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Part I

Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


LI1: Sounds and Words

This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25.

The paper gives an introduction to phonetics, phonology, and morphology.

The term 'speech sound' is ambiguous. One aspect of 'sounds' is how they are produced and conveyed. Phonetics focuses on the ebb and flow of speech organs, the acoustic nature of the speech signal, and how sounds can be described and classified in relation to these physical properties of sounds.

Alternatively we can talk about sounds as abstract units in the language, and say that the word kit is made up of three sound elements or phonemes (in this case, just as the spelling would imply). The study of the sound inventory of languages, how sounds can combine (sty is an English word, but tsy could not be), and the changes they can undergo in different contexts, are in the domain of phonology.

Often we can analyse words as being made up of smaller meaningful elements, such as meaning- and -ful, and endings such as the one which signals the third person singular in a word like walk-s. Morphology is the study of these elements and their combination.

As well as describing different languages, all three of these subdisciplines are also concerned with the general principles behind human language, and with understanding why, despite the huge variety of sound and morphological systems which do occur in the languages of the world, many more conceivable types of system do not – a fact which points to reality of ‘universals’ of language.

The course aims to provide:

  • A working knowledge of the following core areas of description in linguistics: phonetics, phonology, and morphology
  • Familiarity with the range of variation found between languages in these areas
  • An awareness of the overlap between these areas, and the difficulties of separating them in actual analysis

An appreciation of how variation between languages in their morphology, phonology, and phonetics is not limitless, but governed by general principles



The structure of the course is broadly as follows, though the divisions between areas are permeable, so there will be areas of crossover in content:

Lectures 1–6: Phonetics

Lectures 7–11: Phonology

Lectures 12–16: Morphology

Preparatory reading: 

Crystal, D. (1997) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Chapters 27-29, 40). Cambridge University Press.

Pinker, S. (1995) The language instinct (Chapters 5 & 6). Penguin.

Ashby, M. & Maidment, J. (2005) Introducing Phonetic Science. Cambridge University Press.

Davenport, M. & Hannahs, S.J. (2005) Introducing Phonetics and Phonology. Hodder Education.

International Phonetic Association (1999) Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press.

Teaching and learning: 

The paper is taught by 16 weekly one-hour lectures, plus a ‘revision lecture’, and 13 supervisions spread through the year.

The paper's Moodle site can be found here.


Assessment will be by a combination of take home coursework and in person written exam.

(i) In person 2 hour written exam to answer 2 data questions.

(ii) Take home coursework assessment: one essay up to 1500 words to be submitted online during the exam period

Each answer contributes a third of the total mark.

Please note that under the Covid-19-induced lockdown in 2019-20, the usual exam schedule had to be abandoned. Instead of the 3-hour written exam, a take-home exam was devised.

Course Contacts: 
Prof Brechtje Post