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LIN 01 — The Origin and Structure of English Words

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 3—Jun 5
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Apr 5
Units: 2
Tuition: $550
Instructor(s): Will Leben
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Apr 3—Jun 5
10 weeks
Refund Date
Apr 5
2 Units
Will Leben
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
English vocabulary can be a source of both fascination and frustration. The goal of this course is to replace the frustration with 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?

Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus, Stanford

Will Leben taught linguistics at Stanford for over 30 years and has received the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. He is also chair emeritus of the linguistic group at Lexicon Branding, a source of some well-known brand names, including Swiffer, Dasani, and BlackBerry. He has co-authored books on English vocabulary, tonal languages of the Chadic and Kwa groups in West Africa, and the languages of the world.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) William R. Leben, Brett Kessler & Keith Denning , English Vocabulary Elements: A Course in the Structure of English Words, 3rd Edition (ISBN 978-0190925482)