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SEL1008 : The Nature of Language

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Joel Wallenberg
  • Lecturer: Dr Rachael Bailes, Dr Geoffrey Poole
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


1. Investigate the nature of language
2. Come to an understanding of the various areas within the field of linguistics
3. Learn how the study of linguistics relates to other sciences, particularly neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and computation

Outline Of Syllabus

Topics will be drawn from the following:
1. How to think about language scientifically
2. Computation, mind, and language
3. Thinking about Language : Chomsky
4. Acquisition and Evidence
5. Writing a Language/Linguistics Essay
6. Language Change
7. Language and Populations (Creoles and Viruses)
8. Sociolinguistics, Variation and Memory
9. Animal Communication
10. Meaning and Communication
11. What it's all for: language in broader scientific perspective

Seminars will involve group discussion of issues raised in lectures, and there will be occasional additional sessions with the whole class to catch up on questions raised in the seminars and standard lectures.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion151:3051:30N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyReflective learning activity284:00112:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:301:30Essay preparation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery12:002:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

1. Lectures introduce students to knowledge outcomes.
2. Seminars develop these skills of analysis in greater depth.
3. Private study is an important part of the programme, requiring close reading of the materials both in advance of lectures and as a follow up to them.
4. Students will be an assignment intended to probe and expand the students' understanding of the concepts covered in lectures.
5. The written assignments are intended to teach scientific writing, progressively working up to longer and more complex pieces of writing throughout the semester.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M30500 words. To learn how to structure a linguistics essay.
Written exercise1M10Short example of hypothesis-formulation and hypothesis-testing.
Essay1A602000 words. Final essay assessed both for structure and content.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The written exercise motivates students to think in terms of the scientific method, i.e. forming a hypothesis and designing an experiment to test it. The two essays teach how longer scientific essays are structured, and encourage students to creatively engage with the module material. Assessment by essay allows students to develop formal argumentation and presentation skills relative to the topics covered in the module.

Reading Lists