Module Catalogue 2024/25

SEL1008 : The Nature of Language

SEL1008 : The Nature of Language

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Rebecca Woods
  • Lecturer: Dr Emma Nguyen
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Modules you must have done previously to study this module

Pre Requisite Comment



Modules you need to take at the same time

Co Requisite Comment



Language is a fundamentally human behaviour that shares some features with communication systems in other animals. Practically all humans learn one or more languages and use them in their daily activities, in interaction and in thought. As language users we can speculate about the nature of language based on our own experiences, but experiences alone cannot lead us to insights into how language evolved, how we acquire it so quickly as young children, how it varies across communities and how that variation is constrained.

In this module you are introduced to a range of topics and open questions concerning language as part of human cognition. You are also introduced to a range of methods that can be used to interrogate these questions that complement human experience with scientific reasoning. You will also discover how topics in linguistics interface and interact with other disciplines of study such as psychology and computer science.

Moreover, this module inducts you into university-level study by foregrounding the academic skills and processes that underpin rigorous study at all levels and encouraging ongoing reflection on your own learning trajectory and skills/knowledge development.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will cover topics including, but not limited to, the following:
-       Child language acquisition (monolingual and bilingual)
-       Adult second (and subsequent) language acquisition
-       Language evolution
-       Linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism
-       Psycholinguistics (speech errors, mental representations and interaction with other cognitive processes)
-       Language as a computational system

The module will also introduce a range of methods of conducting linguistic research, which may include, but are not limited to:
-       Comparative approaches
-       Fieldwork
-       Corpus building/searching
-       Behavioural experimental methods
-       Ethnography

Finally, the module will guide you in accessing and familiarising yourself with:
-       Canvas (the university VLE)
-       The university library and academic skills support
-       Academic and pastoral support within your home School
-       Office360 (including the university cloud storage)
-       University norms and culture

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

By the end of this module, it is anticipated that you will be able to:
1.       Identify overlaps between questions of interest to linguists and to other cognitive scientists
2.       Identify and describe application of the scientific method to issues in language study
3.       Critically discuss “big” questions in linguistics, including identifying underlying assumptions, socially and politically sensitive issues, researcher bias and implications of applying specific theories or frameworks
4.       Critically evaluate your own linguistic experiences and assumptions about the nature of language
5.       Critically evaluate your own participation in university-level learning activities and processes, identifying areas of concrete knowledge gain and areas requiring further work

Intended Skill Outcomes

By the end of this module, you will have developed the following skills:
1.       Problem-solving skills (e.g. identifying patterns in small linguistic datasets)
2.       Critical thinking skills (e.g. reframing an argument, understanding complex reasoning)
3.       IT skills (e.g. using university library resources, Office360, Canvas)
4.       Interpersonal skills (e.g. small in-class group work, communication with peers and with educators)
5.       Meta-cognitive skills (e.g. reflective thinking)

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion155:0055:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyReflective learning activity284:00112:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are used, primarily, to impart subject content and provide a continuous point of contact between the module teaching team and all students throughout the module. Lectures focus on growing students’ knowledge base in linguistics and introducing students to new methods and approaches to language study.

Small-group teaching sessions, also known as seminars, are used to consolidate students’ understanding of the lecture and reading materials and to develop students’ skills in making sense of linguistic data, understanding academic writing and framing language investigations.

Guided independent study is used for the preparation of seminar exercises as well as for the preparation and completion of assignments.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Design/Creative proj1M40Anything but an Essay: Students will report on and review a linguistic study in a format of their choice (anything but an essay). 1000 words or equivalent.
Portfolio1M60A collection of participation, engagement and reflection activities completed throughout the semester.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The Anything but an Essay evaluates Knowledge Outcomes 1-3 and Skills Outcomes 1-3. It permits students to demonstrate their developing understanding of how linguistic research is conducted and to present a detailed, specific critique of work that is new to them. However, it achieves these aims without requiring them to draw on academic writing skills that are not taught or developed on this module.

The Portfolio evaluates Knowledge Outcomes 4-5 and Skills Outcomes 1-5. Throughout the semester, students will complete self-reflective questionnaires on what they have learned and how, including uploading evidence of trying new activities and engaging with academic support. It is not expected that all students will evidence the same activities and/or types of engagement as they will evidence that which has been of most impact/benefit/use to them as an individual.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


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The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2024 academic year.

In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described.

Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2025/26 entry will be published here in early-April 2025. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.