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2023/24 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

LING5440M Approaches to Linguistics and Language Acquisition

30 creditsClass Size: 36

Module manager: Clare Wright

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

This module explores the current fields of linguistics and language acquisition by evaluating the main branches of formal and functional linguistics, including generative, cognitive and functional linguistics. Attention is paid to differences both among and within these approaches. The approaches are also explored in terms of their understanding of language acquisition. Attention is paid to the range of options in research methodology that are relevant for different approaches to linguistics. The module develops skills in extensive reading of primary and secondary sources in linguistics and language acquisition.


The aim of this module is to present a critical overview of the current field of linguistics and the subfield of language acquisition. This is done by evaluating the main branches of formal and functional linguistics. Starting with the academic context from which current theories have arisen historically attention is paid to mainstream generative, cognitive and functional linguistics, with reference to differences among these approaches. In addition to the main principles of each approach, we study how each theory views language acquisition. Another main focus is to explore how choices of research method connect with the theoretical concerns of each theory. The overall aim is for students to develop a critical awareness of the formal study of language and the range of theories which currently exist to explain linguistic properties as currently understood.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should:
1. know the range of mainstream approaches to linguistics well enough to identify how they differ and how they overlap
2. understand the relationship between language acquisition theory and linguistic theory
3. understand how and why different linguistic theories have developed
4. have an appreciation for the process of theory building, and how current understanding relates to context, both historically and in the present

Skills outcomes
This module develops students’ skills in:
1. reading critically, both primary and secondary sources in linguistics
2. identifying the theoretical stance of primary sources in linguistics and understand how specific findings contribute to the larger aims of the theory
3. reading and making sense of findings from empirical studies in language acquisition
4. articulating a logical argument in support of at least one of the mainstream approaches to linguistics, with both conceptual and empirical evidence


This module familiarises students with structuralist approaches to linguistics and behaviourist approaches to psychology, and then covers major aspects of Chomskyan generative linguistics, Hallidayan functional linguistics, and cognitive linguistics. It investigates how language acquisition and use is accounted for in these three main approaches to linguistics, and addresses questions of research methodology within each approach. The module is designed to complement Academic Skills; between both modules, students with or without much prior knowledge should receive a thorough grounding in key linguistic theories, research agendas, current debates, effective methodologies, and develop a good understanding of how to handle complex linguistic concepts and data at MA level.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours20.00
Private study hours250.00
Total Contact hours30.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Students are expected to devote 270 hours of independent study time to this module. The module is designed to foster good understanding of often unfamiliar technical linguistic terminology, through building good critical reading skills, Much time is needed in private study to do the reading for lectures (4-5 hours per week, for 10 weeks); the lectures will include discussions and interactive tasks including independent online learning to test students’ comprehension of background and secondary texts, evaluated in a mid-module assignment, and preparing students for handling empirical primary sources, leading to the final essay.
Because of the advanced nature of the reading, some time is given in class for teaching students how to read and understand difficult empirical research. Other guidance is provided on the VLE.. An estimated 100 hours are needed to do the two pieces of assessed work.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

The seminars provide a forum for supporting and monitoring students’ progress. The first assignment is designed to teach and support students in essay writing as expected in linguistics and at MA level, and students receive extensive written feedback on it before they submit the second, more heavily-weighted essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Critique1,000-word critical summary20.00
Essay2,000-word essay80.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:41:57


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