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The University of Southampton

LING6053 Description of Language (CSC)

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

i. Familiarise you with the key concepts and terms used to describe language systematically and investigate some practical approaches; ii. Enable you to develop the skills in linguistic description necessary for language professionals, particularly the skills relating to language teaching and learning; iii. Develop your proficiency in examining complex abstract concepts and discussing their practical application.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The segmental sounds of standard English; issues in stress and intonation; regional variation in pronunciation; international varieties of English
  • The basic structure of the sentence and its constituents, including complex noun phrases and verb phrases, coordination and subordination, formulating rules (based on linguistic data) about how language functions
  • Issues in morphology and vocabulary, including word formation, language use, appropriacy and semantic structure, applying theoretical linguistic concepts to concrete data
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Apply to concrete linguistic data a range of theoretical linguistic concepts (e.g. hierarchical constituent structure, physical parameters of articulation, distributional contrasts and complementarity)
  • Formulate rules (based on linguistic data) about how language functions
  • Recognise the link between lexis and external factors (especially social factors)
  • Analyse authentic linguistic data using conventional linguistic techniques and concepts
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Make more effective use of the information available in dictionaries, grammar books and other reference works
  • Link theoretical concepts to the analysis of data
  • Work effectively in a team
  • Prepare and deliver oral presentations
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Monitor your pronunciation of English in the light of what you have learnt about English phonology
  • Choose between grammatical structures with a greater degree of understanding, accuracy and appropriacy


The module explores selected approaches to linguistic description, providing an overview of phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. Links are made with language teaching and learning, and the adequacy and usefulness of pedagogical grammars are assessed. The main language of exemplification is English, but some reference is made to other languages, and you will have opportunities to apply some of the principles of linguistic description to other languages. The module introduces students to the tools they will need for analysing and describing language in all the different contexts where they are likely to encounter it; as such, it serves as a foundation for work in many of the other modules.

Special Features

The module equips you with specific skills in technical analysis of language, including phonetic transcription, and tree diagrams of sentence structure. You will also be better prepared to make effective use of the information available in dictionaries, grammar books and other reference works, and link theoretical concepts to the analysis of data. Lectures/seminars will introduce general points of theory and their application to linguistic data. You will be encouraged to ask questions. In workshops you will work your way through detailed examples, some of which may be provided by students. The regular formative tasks will enable you to work independently in order to apply the concepts covered in the lectures to practical issues in language description.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Lectures • Workshops Learning activities include: • Group discussions • Formative assignments, e.g. analysis of language data • Essay writing • summative analytical tasks Each week there will be one lecture and one activity-based workshop session. The lectures will cover linguistic description on the levels of syntax, semantics, and morphology. Students are expected to prepare for the workshop sessions, and will have the opportunity to take the lead in the discussion of particular tasks. In alternate weeks (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11) the workshop is related to the content of the lectures, covering topics in morphology, syntax, and semantics. Both activities relate to the learning outcomes under ii) and iii) in section 12. In the other weeks (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12) there will be a series of phonetics and phonology workshops, relating to the learning outcomes under i) in section 12. • All participants will undertake some practical work in phonological, syntactic and semantic analysis, based on language produced both by mature native speakers and by language learners. You will also be encouraged to contribute examples of your students’ work or classroom materials with which you are familiar, so that the agenda for the workshop sessions can be partly set by course participants.

Independent Study102
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

GRADDOL D, J CHESHIRE and J SWANN (1995). Describing Language. 

CRYSTAL D (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. 

CARTER R and M McCARTHY (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English: A comprehensive guide – Spoken and written English grammar and usage. 

ROACH P (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology: A practical course. 

GREENBAUM S and R QUIRK (1990). A Student's Grammar of the English Language. 

WARDHAUGH R (2003). Understanding English Grammar: A linguistic approach. 

BYGATE M, A TONKYN and E WILLIAMS (eds) (1994). Grammar and the Language Teacher. 

YULE G (2006). The Study of Language. 

FROMKIN V A, R RODMAN and N HYAMS ((2003). An Introduction to Language. 

JACKSON H (1982). Analysing English: An introduction to descriptive linguistics. 

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