In summer 2020 I piloted an online, noncredit course on Language & Linguistics in Sci-Fi. Since then I’ve taught the course in person and online, as a 1-credit reading group and as a 3-credit first-year seminar, and I plan to keep teaching it at least once a year indefinitely. If you’ve been thinking about doing something like this – or if you just like reading fiction and thinking about language – welcome! I hope you’ll find some inspiration here.

My course design is very simple. For each class we read and discuss a short story or novella that helps us view some fundamental property of language in a fresh way. For example:

The Easthound‘ (Nalo Hopkinson) shows us, through a child’s eyes, how terrifying the world-changing power of language is.

‘Elliott Spencer’ (George Saunders) shows how our human desire for freedom might be manifested in – and by – our creative use of language.

‘Solitude’ (Ursula Le Guin) shows us what language might look like in a society where people just…don’t talk much.

… and so on. See the readings for the full list and my comments about each story.

If you’re a linguistics instructor, see format + mechanics for the nitty-gritty details – how I organize and manage the class, how you might be able to adapt some of these ideas to your teaching context.

If you’re wondering about some of the things I don’t do in this class, but could – e.g. conlangs, teaching science through sci-fi – see other ideas.

For more about me, visit my website.