The Theoretical Linguistics topic area comprises fundamental ideas about the nature of language, and about the major subdivisions of the field: Syntax, Morphology and Lexicon, Lexical and Structural Semantics, Pragmatics, and Discourse. Phonetics and Phonology are described separately.

This topic area is foundational, in the sense that some appreciation of these ideas is a prerequisite for any work on latural language processing,. There is some overlap with topics covered under Natural Language Processing (NLP). However, here we emphasise the need for a more general perspective, and familiarity with ideas and approaches that are not mainly oriented towards computational treatments.

The following list is intended to clarify what we understand by the brief entries in the checklist for Theoretical Linguistics. For each checklist entry, printed in boldface items here, we have listed a number of concepts and theories that should be covered. Starred items are optional. In the morphology and in the syntax section, there is a bullet "introduction to at least one...theory". We have been deliberately vague here because of the great variety of theories on the scholarly market. The important point here is that students should learn to analyse linguistic data.

If you tick an entry in the checklist, this means that all mandatory issues listed under that item on this page are covered. Thus, if you offer a course that introduces the students to semantics, but which does not discuss tense and aspect, this is not a problem - you can tick the semantics entry on the checklist. But if you do not offer formal semantics, this is a problem.

1. basic notions

  • Saussurean dichotomies: langue/parole, signifiant/signifié, etc.

  • structure of language: the domains of phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics

  • generative vs. functional approaches to grammar

  • language universals (*)

  • basic philosophy of language (*)

  • basic semiotics (*)

2. morphology and the lexicon

  • basic concepts from inflectional and derivational morphology, morphophonology, and morphosemantics

  • structure of the lexicon: representation of lexical entries, redundancy, etc.

3. introduction to at least one morphological theory. Students should understand the fundamental tenets of the theory and be able to analyse the morphological structure of words in English or their mother tongue based on that theory

4. syntax

  • basic concepts such as case, number, subcategorization, government, valency, constituent structure, syntactic relations

  • Chomsky hierarchy, especially basic context-free phrase-structure grammars

  • representations: feature-based or not?

  • evaluating grammars: correctness, generalization, multiple parses

  • introduction to at least one syntactic theory. Students should understand the fundamental tenets of the theory and be able to analyse simple sentences in English or their mother tongue based on that theory.

5. semantics

  • word meaning:

    • basic terminology such as denotation, connotation, synonym etc.

    • basic lexical semantics

    • meaning above the word:

      • sense vs. reference
      • compositionality
      • deixis
      • presupposition
      • thematic roles
      • semantics of tense and aspect (*)
      • semantic focus (*)
      • basic formal semantics : introduction to logic, quantifiers

    • pragmatics:

      • speech act theory
      • conversational implicature & the Gricean maxims
    • discourse

      • basic concepts such as discourse, text, coherence vs. cohesion
      • models of discourse structure
      • information structure (e.g. topic/comment)

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