The Study of Language

Universidad de Deusto - Bilbao

Course Description

  • Course Name

    The Study of Language

  • Host University

    Universidad de Deusto - Bilbao

  • Location

    Bilbao, Spain

  • Area of Study

    Linguistics, Modern Languages

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

    60
  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
    4
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
    6
  • Overview

    One thing that distinguishes human beings from other animals, even relatively smart ones like chimps and elephants, is our ability to use productive and combinatory language. Language plays an important role in how we think about abstract notions, or, at the very least, language appears to be structured in such a way that it allows us to express abstract notions. Sentences are how we get at expressing abstract thought processes. Thus, this course is about one seminal aspect of how language works -- how sentences are structured: Syntax. The study of syntax is an important foundation stone for understanding how we communicate and interact with each other as humans. Syntax is what mediates between the sounds that someone produces and the meaning they intend to convey.

    The aim of this course is to introduce students to sentence structure, syntax parsing, tree diagram representation, and the basic terminology of syntax. It will be shown how traditional concepts are used and reinterpreted within the framework of Generative Grammar. We shall try to decide what sort of internal grammar native speakers of English have at their disposal and to determine what it is that makes a sentence acceptable or unacceptable, what sort of grammatical principles can be advocated and to what extent these are universal or language specific. For the practical component of this course, the students will be presented with data from English as well as from other languages, and will be expected to develop skills to piece these data together, construct hypotheses, check these and ultimately discover the explanation for the evidence assembled. The course is mostly practical in nature since it relies on the students’ regular submission of short exercises and their constant improvement thanks to the feedback received from the instructor.

    Pre-requisites
    Excellent command of the English language (Advanced, B2/C1 or similar) and a well consolidated knowledge of Spanish (in diff. registers) for comparative grammar purposes

    Contents
    1. Language and Linguistic knowledge
    1.1. Grammatical competence (vs. performance)
    1.2. The role of the theoretical linguist
    1.3. The goals of syntactic theory
    1.4. Language as an infinite rule-governed creativity
    1.5. Language universals
    2. The lexicon and syntax mapping
    2.1. Subcategorization
    2.2. Argument structure and thematic structure
    2.3. Theta theory
    2.4. The Projection Principle
    2.5. The assignment of thematic roles
    3. Constituent structure
    3.1. The concept of structure
    3.2. Constituency and constituent structure tests
    3.2.1. The motivation for constituent structure
    3.2.2. The investigation of constituent structure
    3.2.3. The representation of constituent structure
    4. Phrase structure and clause structure (X-Theory)
    4.1. The verb phrase
    4.2. Noun phrases
    4.3. Adjectival phrases
    4.4. Prepositional phrases
    4.5. The structure of sentences
    4.6. C-command and government
    5. Displacement as a property of language: Move alpha
    5.1. Why do elements move?
    5.2 Morphologically driven syntactic movement and word order
    5.3. Transformational rules and rule interaction
    5.4. Sentence structure and anaphora: c-command

    Methodology
    In order to acquire and develop the above-mentioned competences, the following teaching learning techniques will be used:
    - Close reading of diverse syntax texts in English and follow-up discussions of the problems they pose. General comprehension exercises.
    - Exploring different sentence constructions (syntactic data) and the kind of demand they make on the linguist in terms of: syntactic structures, lexical specificity, and word order
    - Identifying specific structural units that may turn out problematical.
    - Formulating research hypotheses and alternative hypotheses;
    - Learning to recognize and generate appropriate evidence, particularly negative evidence
    - Identifying and testing specific assumptions and pursuing their consequences, however strange;
    - Applying more complex theoretical arguments to deduce further data distribution and predict patterns of grammaticality
    - Recognizing in particular how simple principles of grammar may interact in intricate ways to produce patterns of great surface complexity;
    - Preparing the two in-class tests on topics that will be previously discussed.
    - Informal revision of syntactic exercises taking into account the feedback offered by instructor and the students’ peers.
    - Finding adequate solutions to additional syntactic problems posed by the instructor.
    - Drilling students in the art of revising formally and editing analysis.

    Assessment
    - In-class participation, syntax exercises, use of resources: 30 %
    - Five quizzes and one Midterm Exam: 40 %
    - One Final Exam: 30 %
    N.B. Students will only get credit for this course if: a) they sit for all the quizzes and the midterm exam, b) attend regularly the classes and turn in the assignments, and c) they receive a passing mark on the final exam.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

Please note that some courses with locals have recommended prerequisite courses. It is the student's responsibility to consult any recommended prerequisites prior to enrolling in their course.