Linguistics 245
Language and Computers
Spring 2017

Course goals Present-day computer systems work with human language in many different forms, whether as stored data in the form of text, typed queries to a database or search engine, or speech commands in a voice-driven computer system. We also increasingly expect computers to produce human language, such as user-friendly error messages and synthesized speech. Through readings, exercises, demonstrations, and in-class discussion, this course will survey a range of issues relating natural language to computers, covering real-world applications.

Topics include text encoding, search technology, tools for writing support, machine translation, dialogue systems, and intelligent language tutoring systems.

There are no prerequisites for this course. This course satisfies a Natural and Mathematical Sciences (N&M) Breadth of Inquiry credit.

Meeting time: MW 2:30–3:45pm

Classroom: Auditorium (AD) A152

Course website:

Assignments, slides, etc. will be posted here.

Credits: 3

Course prerequisites: None.

Instructor: Markus Dickinson

Office: Ballantine Hall (BH) 851

Phone: 856-2535

E-mail: (Remove the pop superstar, of course.)

Office hours:

R 11am–noon
or by appointment

Course requirements: There will be reading selections throughout the semester from a textbook, with occasional readings outside the book. There will be approximately one exercise sheet, or homework, every two weeks. These assignments give you the opportunity to explore new aspects of the topics discussed in class, as well as to ensure that you are comprehending the material covered in class. Additionally, there will be in-class exercises which are included in your participation grade.

Readings: Required textbook:

For each unit, slides will be available from the webpage, generally before class. These slides are meant to aid classroom discussion and cannot replace actually being in class.

Grading: Grades will be based on classroom discussion/participation, homeworks, a midterm exam, and a final examination.

Homeworks 48%(8@6% each)
Midterm 22%Monday, March 6 @ 2:30–3:45pm
Final 22%Monday, May 1 @ 10:15am–12:15pm

Make-up Policy: If you plan on missing either the midterm or final, you will have to provide extensive documentation for your excuse. See me immediately if this is the case.

Academic Integrity: (from the Dean for Academic Standards and Opportunities)

“As a student at IU, you are expected to adhere to the standards and policies detailed in the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct ( When you submit an assignment with your name on it, you are signifying that the work contained therein is yours, unless otherwise cited or referenced. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged. All suspected violations of the Code will be reported to the Dean of Students and handled according to University policies. Sanctions for academic misconduct may include a failing grade on the assignment, reduction in your final course grade, and a failing grade in the course, among other possibilities. If you are unsure about the expectations for completing an assignment or taking a test or exam, be sure to seek clarification beforehand.”

Students with Disabilities: Students who need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me to arrange an appointment as soon as possible to discuss the course format, to anticipate needs, and to explore potential accommodations.

I rely on Disability Services for Students for assistance in verifying the need for accommodations and developing accommodation strategies. Students who have not previously contacted Disability Services are encouraged to do so (812-855-7578;

CAPS One benefit of a school like IU is that there are many, many resources available to you. School—and life—can be intense at times, and if your academic responsibilities or other personal concerns are distracting or weighing on you this semester, I encourage you to contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, 812-855-5711, The people there can be a resource and a source of support, not just in times of crisis but also when you need an extra ear or a little extra support. I’m happy to be a listening ear, as well, but I have no counseling training and the folks at CAPS do. Note, too, that I am required to report certain things (e.g., reports of sexual assault, suicidal thoughts).

Computational Linguistics: If you find yourself loving this material, I encourage you to come see me, Professor Sandra Kübler, or Professor Damir Ćavar for more information about computational linguistics.

Schedule: Links to notes and assignments will be posted on the course website.

MonthDateTopic Reading Assignments

Jan. 9Intro to class (handout)
11Text & speech encoding (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) ch. 1, p. 1–17

16No class, MLK Day
18Text & speech encoding p. 17–28

23Writers’ aids: spelling correctors (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) (handout) ch. 2, p. 34–44
25Writers’ aids: spelling correctors p. 44–49 A1 due

30Writers’ aids: grammar correctors (handout) p. 49–65
Feb. 1Language Tutoring Systems (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) ch. 3, p. 69–76

6Language Tutoring Systems p. 76–83 A2 due
8Language Tutoring Systems p. 83–87

13Extension: Grammatical error correction (.pdf, 2x3.pdf)
15Searching (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) (handout) ch. 4, p. 91–100 A3 due

20Searching: internals p. 100–107
22Searching: regular expressions (handouts: 1, 2) p. 107–120

27Cryptography (if time) A4 due
Mar. 1Midterm review (review sheet)

8Classifying documents (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) ch. 5, p. 127–133

13No class, Spring Break
15No class, Spring Break

20Classifying documents p. 133–140
22Classifying documents p. 140–151

27Extension: Author profiling A5 due
29Machine Translation (MT) (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) ch. 7, p. 181–191

Apr. 3Symbolic MT p. 191–194
5Statistical MT p. 194–203 A6 due

10Statistical MT (handouts: 1, 2) p. 204–209
12Dialogue systems: dialogue (.pdf, 2x3.pdf) ch. 6, p. 153–166

17Dialogue systems: chatterbots p. 166–174 A7 due
19Dialogue systems: modern systems p. 174–177

24Dialogue systems: modern systems A8 due
26Final review (review sheet)

May 1Final: Monday, May 1 10:15am–12:15pm

Disclaimer This syllabus is subject to change—and I can almost promise you it will change. All important changes will be made in writing, with ample time for adjustment. (Midterm and final dates, however, will not change.)

Learning! In addition to all the great things listed above, you’ll be learning how to think! Here are just a few things you can expect ...

GenEd learning outcomes This course will help you achieve goals NM-1, NM-4, and NM-5:

Course learning objectives This course is will help you in the following Linguistics tasks: