Course Syllabus

This page describes the requirements and other details for Linguistics 115: Writing Systems at the University of Pennsylvania. The course has no prerequisites, and satisfies the General Requirement in History and Tradition (Sector II).

Linguistics 115 is a survey of the ways in which natural languages have been, and are today, represented graphically throughout the world; see the course description for more details.


The course meets in room 311 of the Towne Building. Both recitation sections meet in room 3C6 of David Rittenhouse Laboratory (DRL).

Prof. Buckley's office hours are on Mondays, from 1:30 to 3:30, in 606 Williams Hall.

Aletheia's office hours will be on Tuesdays, from 3 to 5, in 647 Williams Hall.


There is one required textbook, available at the Penn Book Center (corner of 34th and Sansom Streets). It emphasizes the general historical background and basic properties of scripts, so you should find it a good place to start before studying the more detailed lecture notes and the online readings.

There is also an optional book, which is similar to the content of the online lecture notes but which students with a more linguistic orientation may find interesting. It was not ordered at the bookstore but you can get it at places like Amazon (where it has the Search Inside feature). 

  • Henry Rogers (2005), Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach, Blackwell. 

Finally, there are required online readings that go into more detail about specific systems or historical context. Links to the readings are given each week; see the Modules for each topic area.


You are expected to do the assigned readings and regularly attend lectures and recitations, since these are necessary for you to understand the material tested by written work. Don't assume that you can read the lecture notes on your own and gain the same benefit of hearing the explanations in class and then reviewing the notes later — especially when it comes to interpretation of phonetic and other symbols. 

There are three components to the course grade.

Homework (25%)

There are ten homework assignments (distributed most Wednesdays, due the following Wednesday). They give practice in applying the principles studied in class and in analyzing particular writing systems, and account for a quarter of the final grade, so do not neglect them. They are graded on a scale of 0–10. Normally the assignments will be corrected in time for the recitation section on Friday. The lowest-scoring homework assignment for each student will automatically be dropped from the grade calculation, and because of this accommodation no extra credit assignments will be offered.

All homework assignments must be submitted no later than 11:00 am on the day the assignment is due – that is, by the time class begins. Click on Assignments, choose the week's assignment listed there, and upload your pdf. Make sure that you can produce the correct symbols in your document, following these guidelines. Any font or other technical errors are the student's responsibility, so prepare the pdf in time to get help with problems that may arise.

Late assignments will be penalized by one point, with a two-point penalty after midnight. Assignments more than 24 hours late will not be accepted. Make-up assignments will be provided for students with proof of a medical or personal emergency. You are permitted to discuss the assignments with other students in the class, but you must write up independent answers and indicate the name(s) of the other student(s) on your assignment.

Midterm (25%)

The midterm exam will test knowledge of basic facts and concepts covered in the first half of the course. It will take the form of true/false, multiple-choice, matching, and fill-in questions testing your recognition of important facts and concepts of writing in general, or aspects of a specific writing system, as well as small analysis problems similar to the homeworks. See the study guide for topics to be covered as well as sample questions.

Final (50%)

The final exam will cover material from the entire course, though with an emphasis on the newer topics (about two-thirds of points devoted to material from the second half of the course). The format is the same as the midterm.


While attendance and participation are not a formal part of the grade, only students who make a good faith effort to perform at their best are eligible to have a borderline grade rounded up to the next higher level. Students who do not regularly attend lectures and recitations, or who do not pay attention when they are present, are not eligible for rounding.

Course Summary:

Date Details