There are four special courses which do not specifically belong to any of the other programmes: Sumerian (Jagersma), Dutch for beginners (Pronk-Tiethoff), History of Linguistics (de Jonge, Lubotsky, Verhagen), and Lexicostatistical Methods in Historical Linguistics (Starostin).

Time slot 1: Sumerian (9.30 - 11.00)

Bram Jagersma (Leiden)

Course description
Sumerian is an ancient Near Eastern language which was spoken in what is now southern Iraq. It was there the main written language until ca. 1700 BC and is known to us from more than 100,000 inscriptions and clay tablets written in the cuneiform script, which the Sumerians invented around 3200 BC. Sumerian is a language isolate and its position in a remote corner of the Near East shows it to be a last remnant of the languages that preceded the arrival of Semitic languages in the area.

Course outline
The first day we will look at the basic principles of the Sumerian script and spelling, and what they tell us and do not tell us about the Sumerian language and its pronunciation. During the rest of the course, we will cover the basic grammar of Sumerian and read a few simple texts in transliteration. The course materials, including an introductory grammar to Sumerian, will be supplied.

Students need to be familiar with basic linguistic terminology, but previous knowledge of Sumerian or the cuneiform script is not required.

Time slot 2: Dutch for beginners (11.30 - 13.00)

Saskia Pronk-Tiethoff (Leiden)

Course outline
During this course, students will learn the basics of the Dutch language, including vocabulary, spelling and grammar. The emphasis of the course will be on communicating in Dutch in everyday situations. All basis skills - speaking, listening, reading and writing - will be covered. The topics include:

  • greetings and speaking about yourself and your family

  • shopping

  • talking about the weather

  • ordering food and drinks

  • etc.

Level and requirements
This course is aimed at students with a background in linguistics and no prior knowledge of Dutch.

Time slot 3: History of Linguistics: From Pāṇini and Dionysius Thrax, through the Neo-grammarians, Saussure and Chomsky, to the present (14.00 - 15.30)

Casper de Jonge, Alexander Lubotsky, Arie Verhagen (Leiden)

Course outline
Many present day terms and concepts of linguistics have deep historical roots, and the same is actually true for many issues and controversies.

During the first two classes, Casper de Jonge will present (1) the History of linguistics in Ancient Greece: Philosophers and Grammarians (Plato’s Cratylus, Aristotle’s Poetics and De interpretatione, and the grammar developed by the Stoic philosophers) and (2) Dionysius Thrax and the Tekhnê Grammatikê (The Art of Grammar), the date and authorship of this work, its form and organization, and its influence on later generations.

Then, Alexander Lubotsky will introduce the Indian grammatical tradition, especially the famous Aṣṭādhyāyī by Pāṇini. The rest of the first week we shall deal with the discovery of the Indo-European language family and with the teaching of the Neo-grammarians.

During the second week, Arie Verhagen will trace the main lines of the conceptual development of present day linguistic approaches, from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Why did Saussure abandon his training as a historical linguist? What motivated Chomsky to break up with American structuralism, and why was his innovation so successful? How come that many cognitive scientists studying language turned to "usage based" approaches around the turn of the millennium?

This course is aimed at students with a background in linguistics.

Time slot 4: Lexicostatistical Methods in Historical Linguistics (16.00 - 17.30)

George Starostin (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow)

Course description
Recent decades have seen a drastic surge in the application of quantitative (statistical and probabilistic) methods to social sciences and humanities — an approach that has drawn both strong praise and heavy criticism from various sides of the scholarly community. Specifically, in the field of historical linguistics this has resulted in a renewal of scholarly (and public) interest in lexicostatistics, a technique originally put forward by the American linguist Morris Swadesh in the 1950s that compares and classifies languages based on numbers of etymologically related items in their basic lexicon. Despite frequent claims of being completely discredited for historical purposes (for instance, for its inability to properly distinguish between true historical cognates and areal borrowings), lexicostatistics has not only endured as a frequently used method of classification, but managed to evolve into a major sub-discipline of historical linguistics.
Indeed, under the right conditions and when properly handled, lexicostatistics can be quite a powerful tool not just for language classification, but even for demonstrating genetic relationship of languages. In addition, a thorough study of the comparative evolution of basic lexicon in related languages offers deep insights into various issues of historical semantics, typology of phonetic and semantic change, areal linguistics, and general lexicology — as can be easily seen from the huge literature on both "traditional", Swadesh-style lexicostatistics that relies on calculating percentages of matches between compared languages, and on newer, "character-based" methods that use Bayesian inference to build phylogenetic trees based directly on cognate distribution. All in all, a proper understanding of the advantages and limitations of modern lexicostatistics is extremely useful, if not absolutely necessary, for anybody interested in the current state and future perspectives of historical linguistics as a whole.
The principal aim of this course is to give a brief overview of the main postulates of "classic" and "modern" lexicostatistics, demonstrate the principal advantages and limitations of the method, and show how it may be applied to specific cases of language relationship, ranging from Indo-European and other Eurasian languages to linguistic families of other continents. From a practical angle, the course will also instruct students on how to work with , an online project that collects basic lexicon inventories of the world's languages and uses them as the basis for different types of lexicostatistical analysis; and briefly introduce them to other ongoing projects in historical linguistics that are, in one way or another, connected with the methodology of lexicostatistical analysis.

An overall acquaintance with the most basic elements of general and comparative-historical linguistics is required; no special language knowledge is necessary. Since the course focuses more on various theoretical aspects of language evolution, the underlying mathematical apparatus will be kept to a minimum. 

There will be select reading assignments in class and occasional small homeworks.

Participants who would like to prepare for the course in advance may check the following sources (listed in chronological order):
Swadesh, Morris. Lexicostatistic dating of prehistoric ethnic contacts. // Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96, 1952, pp. 452–463.
Dyen, Isidore (ed.): Lexicostatistics in genetic linguistics. Proceedings of the Yale Conference, Yale University, April 34, 1971. The Hague: Mouton, 1973.
Embleton, Sheila M. Statistics in Historical Linguistics. Bochum: Studienverlag Dr. N. Brockmeyer, 1986.
Renfrew, Colin; McMahon, April; Trask, Larry (eds.). Time Depth in Historical Linguistics. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Oxford Publishing Press, 2000.
McMahon, April; McMahon, Robert. Language Classification by Numbers. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Nakhleh, Luay; Warnow, Tandy; Ringe, Don; Evans, Steven N. A comparison of phylogenetic reconstruction methods on an Indo-European dataset. // Transactions of the Philological Society, 103:2, 2005, pp. 171–192.
Starostin, George. Preliminary lexicostatistics as a basis for language classification: a new approach. // Вопросы языкового родства (Journal of Language Relationship), v. 3, 2010, pp. 79–117. (On-line version can be downloaded here).