How Language Works
I started writing this book because I was teaching an introductory linguistics course, and I was dissatisfied with the available textbooks.
In particular, I felt that they did not do a good job of showing how the study of language
fits into the larger field of cognitive science.
Once I got into it, the book turned into more than a textbook on linguistics because it began to veer off into areas of study that usually don't count as linguistics.
One way to define linguistics is as the study of language itself, which can be contrasted with language behavior.
Language behavior is studied by people in the fields of psycholinguistics, language development, natural language processing, and computational linguistics, and there is often an attempt to keep these fields distinct from linguistics "proper".
I believe that it is more productive to see all of these fields as making up "the language sciences" or "language science", and it is really this meta-field that is the topic of this book.
I also think that most introductory textbooks (on all topics, not just linguistics) try
to introduce too many concepts and fail to tie them together in terms of a small number of themes.
I believe that the way language works makes sense (not all linguists agree), and I've
tried to organize the book around this idea.
I also believe that a basic understanding of how language works is just as important
to a basic education as an understanding of algebra or geography, and I hope that
I've made it clear in the book why I believe this.
Finally, I've tried to incorporate several other novel ideas of mine about how best
to teach about language: start with simplified, artificial examples;
select real examples from a relatively small number of languages (especially those
that are somewhat familiar to the author);
and be open about the large gaps in our knowledge about language, as well as the
excitement that comes with a young field.
This is edition 3.0 of How Language Works.
It is quite different from the last edition (2.0).
In particular, it includes material on computational approaches to language.
Long after coming up with the title, I realized that there were several published books with the same title (and at least one more has appeared since I released this book).
So if you refer to this book elsewhere, be sure to make it clear that you are referring
to "How Language Works (edition 3.0) by Michael Gasser".
The book is freely available to anyone, under the terms of
GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.
If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions about the material, please contact me.
The author: Mike Gasser
I am an Associate Professor of Computer Science
and Cognitive Science at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, USA.
In my research I've worked on various problems related to language.
I used to focus on how language is learned by people, specifically how this process
relates to the rest of cognition: to memory, to categorization, to attention, and to perception.
I built computational models of language learning; that is, I tried to understand
how humans learn language by simulating some aspects of the process on a computer.
The particular models that I worked with belong to the category known as neural networks
because they are based loosely on how the brain works.
There is a big debate in linguistics and other areas of cognitive science
dealing with language on whether such models are powerful enough to handle all
aspects of language, especially grammar, and my research tried show where they were
and perhaps were not.
Now I'm concerned with how the insights from studying language, especially studying it
computationally and studying how people learn it, can guide us in building computational tools
that will make it easier for people to find and evaluate information on the Internet.
Together with my collaborators, I'm focusing on two kinds of tools.
One will use machine translation to help translate documents into and out of languages
that are currently under-represented on the Internet.
The other will guide people in critical reading of texts on controversial texts by highlighting
loaded words that may help to identify the writer's ideological bias.
I enjoy studying languages, and I believe that studying a variety of languages has helped me
to appreciate what theories of language have to accomplish.
The languages I know best are Amharic, German, Spanish, Japanese,
My teaching has been closely tied to my research.
I've focused on developing courses that deal with intelligence, especially
with the linguistic part of intelligence, and how to simulate it on a computer.
One specific interest has been introducing the study of language to undergraduate and graduate
students, including those who may not feel any particular attraction to the topic.
I enjoy this because it gives me a chance to share the excitement I feel for language
and because I think the scientific study of language has important insights to offer everyone.
You can find out more about me, including my life outside of work, on my