LINGUIST 101G Language, Mind and Society

LINGUIST 101G | BE, EDSW, EMHSS, LC | Semester One 2021 | City Campus | 15 points


Language is one of the most important aspects of being human. It is also a vast and exciting area of study. On the one hand, language has many practical purposes: we use it in almost everything we do to keep our communities functioning and to manage our identities. On the other hand, language can give us a window into how thoughts and meanings are formed in the mind. This course looks at the unique relations that hold between mind, society and language.

In particular we look at the following questions:

  • Does what we think about language matter?
  • How much control do we have over the creation of meaning?
  • Where is language in our mind, and how is it connected to the notion of meaning?
  • Do different cultures organise their meanings and languages differently?
  • What is special about human language and how did we get here?
  • Artificial Intelligence: will computers ever really be able to "do" language the way we do? 
  • The reality of conlangs (constructed languages)

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should:

  • Be able to describe how differences in language use can manifest themselves at different levels of structure
  • Be able to distinguish "facts", "values" and "opinions" as these relate to language and meaning in social contexts
  • Discriminate between and define key terms in the field, eg, code-switching, politeness, apparent time, macro-sociolinguistics, micro-sociolinguistics
  • Critically evaluate and develop coherent arguments in favour of and against particular analyses of language and meaning 
  • Be able to explain clearly to each other the relationship of different topics in the readings
  • Be able to apply primary language data (texts, media, recordings, etc) to problems in language and society

Topics Covered

  • What is  "meaning", and how can we use linguistic tools to analyse it?
  • Society's role in constructing our language. How do we become members of speech communities?
  • Language acquisition: where and how do we learn language? 
  • Politeness: how we do talk about interactive meaning in different societies?
  • The role of contemporary media and communication
  • All languages live and develop. Some die. How?
  • Taking linguistics outside the university: what’s the point of linguistic analysis?
  • Language and the progress of artificial languages and intelligence

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