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Department of Linguistics and Oriental Languages



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Computational Linguistics

Language and Codes

Linguistics 496

The central premise of Dan Brown's novel, Digital Fortress, is an ``unbreakable'' code whose very existence threatens the code-breaking supremacy of the NSA (National Security Agency).

Do such unbreakable codes exist? What makes codes completely secure, if anything does? How does the language of a message play a role? What do cryptographers do? How do their most powerful tools, computers, change the nature of code-cracking?

The first half of Language and Codes, which is under consideration as part of the General Education program at SDSU, will focus on questions like these, which for many years have defined the field of Cryptography. The second part of the course will address a set of topics that reflect the dramatic transformation of the field since the advent of the Word Wide Web. In part that transformation has occurred because the Internet and increased computing power have created significant new threats to our security and privacy, but an equally important factor is the advent of new kinds of social transactions, raising a host of issues about trust, authentication, anonymity, and criminal activity. Topics covered in the second part of the course are all directly linked to the new modes of interaction in cyberspace, including public key codes, digital cash, and digital signatures.

This course will serve as an introduction to the field of cryptography with a emphasis on the aspects of cryptography that relate back to the properties of language and the pragmatics of communication. The required text for the course is Cryptography Decrypted, by H.X. Mel, Doris Baker, and Steve Burnett (Burnett is responsible for the mathematical appendix).

A recommended text for those who want to dip a little more deeply into the math (but still not very deeply) is my Groups, Modular Arithmetic, and Cryptography (available here).


Prerequisites and Grading

Prequisite: completion of General Education requirement in Foundations II.A., Natural Sciences and Quantitative Reasoning.

Grading will be based on exercises/projects a take-home midterm and final.

Place and Time

Tu 11:00-12:00 TH 11:00-12:30

Contact Info

Mailing address:
Jean Mark Gawron
Department of Linguistics and Oriental Languages
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-7727
Telephone: (619) 594-0252

Unix | Computational Linguistics Lab