Online course

Introduction to Linguistics

Get an introduction to linguistics and discover how research is transforming our understanding of language.

Find out how language works through linguistics

Language is fundamental to our everyday social interactions, our politics and culture, and our thoughts.

We all have ideas about how language works, but what separates our own intuitions from linguistic knowledge?

On this course, you’ll get an introduction to the main approaches used in linguistic research, including linguistic experiments and discourse analysis.

You’ll find out about the key methods used in linguistic descriptions, and some of the everyday ‘myths’ about language.

You’ll discover how linguistic researchers turn our ideas about language into linguistic knowledge.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsJOE BENNETT: Language is fundamental to almost all areas of human life. From simple everyday interactions, to complex political and cultural institutions. So many of the things that we do as a matter of course are unthinkable without it. The same is true for thinking about language. That too is a fundamental part of our lives. In very everyday terms, we might wonder where someone is from on the basis of their accent. We might wonder how to word an email or text message. We might be shocked by something someone said that we consider rude, inappropriate, or taboo. We might marvel at the language development of our children, or wonder what we can do to help them along with their language.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 secondsWe might wonder how to translate a word or expression from one language into another. This course is about questions of this kind. Questions about language. What it's like, how it works, what people do with it. Specifically, we consider some of the questions asked by people who have spent a lot of their time thinking about language-- linguistic researchers or linguists. We look at some of the questions that linguists have asked. The methods they've used to find their answers, and the things that they have found out. As well as some of the things that they still would like to find out. We'll explore questions to do with how languages vary from place to place.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsHow human languages relate to the communication systems of other animals. How sign languages relate to spoken languages. And how linguistic changes reflect, and perhaps even encourage social changes. Along the way, you'll find out about some of the key methods that we use to find out about language. From close analysis of text and spoken language, to the use of linguistic big data. From experiments that trap peoples' eye movements as they read, to observations of the behaviour of great apes. In all, we'll discover how linguistic researchers attempt to turn our everyday interest in language into linguistic knowledge.

What topics will you cover?

Week 1
This week is about how human beings (and some other animals) make meaning with our voices and with our hands. We cover:

  • Some fundamental concepts in the study of language and communication;
  • Language and gesture;
  • Sign languages;
  • Relations between human languages and other animal communication.

Week 2
This week is about methods used in the contemporary study of language. We cover:

  • The use of grammar experiments to investigate language learning;
  • The use of eye-tracking technology to investigate language processing;
  • Big data dialectology.

Week 3
This week is about how linguistic concepts and methods can be applied to a range of problems. We cover:

  • How metaphor and metonymy can shed light on communication in everyday and educational contexts;
  • The stories we tell about social and political events;
  • The language of literature.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced
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What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Understand and apply fundamental concepts in language and communication such as ‘arbitrariness’ and ‘iconicity’.
  • Appreciate the linguistic complexity of sign languages.
  • Recognise some of the similarities and differences between human languages. and other animal communication.
  • Discuss some of the key methods that linguists use to explore language.
  • Reflect on the use of metaphor in everyday communication, and in educational contexts.
  • Apply linguistic frameworks to social and literary questions and problems.
  • Experience working with a language corpus.
  • Debate your own linguistic experiences with a wide community of language-users.

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at anyone interested in language and linguistics, but may be of particular interest to students looking to study English language or linguistics at university, or to those working in language education.

Who will you learn with?

Joe Bennett

I am director of undergraduate programmes in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. My research focuses on the social and political life of language.

Who developed the course?

The University of Birmingham is a public research university, consistently listed as a leading UK university and ranked among the top 100 in the world.

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