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Linguistics & Cognitive Science


Credit Points:

Three (3)


Two lectures and 1 tutorial / week


Olga Temple (KD Room 231; email: [email protected]


4.11406 – Introduction to Linguistics & 4.21430 – Linguistic Analysis

Course Description

Comparative linguistics studies the processes of language change and diversification, and tries to figure out the genetic relationships between different languages and reconstruct their no longer spoken ancestors. Historical linguistics examines the changes that take place in the sounds, structures and word meanings of a particular language over time. Both focus on how and why languages change over time.

In this course, we will view language and its behavior through the ‘flexible’ lens of dialectical analysis which has the advantage of both wide-angle and zoom. A quick revision of the ‘basics’ you learned about Human Language in your Introduction to Linguistics course will help us make educated guesses as to the causes (the WHYs) of language change.

We then ‘zoom in’ on changes in the physical structures of language, starting at the basic level of sounds. We first review the hierarchy of sound loudness (sonority), and discuss various types of sound change, its ‘physical’ causes, and learn about how the use of descriptive analysis and the Comparative Method can help us establish genetic relationships between languages and even reconstruct their earlier forms.

Widening our scope, we will then look at smallest meaningful groups of sounds – morphemes – and the smallest units of language (word-meanings). At this stage, we will try to make some generalizations about the general typology of human languages and the sources of linguistic similarity.

Zooming out to ever larger linguistic structures (phrases and sentences), we examine how they are shaped by the very nature of language (by its psycho-physical & socio-historical dualities). We will discuss the multifaceted process of linguistic change, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all its aspects – sound/ morphological/ syntactic/ semantic change, and grammaticalization (a type of change that embodies all of them). Already familiar with the ‘technical’ side of tracking linguistic change, we will make further generalizations about how languages can be classified according to their genetic and typological characteristics.

The final part of the course looks through the WA lens at issues related to language birth, life, including language contact, and death, all in the context of social change. Pidgin and creole languages, particularly with reference to Tok Pisin, will be discussed, along with the emotional issue of the so-called ‘endangered’ languages.

Course Objectives

This course explains how and (most importantly!) why languages change in time. The use of the dialectical method of analysis which combines the advantages of both synthesis and analysis, aims to provide the students with a high-resolution 4-D image of language ‘live.’ The understanding of the nature and essence of language, as well as the knowledge of patterns, regularities, and ‘natural’ tendencies in language change will put language systems in ‘historical’ perspective, providing a clearer view of how languages live and die. In particular, this course aims to stimulate the students’ interest in the languages of Papua New Guinea and linguistic enquiry in general.

Course Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

· Explain how and why languages change

· Use the Comparative Method and descriptive analysis to determine relationships between languages

· Discuss linguistic typology and the principles of classifying languages.

You should also be able to competently apply this knowledge in your further study of Language.

Course Materials

Crowley, T.: An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. Oxford University Press, 1997

Temple, O.: Genesutra. UPNG Press, 2011

* Lecture notes, PPTs and relevant chapters from Crowley will be available for download on my website


Assessment: 60% continuous [3 in-course written assignments (3x15 = 45%) + class participation (attendance & summary writing –15%)] and 40% final exam.

Lecture Schedule

Week 1. Human Language vs. animal ‘languages’

The basics of dialectics & dialectical analysis (Genesutra, Sutra 1 & Sutra 2, pp.1-14)

PPT 'Language – a Complex Whole'

Week 2. The physical ‘stuff’ of language – the descriptive approach

Comparative linguistics of 19th century; Linguistic relationships (Crowley Ch. 1)

Beginning sound change: Revision of Phonetic Symbols (Genesutra, Sutra 9, pp. 95-97)

Week 3. Sound Change

Lenition vs. Fortition (Crowley Ch. 2)

Lecture notes on Types of Sound Change

· Sound Loss (Aphaeresis, Apocope, Syncope, Cluster Reduction, & Haplology)

· Sound Addition (Excrescence, Epenthesis, Prothesis)

· Metathesis, Fusion, Unpacking, Vowel Breaking

Additional Reading:

Pawley: On epenthetic vowels in New Guinea Pidgin

PPT ‘Types of Sound Change’

Week 4. Expressing Sound Change

Writing Rules (Crowley, Ch. 3; PPT ‘Expressing Sound Change’)



Week 5. The Comparative Method

Sound correspondences & reconstruction; the Swadesh List 1, Swadesh List 2, Crowley Ch. 5

Practical analysis: Austronesian languages: Swadesh List; 1; Swadesh List 2; Crowley Data Sets

Week 6. Practical Analysis

Practical: writing sound changes /comparative phonological analysis (Crowley Ch. 5; Swadesh List 1; Crowley Data Sets)

Major Assignment I on types of Sound Change and Comparative Analysis

Week 7. Morphological Change

Morphological change (Genesutra, Sutra 3, pp. 15-29; Sutra 7, 61-82)

Sources of linguistic similarity (PPT ‘Sources of Linguistic Similarity’) 

Week 8. Grammatical, Semantic, & Lexical Change I

Typology & Grammatical Change (Crowley Ch. 7.1)

Morphological Type: Isolating, Agglutinating & Inflectional/ Synthetic (PPT ‘Morphological Typology’)

Practical morphological analysis.

Week 9. Grammatical, Semantic, & Lexical Change II

Syntactic Types: Word Order; Accusative & Ergative languages (Genesutra, Sutra 3, pp. 15-29; Sutra 5, 41-49; Crowley Ch. 7.1 & 7.2; Comrie WALS)

Syntactic change: Grammaticalization (PPTs ‘Syntactic Typology’ & ‘Grammaticalization’)

Major Assignment II on Morphological & Syntactic Change

Week 10. Grammatical, Semantic, & Lexical Change III

Semantic Change (Genesutra, Sutra 4, pp. 30-40)

Lexical Change (Crowley, Ch. 7.4)

Week 11. Language Origins & Life

Language Origins (Genesutra, Sutra 2, pp.8-14)

Additional Reading: Christiansen & Chater: Language as Shaped by the Brain. BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2008) 31, 489 –558.

Contact Languages: Pidgins & Creoles (PPT ‘Pidgins & Creoles’)

Week 12. Language Death

Causes of Language Death

‘Endangered’ Languages: the future of Tok Ples in Papua New Guinea

Major Assignment III on the causes & types of linguistic change

Week 13. Revision

Exam discussion

Week 14. Study Break

Week 15. Exams