First year undergraduate courses in English Language and Linguistics (29 Oct 2004)

Date: 29 October, 2004
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Seminar

Programme | Event report

Past event summary

workshop attendees

In October 2003, the Subject Centre ran a seminar titled English language and linguistics: from A-level to BA . This focussed on the content of English Language 'A' levels and their relation to first year undergraduate Linguistics programmes. Details of the programme and a report on the event can be found in the events archive of this website.

In October 2004, we ran a complementary event focussing on curriculum issues at first year undergraduate level and how these relate to admissions requirements, including A' level. The event was in two parts. The first consisted of a number of short (15 minute) presentations from University Departments on First year undergraduate courses in Language and Linguistics to give us an overview of what is on offer. These focused on:

  • why some particular aspect of linguistics is taught at their institution, i.e how does it fit into their conception of the nature of the discipline and the structure of their undergraduate curriculum. Is the focus on the general nature of language/ linguistics; on the structure of a language/ languages; on understanding cognitive processes (language processing, language acquisition for example); on exploring communicative strategies etc.
  • what sort of linguistics should be taught to support their approach to linguistics (corpus linguistics, descriptive and empirical linguistics; formal grammar, pragmatics practical phonetics, socio or psycho linguistics, textual analysis etc.)
  • how this relates to entrance requirements and to any pre-university training students bring to their course, eg A' level English language; A' level in a language etc.

The second part of the event, focussed on issues relating to Linguistics and the English Language A' level and included presentations from Carol Atherton, Bourne Grammar School (Lincolnshire) A' level English Language: Problems and Possibilities followed by John Hopkins (an A' level English language examiner) who discussed the possibility of an A' level in Linguistics.


10.00 - 10.30 Registration
10.30 - 11.30 Presentations on First year undergraduate courses:
Carmen Arnaiz (UWE, Bristol), Kersti Borjars (Manchester), Billy Clark (Middlesex), Marjolein Groefsema (Hertfordshire)
11.30 - 12.00 Coffee
12.00 - 13.15 Presentations on First year undergraduate courses:
Adam Jaworski (Cardiff), Wyn Johnson (Essex), Tony McEnery and Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster), Louise Mullany (Nottingham), Lynne Murphy (Sussex)
13.15 - 14.15 Lunch
14.15 - 15.00 Panel discussion on First year undergraduate courses
15.00 - 15.25 A-level English Language: Problems and Possibilities
Carol Atherton (Bourne Grammar School, Lincolnshire)
15.25 - 15.55 A linguistics A' level?
John Hopkins (A level examiner)
(A proposal for a-level linguistics - suggestions for course content and methods of assessment. Could Linguistics fit into QCA's English Language course specifications and assessment objectives? Can we agree on a common linguistics core and a unified approach?)
15.50 - 16.30 Discussion

Event report: First year undergraduate courses in English Language and Linguistics

by Alison Dickens

for free

- Seminar attendee

Below are short summaries of the presentations on First year undergraduate courses in Language and Linguistics. Some summaries are accompanied by the powerpoint presentations given on the day.

Presentations on First year undergraduate courses

Dr Carmen Arnáiz (University of the West of England)

UWE BA (Hons) in English Language and ...

UWE BA (Hons) in Linguistics and ...

Download presentation: HAs in English Language and Linguistics (Powerpoint, 45Kb)

  • why two different half awards: English Language' and Linguistics', the content has to be different and coherent in each of them, as well as complementary since students can do both half awards.
  • what English language' focuses on text linguistics and TESOL while Linguistics' focuses on core linguistics: syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, etc.
  • how both Linguistics and English language build up on the areas studied for AS/A level as well as giving them the opportunity to develop a clearly career oriented' strands: TESOL, sociolinguistics, etc.

Kersti Börjars, University of Manchester

University of Manchester, Linguistics and English Language

Download presentation: First year Linguistics at The University of Manchester (Powerpoint, 85Kb)

The first year of a Linguistics needs to fulfill a number of functions; introduce methodology and terminology, start to give an indication of how these can be applied to data, map out the broader field of linguistics and place it with respect to some neighbouring subject areas and it also needs to engender an appropriate attitude to language data and the study of it. In this brief presentation, I will illustrate how Linguistics at The University of Manchester approach this.

Linguistics has an unusual position with respect to many other subjects taught at University level in that there is no A-level syllabus which can be assumed to be known by the students. The students then enter the programme with very different levels of previous knowledge of linguistic terminology and methodology. In our experience, this includes those who have successfully completed an A-level in English Language. This means that there need to be foundation courses in phonetics and phonology, morpho-syntax and semantics. At least one course in each of these fields is obligatory in the first year.

In order to help students situate what they learn on a broader map of the field of Linguistics and also to guide them in their choices in the second and final year, a course called Principles of Linguistics is obligatory in the first semester of the first year. This course aims to familiarise the student with areas for which there is little time in the first year, but which exist as options in the second and final year and which fit in with research expertise we have in Manchester. At the same time, the nature of topics dealt in this course means that it is a course within which it is easier to enthuse students for further study of Linguistics; the origin of language, human language vs. animal communication systems and language endangerment amongst others.

The learning of the core sub-disciplines of linguistics such as phonetics, phonology, grammar and semantics, is greatly facilitated if such courses run in parallel with courses introducing sub-disciplines which illustrate how the terminology can be applied. These courses also provide obvious links with neighbouring subjects within which students can choose to take free choice options. Since time does not allow students to explore all fields, we do this by offering a set of optional courses in areas like sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, dialectology, typology, corpus linguistics and language change.

What has been said so far refers mainly to the learning of facts, terminology and methodology. However, to improve chances of success in the latter part of the degree, students also need to develop what one might call the right attitude for a linguist. This involves things like appreciation of language data, awareness that language worth studying is all around us all the time, recognition that language change was not something that happened in the past. These sorts of sentiments need to be encouraged in every single course that the first year student takes. It can be achieved by use of authentic language examples, by use of examples of current spoken usage and by use of corpora.

Billy Clark (University of Middlesex)

University of Middlesex, Communication and English Language Studies (CML)

Linguistics is not available as a subject in its own right at Middlesex, but ideas from linguistics are relevant to a number of subject areas, including our undergraduate programme in Communication and English Language Studies.

Communication and English Language Studies is available as a single honours programme, or as a major or minor component in a joint honours degree. The focus is mainly on verbal communication and on English in particular. But we stress that many of the ideas we look at are equally applicable to other languages, whether spoken, written or signed. We also look at visual communication and nonverbal communication.

The overall aim of the programme is to develop understanding of how communication works, focusing mainly on the structure, history, geography and use of (mainly English) language. We also consider social applications of linguistic insights, and social disputes where knowledge about language and communication are relevant.

Ideas from linguistics are used throughout the programme and work in some modules would be similar or identical to work in a linguistics degree. Often, though, there is a greater emphasis on how language is used for communication than would be common in most linguistics degree, e.g. our module Meaning and Understanding' introduces students to linguistic semantics and pragmatics but also aims to illustrate ideas using real-life examples and to consider how ideas from semantics and pragmatics can shed light on actual acts of communication. We focus particularly on controversial areas where issues about meaning are explicitly contested, e.g. arguments over the meaning of a politician's utterances, or arguments about whether particular communicative acts (such as adverts or artistic works) are offensive.

At degree level, the subject is divided into three strands:

  • Communication and the Mind looks at language and communication as psychological phenomena, and includes work on meaning, visual communication, nonverbal communication.
  • Language and Society looks at language as a social phenomenon, and includes work on accents and dialects, gender and language, literary English, attitudes to English/grammar, language and education.
  • Techniques in Speaking, Writing and Editing looks at how different uses of language and communicative behaviour give rise to different effects, in student's own communication and in that of other people and institutions, and includes work on communicating with video, communicating in writing, verbal communication in the media.

The overall aim is to offer a programme which builds naturally on work in A level English Language while also being accessible to students from a wide range of backgrounds, including mature students and students who have taken an access course. The programme is also designed to complement work in other subjects where language is not the main focus but it is an advantage to have a fairly detailed knowledge of how language and communication work, e.g. marketing, publishing, business studies, creative and media writing, journalism,

We offer three modules in first year. Alongside these, students take three other modules: a key skills module which is compulsory for all students and two modules either from their other major/minor subject or free choice electives'. The modules we offer are:

Introduction to Communication and English Language Studies:

Introduces a broad range of topics within language and communication reflecting the range covered at degree level.

Studying Communication

Deepens understanding of areas introduced in semester one and focuses on techniques and methodologies which can be used to find out more about how communication works in each area. Students work on group projects in which they attempt to find out about a topic that interests them. They give group presentations on the projects and write individual reports in which they are assessed on their ability to assess the project and highlight issues and problems in the methods they have used.

Studying English Language

(compulsory for single honours students, otherwise optional)

This module looks at the history, geography and structure of English. We look at the development of English over the past 2,000 years, the distribution of Englishes in the world today, and ways of describing the structure of English. This includes basic grammatical description.


Our focus is on the general nature of language and communication, focusing particularly on verbal communication and English. We consider psychological aspects, social aspects and communicative techniques. The linguistics we teach includes: descriptive grammar, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, language acquisition, theoretical linguistics, semantics, pragmatics, language and education, stylistic/text analysis, and a small amount of phonetics and phonology. Going beyond linguistics, we also look at how communication works in institutions and we offer practical work in which students focus on their own speaking, writing, editing (in a broad sense) and video production.

So we cover a broad range of areas in linguistics in less detail than in a standard linguistics degree and with a recurring focus on how to apply these ideas in analysing actual acts of communication.

We aim to offer a programme which builds on work in A level English Language as well as A level work in other subjects but also to be accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds who are interested in language and in how communication works.

We refer to the Linguistics benchmarking statement but also to the benchmarking statement for Communication, Media, Film and Cultural Studies and to the benchmarking statement for English (though much of the English statement is concerned with the teaching of literature).

Finally, here are some issues we discuss frequently when reviewing the programme:

  • how much grammar, phonology and other linguistic tools should be taught and where in the programme?
  • what is the nature of the relationship between theories and applications?
  • what are the best ways to develop students' research skills?

Marjolein Groefsema (University of Hertforshire)

University of Hertfordshire, Department of Humanities

Download presentation: English Language and Communication at the University of Hertfordshire (Powerpoint, 119Kb)

At the University of Hertfordshire, English Language & Communication (ELC) is offered as part of the modular Humanities Programme and of the Combined Modular Programme. On these programmes students study eight 15 credit modules per year, for three years. ELC can be studied as a Single Honours, a Major and a Minor Subject.

In accordance with the Linguistics Subject Benchmark Statement, the ELC Subject Group expects graduates with a first degree with honours in English Language & Communication to have an appreciation of the basic concepts, modes of analysis and theoretical approaches in more than one of the areas concerned with levels of analysis'. Moreover, they are expected to have a detailed knowledge and control of theory and practice in one or more applications of the discipline. On the basis of this, the ELC Subject Group offers introductory, intermediate and advanced modules covering the areas concerned with levels of analysis': syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, morphology, pragmatics and discourse, as well as psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, history of the English language, language acquisition, and clinical linguistics. Because we consider a basic understanding of syntactic categories and phrase structure as well as phonetics and phonology to be prerequisites for further studies in ELC, the modules English Grammar (in year 1) and Sounds of English (year 2) are obligatory, while all other modules are optional. From the 2003-2004 academic year the curriculum also incorporates modules concerning ELT, which had previously been offered as a separate Minor Subject English Language Teaching, but which now form a named pathway through the curriculum. To reflect this change in the curriculum the Subject name was changed from Linguistics to English Language & Communication.

In year 1, students can choose to take two, three or four modules of ELC. In the first semester, students normally take Introduction to Language and Communication which focusses on language as a communication system, language varieties and varieties of texts. The second module is Introduction to English Language Teaching, which forms part of the ELT pathway. In the second semester, all students are required to take a module English Grammar , so that they develop skills of grammatical analysis at this stage. The other second semester module is Language and Mind , which introduces students to the study of language and mind, including topics such as the relation between language and thought, and language and the brain, the human-specificity of language, comprehension and production of language, language acquisition and language modalities.

The ELC modules are open to any student on the Humanities and Combined Modular Programme, and do not require any Linguistics specific pre-university training.

Adam Jaworski, Cardiff University

Cardiff University, Centre for Language and Communication

Download presentation: Language and Communication at Cardiff University (Powerpoint, 4Mb)


The Centre for Language and Communication has broadened its undergraduate programme in Applied English Language Studies in three ways:

  • by integrating the study of language and communication
  • by extending the study of communication to non-linguistic modes of communication such as non-verbal communication, visual communication and sound and music
  • by emphasising the social uses of language, including the mass media and the new media, health communication, language and the law, and language in relation to gender, age and cultural difference.

Methodologies taught include not only linguistic and discourse analytical methods, but also social science methods such as survey research and content analysis.

Year One

The Centre offers three single honours degree schemes, with different emphases on the two elements of its name, language and communication BA in Language and Communication , BA in Communication , BA in English Language Studies . In Year One all students take four modules across two core subjects: Language and Communication . Further info:

Introduction to Language The emphasis at Cardiff is on language as a vehicle for communication, and this theme influences the approach that we take to formal description and the development of transcription skills. Accommodating home and subsidiary students and those with and without A-level English Language, the introductory module aims to provide a broad, relatively shallow descriptive base that covers the sound system of English, the purpose and nature of phonetic and phonemic transcription, orthographic transcription and the nature of conversation, writing systems and writing styles, units of meaning and their grammatical organisation into words, phrases, sentences and texts. After a brief glimpse of Phrase Structure, students are introduced to Systemic Functional Grammar, the model followed in subsequent modules. Finally, students gain a view of language from a more social and cultural perspective, leading into pragmatics. Speech transcription and conversation analysis are taught in seminars as part of the module.

Introduction to Language in Society Introduces ethnographic and variationist perspectives on language, society and culture, including such concepts as communicative competence, language variation, stratification' of speech communities, language attitudes, multilingualism, language and globalisation.

Introduction to Communication outlines different models of communication and emphasises the study of specific communication practices and contexts. It examines questions of discourse and ideology, semiotic rules and resources, modes of communication (verbal and nonverbal), genres, culture and miscommunication.

Introduction to Media Communication news as text, news as story, broadcast talk, advertising, new' media communication, media and postmodernity.

Year Two

(list of available modules; all students take 6 modules in degree-related pathways): Discourse ; Describing Language ; Pronunciation of English ; Communication Research Methods ; Media Texts ; Nonverbal Communication ; Visual Communication ; Sociolinguistics ; Cultural Perspectives in Communication ; Lifespan Communication ; Men, Women and Language ; Wales, Language, Image and Identity

Year Three

(year three modules are available to all students and chosen to suit the needs of individual students): Children, Language and Communication ; Communicating in Relationships ; Communication Disorders ; Communication, Tourism and Globalisation ; Computer-Mediated Communication ; Development of English ; Evolution of Human Communication and Language ; Forensic Linguistics ; Fundamental Issues in Language Teaching ; Health Communication ; Language, Literature and Education ; Persuasive Communication ; Semiotics of Sound ; Social Interaction ; Project ; Dissertation

Wyn Johnson (University of Essex)

University of Essex, English Language

University of Essex, Linguistics

The provision of first year courses at Essex was increased from two to three from October 2003. Alongside these, we offer an introductory course on Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Foundations of TEFL.

The aim is to introduce students to a variety of areas of linguistics that are identified in the linguistics benchmarking statement and to provide them with the tools that will enable them to pursue more advanced courses in the second and final years.

We previously offered a course on general linguistics (theory and applications) to which we had added, in more recent years, one dealing with core phonology and syntax. The new courses have expanded the general linguistics into three areas of Linguistics (theory), Psycholinguistics and Sociolinguistics. The Linguistics course still covers phonology and syntax but, in addition has been expanded to take in morphology, semantics and pragmatics.

Tony McEnery and Jonathan Culpepper (University of Lancaster)

University of Lancaster - Department of Linguistics and English Language

Download presentation: The first year at Lancaster University (Powerpoint, 18Kb)

Louise Mullany, University of Nottingham

University of Nottingham, School of English

Modern English Language undergraduate information

Download presentation: First year undergraduate courses in Language and Linguistics (Powerpoint, 47Kb)


The Modern English Language section of the School of English Studies at the University of Nottingham focuses on the linguistic description and analysis of English, specialising in particular on examining authentic spoken and written language data. Our broad approach to language study can be classified as treating language as discourse, where linguistic analyses are conducted in conjunction with examining the social and cultural contexts in which language is used and interpreted.

The School runs one language module in the first year undergraduate programme entitled Language and Context . This course is a 20-credit module which runs across the academic year. All single and joint honours English Studies students are required to take this course.

As the title suggests, the course integrates study of the structure of language with textual examples of data taken from within the social context in which they are produced. The module therefore aims to provide students with the core foundational terminology that they need to be able to conduct linguistic analyses, as well as introducing them to the key areas of linguistic study that they will encounter during their degree.

Language and Context

In the first semester the focus is mainly on vocabulary. Key terms and analytical skills are taught through the illustration of linguistic analysis using real-world spoken and written texts, drawing on discourse analytic, sociolinguistic, corpus linguistic and literary linguistic approaches. In the second semester the first half of the course focuses primarily on grammar and syntax, and students are introduced to the key terms and analytical skills required, drawing primarily on the approach of (critical) discourse analysis. The remaining half of the second semester introduces students to all other aspects of linguistics that they will encounter during their degree programme, including sessions on phonetics and phonology, semantics and pragmatics.


The areas of linguistics that should be taught in order to support the Nottingham approach to language and linguistic study are as follows: discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, literary linguistics, applied linguistics, corpus linguistics, pragmatics and psycholinguistics.


As we teach within an English department, with Modern English Language being just one section out of four which makes up the English Studies degree, we are currently not in a position to specify that our undergraduate students need to have A-level English Language as a prerequisite for entry on our degree programme. English Literature is currently the only the prerequisite. It is estimated that around 10% of our current first year undergraduates have an A-level in English Language, though it expected that this will increase steadily over the next few years. At present we therefore have a mixture of prior skills and knowledge, though the vast majority of our students have not been engaged in any language or linguistic study before.

Lynne Murphy, Sussex University

University of Sussex - Linguistics and English Language

Download presentation: First year Linguistics and English Language at Sussex (Powerpoint, 81Kb)

First year Linguistics/English Language at Sussex

  Linguistics English Language
Approaches to Meaning (2x)
The Making of the English Lg I
Language in Society
Current Social Issues in English Lg I
Language and Style I
Approaches to Grammar
The Making of the English Lg II
Approaches to Pronunciation
Current Social Issues in Eng Lg II
Language in Society II
Language and Style II
Grammar (2x weight)
Structure of English I (gram, 2x)
Grammar and Mind (cogn lx)
Grammar and Mind (Cogn Lx)
Biology & Evolution of Language
Biology & Evolution of Language
Language Variation and Change
Language Variation and Change
Structure of English II (semx, 2x)
Semantics and Pragmatics
Language Acquisition
Language Acquisition
Sociology of Language
Linguistic Typology
English World-Wide
Communication Analysis
Communication Analysis
Language Processing in the Mind
Language Processing
Historical Linguistics
Modern English Pronunciation
Discourse in Public Life
Discourse in Public Life
Meaning and Mind (cogn lx)
Meaning and Mind (cogn lx)
3Y > Research Project


bold = required in any major with Lx/EL in its name
italics = options to choose from within particular degrees
= required in EL & Lx double major (plus take italicised options)
> = required in the single honours degree (1/4 of student time in other subjects)
- = not required for anyone, option for some
2x = double credit weighting
Double majors (not EL & Lx) take bold items, + various combos of non-bold /italicised (dep. on co-major)
Full credit load = four standard courses per term.

1st year foci:

  • key skills for uni and beyond (professionalisation)
  • key skills for Lx/EL: OED, IPA, research resources, etc.
  • much portfolio-based assessment, varied means of assessment
  • original research tasks
  • retention, retention, retention
    • varied and approachable curriculum (not too scary science-y!) . Hence approaches' courses are multi-subdisciplinary.
    • community building: group work, peer assessment, group personal tutoring, etc.

English Language curriculum

  • more socio-historical orientation, in tune w/ EL A Level subject matter

Linguistics curriculum

  • historically more psycho-/cognitive, though those course options now on both degrees . [Still, more mentalistic focus in core courses.]
  • more oriented to lg structure

Entry requirements:

  • no specific A levels required; therefore, some review' for EL A level students

A linguistics A' level?

John Hopkins (A' level Examiner)

It seems the time is ripe for a Linguistics A-level. To some extent, the English Language A-level has opened the way. In addition, modern language teachers crave for students who have been trained in language analysis.

It is strange that the abundance of linguistics courses in higher education has not been matched by an A-level linguistics course yet. Linguistics is a rigorous science yet with immediate access through introspection and will definitely be a popular option.

Linguistics is exciting, large in scope, and intellectually stimulating. The A-level linguistics course should motivate candidates by offering a top-down, broad brush approach to major theories such as Principles and Parameters.

However, most candidates will have little understanding of grammar, sound systems, semantics etc. We can motivate them with exciting theories that cross language boundaries and point to the way the brain operates, and on the back of this excitement we can teach them some basic linguistic operations such as testing for classes, dependencies and semantic relations.

We probably need several modules, in the same manner as English Language, such as child language acquisition (cross-language, using data for evidence of Principles and Parameters), language change (focussing on process), computational linguistics and writing systems, with an obligatory synoptic paper, contents to be discussed.

A major aim is to break the back of the fear of foreign languages. The coursework and final exams as far as possible should be data-based with a requirement to work out the underlying rules, ranging from redundancies in phonological matrices to identifying morphemes in non-indo-european language samples.

English Language A-level is focussed on Hallidayan, functional, text-based, social approaches to language. The proposed exam will offer a range of theories including formal, sentence-based, generative approaches.

Additional links:

QAA Linguistics Benchmarking Statement

HESA statistics Linguistics 2002/3

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)


Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)

Subject Centre Good Practice Guide articles:

English language and linguistics: undergraduate study
Author: Ronald Carter

Linguistics in first year single honours courses
Author: Kersti Borjars

Linguistics within a humanities modular programme
Author: Marjolein Groefsema

Principles of programme design: joint honours - linguistics + a modern foreign language
Author: Paul Rowlett

Single honours linguistics courses with a formal orientation
Author: Neil Smith