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Language and Complex Systems
Credit Hours:

ENGL/LING 4080/6080   Spring 2023  Kretzschmar  TTH 11:10-12:25, Park 145

Language and Complex Systems                           

Office: 313 Park.  Email: Office Hours: TTH 8:30-9:30 in person, via Skype (bill.kretzschmar), and by appointment (email me to set one up).

Catalog:  Introduction to the study and theory of language as it is actually used by people in speech and writing, in contrast to theories that focus on more abstract linguistic structure.

Texts:  Kretzschmar, The Linguistics of Speech (Cambridge: CUP, 2009); Kretzschmar, Language and Complex Systems (Cambridge: CUP, 2015);  Melanie Mitchell, Complexity: A Guided Tour (New York: Oxford UP, 2009); articles provided on eLC.

Course Conduct: Lecture/discussion, in person. There will be five in-class tests and no final exam ("continuous assessment"). There will be one short paper (5 pp) and a major paper due at the end of the term (c. 10-15 pp undergrad, c. 20 pp. grad). Papers will be argumentative essays prepared according to standard practices for academic papers, and include appropriate use of the scholarly literature. There will be a proposal (2-3 pp) for the final paper. Grades will be based on class attendance (90 pts), the five in-class exams (250 pts), the short paper (100 pts), and the final paper (50 pts proposal, 150 pts final paper). 640 total points. Course info will be on the Web at the UGA eLC  (

Goals and Topics: This course discusses the common confusion between different approaches to linguistics and language study, and provides a general theoretical framework under which empirically-based investigation of speech can be carried out: complex systems. Complex systems is a new science currently useful in physics, ecology and evolutionary biology, and economics, but also a perfect fit for the humanities. The science of complexity describes how massive numbers of random interactions can give rise to order, regularities that “emerge” from the interactions without specific causes. This course is a foundational course in complex systems at UGA. As for linguistics, we will first step back from the modern practices of linguistics in order to examine the choices available for language study, as usefully categorized a century ago by Saussure.  Then, we will consider empirical evidence from real speech, primarily from survey research and corpus linguistics but also from other empirical studies of language in use, to answer the question "what model of human language does this evidence lead us to build." In particular, such study will introduce students to language variation, and will consider how the fact of variation should condition how one thinks about language. Language as people use it creates expectations among professional linguists and the public that have strong implications for social and educational policy.

Jan 10, 12        T:  Course intro.                     Th: LCS Intro, 1         

Jan 17, 19        T: LCS 2                                  Th: M 1, 2

Jan 24, 26       T: M 5, 6                                 Th: M 3, 4, EX 1

Jan 31, Feb 2   T: M 8, 9                                 Th: M 10, 12

Feb 7, 9           T: M 13, 14, 16                         Th: M 15, 17

Feb 14, 16        T: LxS 1, 3                               Th: LxS 2, EX 2

Feb 21, 23        T: LxS 4                                 Th: how to write a paper, incl authoritative info, citation, structure, argument, license

Feb 28, Mar 2 T: LxS 5, eLC 1: Sinclair         Th: eLC 2: Kretzschmar, corpus

Mar 7, 9          No class, Spring Break

Mar 14, 16       T: LxS 6                                   Th: LxS 6, EX 3

Mar 21, 23       T: LxS 7, short paper due  Th: LCS 3  (withdrawal deadline)

Mar 28, 30      T: LCS 4                                  Th: LCS 5

Apr 4, 6            T: LCS 6                                  Th: LCS 7, EX 4        

Apr 11, 13         T: eLC 3: Chambers                Th: eLC 4: Milroy, proposal due

Apr 18, 20       T: eLC 5, Tagliamonte             Th: eLC 6: simulation

Apr 25, 27       T: LCS 8                                  Th: Th: LxS 8, EX 5              

May 5              No class; Paper due by email.


eLC 1:J. Sinclair, the Search for Units of Meaning, in Trust the Text (London: Routledge, 2004), 24-48.

eLC 2: W. Kretzschmar, Jr., Complex Systems for Corpus Linguists. ICAME Journal 45 (2021): 155-177.

eLC 3: J.K. Chambers, Correlations, in Sociolinguistic Theory, rev. ed.  (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 1-37.

eLC 4: L. Milroy and M. Gordon, Sociolinguistics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), Chapter 5.

eLC 5: S. Tagliamonte, A. D’Arcy, and C.  Rodríguez Louro. 2016. Outliers, impact, and rationalization in linguistic change. Language 92: 824–849.

eLC 6: W. Kretzschmar, Jr, I. Juuso, T. Bailey. Computer Simulation of Dialect Feature Diffusion.  Journal of Linguistic Geography 2 (2014): 41-57.

UGA Student Honor Code: "I will be academically honest in all of my academic work and will not tolerate academic dishonesty of others." A Culture of Honesty, the University's policy and procedures for handling cases of suspected dishonesty, can be found at Every course syllabus should include the instructor's expectations related to academic honesty.

The course syllabus is a general plan for the course; deviations announced to the class by the instructor may be necessary.

Mental Health and Wellness Resources:

  • If you or someone you know needs assistance, you are encouraged to contact Student Care and Outreach in the Division of Student Affairs at 706-542-7774 or visit They will help you navigate any difficult circumstances you may be facing by connecting you with the appropriate resources or services. 
  • UGA has several resources for a student seeking mental health services ( or crisis support ( 
  • If you need help managing stress anxiety, relationships, etc., please visit BeWellUGA ( for a list of FREE workshops, classes, mentoring, and health coaching led by licensed clinicians and health educators in the University Health Center. 
  • Additional resources can be accessed through the UGA App. 

Face coverings: 

Because your instructor is of a certain age and at high risk, face coverings are recommended for all individuals in class. 

 How can I obtain the COVID-19 vaccine?

The University Health Center (UHC) is administering the COVID-19 vaccine for free to any eligible member of the UGA community over the age of 16. Vaccines are also offered by local health providers as well many pharmacies in the area. Students may continue to schedule their COVID vaccine appointments online through the Patient Portal.

What do I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms? 

Students who believe they have been directly exposed to COVID-19 and are showing symptoms should seek care from the University Health Center. Please isolate until you can be assessed and do not walk in. For everyone’s safety, the Health Center is seeing patients by appointment only. For respiratory complaints, we will often schedule a telehealth visit via Zoom through which we can determine how best to arrange for both care and testing. To make an appointment via telehealth or in person please call 706-542-1162, or, if you know it use your primary care team’s number.

 What do I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

Anyone who tests positive should isolate for 5 days, even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, regardless of vaccination status per the CDC. You are also strongly encouraged to share your test results with those you believe you were in close contact with so they may take appropriate measure to isolate.

Semester Offered:

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