructor(s): Will Leben
Status: Closed
Please Note: No class on May 27
7:00—9:05 pm
Apr 1—Jun 3
9 weeks
Drop By
Apr 14
2 Units
Will Leben
Please Note: No class on May 27
English vocabulary can be a source of frustration and insecurity. The goal of this course is to replace those experiences with fascination and delight. By learning to analyze our vocabulary, we will come to learn the meanings of a rare word like “iatrogenic” by recognizing the root “iatr” in “psychiatrist” (literally, “a healer of the mind”). This approach will also uncover the imagery behind common words like “reveal” (literally, “pull back the veil”) and “hesitate,” which shares a root with “adhere” and literally means “get stuck.” No other language has a vocabulary nearly as large as English, thanks in part to a history of prolonged foreign influences. As a result, the language often gives us more words than we might truly need. “Fatherly” and “paternal” mean practically the same thing, yet we have both because they arrived in different periods from different source languages. “Chief,” “chef,” and “captain” all go back to the same prehistoric root, but entered at different stages through different languages: Old French, Modern French, and Latin, respectively. Analyzing English vocabulary—established and recent, familiar and unfamiliar—will form the core of the course. We will begin with a brief history of the language and end with questions about usage—which usage is more correct, who gets to decide, and how are the deciders chosen?

Will Leben, Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus, Stanford

Will Leben taught linguistics at Stanford for over thirty years. Along with his continued interest in English vocabulary, he worked for many years in West Africa, where he has authored textbooks on languages of the Chadic and Kwa groups and articles on tone languages of the region. Leben is also chair emeritus of the linguistic group at Lexicon Branding, a Bay Area naming firm where the study of vocabulary has played a role in creating famous brand names like Swiffer, Dasani, and BlackBerry.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.