Second extensive edition MOOC linguistics

Knowledge utilisation in the humanities

23 October 2015

How does your own language differ from hundreds of other languages? In which aspects is each language the same? And how do linguists do their work? The freely accessible Massive Online Open Course 'Miracles of Language' gives an extensive interactive introduction to participants. The first edition attracted 45,000 participants from more than 190 countries. On 26 October 2015 the second edition started. This MOOC is one of the forms of knowledge utilisation that NWO Humanities draws attention to via manuals and best practices.

Knowledge utilisation

NWO finds it important that scientific knowledge and skills also find their way to and are used outside of academia and/or in other scientific disciplines. NWO Humanities wants to help researchers in how they realise knowledge utilisation. Resources, such as manuals, essays and best practices, have therefore been developed for researchers that can inspire them and help them to give knowledge utilisation a proper place within a research project. One of these resources is the best practice leaflet about the MOOC of linguist professor Marc van Oostendorp.

Image: Shutterstock

In the Leiden University MOOC Miracles of Language Marc van Oostendorp introduces participants to the multifaceted study of the world’s languages. The course provides an introduction to linguistics for everybody who wants to understand how languages work. Diversity takes centre stage: both in the diversity in languages that are discussed as well as the types of linguistics covered. For example, the course covers not just phonology and phonetics but also computational linguistics and African sign languages.


The course consists of six weeks of video lectures, six weekly quizzes and a final exam and is particularly interactive in nature, says lecturer Marc van Oostendorp who conceived the idea for the course. 'We wanted to provide a Socratic form of education, i.e. teach in dialogue with participants. We have therefore experimented extensively with interaction. For example, in the videos I hold discussions with two student assistants, we maintain a Facebook page where participants can come into contact with each other, and during the duration of the course we talk with participants several times via Google Hangout.'

To liven things up even more, participants see how Van Oostendorp does fieldwork with the speakers of six different languages (Abbruzo, Basque, Berber, Chinese, Gungbe and Turkish). Also each week different language specialists can be heard including the world-famous linguists Noam Chomsky and Adele Goldberg.

Enthusiastic responses

The first MOOC had far more participants than we expected: 45,000 participants from 190 countries took part and about 10,000 of them gained the final certificate. 'However we were particularly surprised by the enthusiasm of the participants,' says Van Oostendorp. On the Facebook page 15,000 people conversed with each other about the different exercises and when an Iranian participant stated that he had difficulty with the Coursera tool, due to the Iranian embargo on the use of American software, fellow participants spontaneously offered their help. Via crowdfunding we also raised an additional 10,000 euros from the first participants to add an extra module to course.'

Marc van Oostendorp is Professor of Phonological Microvariation at Leiden University and senior coordinator at the Meertens Institute. He is involved in NWO research funded by the Open Competition, Horizon, and PhDs in the Humanities programmes and he writes about language in various publications including the magazine Onze Taal and the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

More information

Source: NWO


Science area



Free Competition Horizon PhDs in the Humanities


Facilitating knowledge utilisation (2011-2014)