course
Introduction to Linguistics

Feb 2021

fair warning to STAY AWAY from john mcwhorter's intro linguistics class. the professor is extremely funny, yes, but a horrible and unkind teacher. he is extremely vague and teaches complex concepts that necessitate some sort of visual (ex: like syntax) without a PowerPoint or any sort of interactive material -- he didn't bother to reformat his class in any way for the virtual learning environment, instead opting to just bulldoze through the material in an entertaining but insubstantial and tangential manner, as he puts it, "podcast-style." further, his lectures DO NOT prepare for the extreme difficulty of his homework in ANY regard. I've talked to at least ten different people in the discord server and in office hours and we all have no fucking clue what is going on and. the TAs (some of them at least; Yael is incredible and the only reason why I am passing this course) are the only saving grace of this course, and explain concepts so much more clearly in office hours; this class should be 4 credits because office hours are basically mandatory if you want to get a passing grade on the homeworks. he is also extremely strict/does not care about the fact that we are in a pandemic and replies to requests for extensions in a very curt (read: 2-3 words) and insensitive manner. tldr: don't buy into the mcwhorter hype and DO NOT take this class with him. maybe it's better in person, but this intro humanities class is the most time-consuming and stressful class I'm taking this semester. his podcast and ted talks are pretty cool, but he is not a good professor in any regard.

Apr 2019

Professor McWhorter is a truly amazing instructor and engaging lecturer. He was able keep every lecture interesting to all 180 of us no matter the topic. He explained complicated concepts (particularly in the syntax unit) in a way that made sense to students with no prior experience. He's super approachable and very knowledge about linguistics in general. As for the class, linguistics is a very broad field, so the course itself was a mix of different subfields which at times made it feel like we were never learning quite enough about each one. The course teaches phonetics, phonology, syntax, and language change the most thoroughly. If you're interested in sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, or language interaction, then this isn't the course for you. The constant switching of subfields felt disjointed but I don't think this is an issue with McWhorter but an issue with linguistics in general.

Jan 2017

Professor McWhorter is one of the best lecturer I have encountered at Columbia. A lot of animated examples. A lot of story-telling. He also opened up the class to Q&A and discussion. Before the midterm, the class followed the textbook more closely whereas after the midterm you really had to pay more attention to what he said in class. At times, John was an awesome tour guide for newcomers to this field and he opened up my mind to a life-long adventure of languages and linguistics. He also recommended a lot of other important linguists and books and I appreciate this. I will give a Gold Nugget for professor McWhorter! The TAs are very helpful as well. They are very chill and approachable. Alma explains concepts really well. The TA office hour is a great opportunity to interact with classmates as well. I have found many classmates in this class are somewhat more brainy and witty than those in my Econ core classes and this really humbles me. In conclusion, I enjoyed the class, the TA office hours and the company of my witty classmates.

Dec 2016

Professor McWhorter would be a great tour guide. He is endearing, funny, but he doesn't give much content. I could have learned this ENTIRE semester in 2 hours maximum. My friend said that "he's like icing without the cupcake." It was very frustrating to sit through over an hour of maybe two sentences of actual content that I could take notes on and think over later. Linguistics is a fascinating field to me, but this course was a waste of my time. Examples: the class on syntax was simply examples drawn on the board with ZERO explanations given. The TAs would grade differently based on what they knew, and one TA would tell me an answer while another TA would mark it wrong on my homework. The class on writing systems felt like an abstract on Wikipedia where McWhorter clearly didn’t even open any of the content portions of the page. We learned more about his love life in college than about sociolinguistics. It's also strangely difficult. Review sessions are a MUST (they give all the answers) before the midterm and final. The homeworks are difficult and must be done by a consensus vote of 20-30 people. Go to office hours (or find out what happened in office hours from your 20-30 friends), but you may still get the question wrong if the TA from office hours isn't the same TA that graded your homework. TLDR: This class is a waste of your time. Read a book on it and spend your tuition money on something *anything* else. If you really want McWhorter's comedy, then watch his TED talk, which he'll play for you during class anyways because he can't be bothered to teach you.

May 2013

Professor McWhorter is honestly the best! Take this class even if you aren't considering linguistics because he is such a good lecturer and makes the whole class so interesting. Sure, the problem sets might be challenging, but if you go to his office hours, he really helps so much, and you'll be fine. Plus, then you get to know him, which is awesome too because he is just great. I don't see why he doesn't have a gold nugget, personally, because he definitely deserves one. He has been my favorite lecturer so far in my college career and I highly recommend this class.

Dec 2011

Save your GPA; take this course on a Pass/D/Fail. Professor McWhorter's lectures may be entertaining at times but if he spent less time rambling and more time lecturing on relevant material, the assignments would not be so time consuming. Since the Linguistics department is very small if existent at all, the TAs are not grad students but students who have taken this class before. The course started out with three TAs but had to add more to handle the volume of students who were having difficulties with the problem sets. I would recommend purchasing the study guide even though it is not a required text or even mentioned on the syllabus. Good Luck!