Faculty of Arts


Introduction to Linguistics


Course overview

Language is one of the most important things that humans do. Our capacities for communication, abstract thought, creativity and problem solving are often realised through language. This makes language one of the features that defines us as a species and what makes us unique. However, these claims evoke many questions. What exactly is "language"? How do we study it, how do we explain it and what does it mean to "do" language? These are the questions that the field of linguistics seeks to answer. More specifically, linguistics is the scientific study of language.

If you've ever taken a course in physics, chemistry or biology you know that these fields are made up of many specialised sub-areas. For example, physics is the scientific study of matter and its motion through space and time. But there are many ways to investigate these: we can zoom into the tiny world of atomic particles and study how they interact to form matter (particle physics), or we can open up the universe to test theories of how gravity affects the formation of stars (astrophysics). We can also apply this knowledge to create new materials to improve our lives (applied physics).

Linguistics is a field on the same scale: there are many specialised sub-areas that are devoted to the scientific study of sounds, structure, meaning and use of language - each of these are their own exciting microcosm of study. However, this knowledge is applied in many ways that directly affect our lives: ever wonder why it gets more difficult to learn a language as you get older? Ever wonder if computers will ever be able to "talk"? Ever wonder what’s happening in the brain when someone loses the ability to speak, such as after a brain injury? Ever wonder about why Māori "looks" and "sounds" so different from English?

This course is an introduction to the field of linguistics. You will become familiar with the "design features" of language and how linguists use the principles of the scientific method to explain these features, just as we do in physics, chemistry or biology. We will look at the building blocks of language that define the major subfields of linguistics. In doing this, we will also look at some common myths about language, the future of linguistic research (which you may be doing one day!) and some of the unsolved problems we face in explaining language.

Availability 2018

Semester 2




Burton, Strang, Rose-Marie Déchaine and Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson. 2012. Linguistics for Dummies, 9th International Edition (Wiley)


Coursework + exam


LINGUIST 100: 15.0 points



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