This winter, get ready to truly read between the lines – and words for that matter.

Ida Toivonen, an accomplished linguist with a Ph.D. from Stanford, will be revealing some of the mysteries of language in her upcoming course at Carleton University. Exploring both its foundations historically and socially, Mysteries of Language will also show students how language manifests itself cerebrally.

“Studying languages teaches us that the human mind is very complex,” Toivonen says.

Although language and the mind have been studied by scholars for centuries, Toivonen says “new studies continue to teach us novel things about how humans process and store linguistic information, and how this information interacts with other mental capacities.”

In other words, students are often surprised by what they have learned about a subject – one that they thought they knew, and often fluently.

“The course often makes my students re-evaluate how they think about language,” Toivonen says.

Some of the questions that will guide the course’s exploration into language include whether it is unique to humans and how children master its complexities so easily. Other more scientific approaches deal with how the brain handles language, how languages are born and how they die.

Mysteries of Language is one of my favourite courses to teach,” Toivonen says. “It covers a wide range of topics and it is a real balancing act to add both breadth and depth.”

As an academic who has devoted her entire professional life to the study of language, Toivonen says it is something that continues to energize and intrigue her everyday.

“I constantly find new puzzles and questions that I want to work on,” she says. “I truly enjoy learning about language, and this makes it fun for me to share what I’ve learned with students.”

Mysteries of Language, or LING 1100, will be offered to students this upcoming winter semester. As a first year course with no pre-requisites, the subject matter is both generally interesting and approachable for nearly all students. The methods and theories used in this class overlap with particular faculties and may be of particular interest to students in the social and natural sciences, as well as the humanities.

All you need is an open mind, Toivonen says, as the course readings and contents might not be exactly what you would expect.

Find out more about this and other CUOL offerings for the upcoming year, visit our courses page.

By Bianca Chan

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