Babel Here and Now: Language Families Across the World

Explore the world’s major language families, discovering astounding linguistic diversity alongside traits shared by wholly unrelated languages. How did language families come to be? What can modern reconstructions of protolanguages tell us about the unrecorded origins of languages? We’ll examine linguistic diversity in New Guinea, investigate the largest family by language count in Africa, and ask how far a knowledge of English can take us in understanding other languages. We’ll try to say something, too, about the nature of language in general, and perhaps also about the nature of being human.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Rapti Dietrich $170.00 0 Join Waitlist

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, March 8 to Friday, April 2. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to messages, and engage in course activities. You will participate in live videoconferencing sessions each Thursday from 2–4 p.m. PT.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe the major language families in the world and their diversity
  • Identify a few languages that belong to each family
  • Discuss the possible origins of human language and of some language families
  • Describe languages that belong to no families 
  • Discuss the state and future of endangered languages

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in videoconference seminars
  • Suggested and optional further readings and references

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1

The origins of language, classification of families and languages, and the Indo-European family

Week 2

Indo-European (continued), and the Uralic, Caucasian, Altaic, and Dravidian families

Week 3

The Austro-Asiatic, Tai-Kadai, Hmong-Mien, and Sino-Tibetan families, the languages of Africa, and the Austronesian family

Week 4

The Austronesian family (continued), the languages of the Americas, the Australian languages, language isolates, and Pidgins and Creoles

Books, materials and resources

You will access reading material using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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