Speaking in Tongues: Language, Langue and Parole

Mr Callahan: “O’Neill, what do you know about French Syntax?”

O’Neill: “I didn’t know they had to pay for it, sir.”

While almost all of us speak at least one language, we seldom stop to think about what an incredible instrument language is: phonology, vocabulary, inflection, syntax and semantics, all individually complex enough, unite in one even greater complexity which we all daily navigate with complete fluency and hardly any conscious effort. In this seminar, we learn how to lift the lamp of consciousness over this unlit terrain.

We will explore, and bring to consciousness, how we produce and understand language in all its glories: structure, history and descent, interactions between languages, etymology (the kind without the bugs), as well as writing systems, and take side trips into how language helps us elucidate events in history and provide glimpses into social systems and human behavior. Perhaps by the end, you will able to stop yourself occasionally, and ask, “How did I say that?” And, as a special added bonus, by the end of this seminar, everyone will know what a bilabial fricative is, and how to produce one (shipping and handling extra).

I leave you to ponder the following sentences; what do they tell us about language?

The languages the people the world supports speak are very interesting.
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
A dangling preposition is an affront up with which I shall not put.

Suggested reading (available on Amazon):
Introducing Linguistics, R.L. Trask
Linguistics: A Very Short Introduction, P.H. Matthews
Linguistics for Dummies (the inevitable option for everything)

Class Recordings

Class 1 - October 7, 2020:

Class 2 - October 14 - Recording not available.

Class 3: October 21, 2020:

Class 4 - October 28:

Class 5 - November 4:

Class 6 - November 11:


Final Class 7 - November 18 - Click on this link to view



Meets on: Wednesdays 10:00 am to noon
Starting: 10/7/2020
Sessions: 6
Class Size: 50
Teaching Style: Lecture with questions
Weekly Preparation: Minimal
Group Leader Biography:

George Meszoly is a graduate of Harvard College in linguistics and Far Eastern languages and of Columbia University in linguistics and Uralic languages.