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MA Linguistics

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Introduction to Grammatical Theory

Unit code LELA70041
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The aim of this course unit is to lay the foundations of grammatical theory for members of MA/Diploma programmes who have little or no previous experience of linguistics, or whose skills are outdated. Drawing on constructions from English and other languages, the module seeks to cover the basic concepts that underlie the modern study of grammar. The perspective adopted is issue-based and largely theoretically neutral. It thus makes a natural companion to course units in linguistic typology. It also sets the scene for further study into specific approaches to formal syntax.


The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:

  • to lay the foundations of grammatical theory for members of MA/Diploma programmes who have little or no previous experience of linguistics, or who want to update their skills;
  • drawing on constructions from English and from a variety of other languages, to cover the basic concepts that gave rise to the modern study of grammar;
  • to provide some insight into the issues which motivate specific approaches to grammatical theory, and thus to set the scene for further study into these approaches (e.g., LFG, Minimalist Syntax).

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • appreciate the range of grammatical constructions in English on which the standard constructs of grammatical theory are based;
  • demonstrate an understanding of how these constructions compare with those found in other languages;
  • show some awareness of the (mainly empirical) issues motivating different approaches to the theory of grammar.


  • Foundational issues: morphology and syntax
  • Grammatical categories: parts of speech
  • Phrase structure: arboreal representations and constituency (i.e., “groupings”) diagnostics
  • Heads and clause structure
  • Predicates and arguments: argument structure, semantic roles and grammatical relations
  • Subordination: embedded clauses, complementizers/subordinators, finiteness and non-finiteness, control and raising and expletivity
  • Gaps and dependencies: anaphora, binding and ellipsis, long-distance (i.e., filler-gap) dependencies, wh-questions and constraints on long-distance dependencies

Teaching and learning methods

Using a variety of methods which include the visualizer, the traditional blackboard and the screen and on the basis of the relevant readings (to be done in advance of the meetings), this course adopts a practical approach, based on the premise that linguistic/grammatical analysis can only be learnt by practising. Since syntax and morphology are inherently hands-on disciplines, the overall goal is to get the students to do syntax and morphology for themselves with the aim of learning how to “think linguistically” (rather than merely watching other people doing linguistics).

Micro-teaching presentations will also be formative in nature (see below)

  • Weekly 2-hour lecture
  • Weekly 1-hour tutorial

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand and apply the core concepts of grammatical analysis;
  • operate with formal representations for syntactic, relational and semantic levels of description;
  • show some familiarity with the issues motivating different approaches to grammatical theory.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand independently new research, through reading book chapters and/or journal articles on the analysis of specific grammatical constructions;
  • critically evaluate the argumentation underlying specific analyses and major proposals in grammatical theory;
  • interpret data and assess it for completeness, coherency, and basic quality standards of linguistic research;
  • evaluate and contribute to the debate on a range of issues in Linguistics that have clear relevance for society and our understanding of human communication and cognition, in particular the structure and description of human language and of particular languages.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • recognize and explain a large number of the syntactic and semantic structures of the world's languages;
  • apply current methods of data analysis to constructions in English and other languages, using theoretically-based representations.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course, PGT students will be able to:

  • by systematically working through set readings, acquire personal time and goal management skills;
  • apply critical skills in a range of situations;
  • enhance their problem-posing and problem-solving skills;
  • develop abstraction skills;
  • enhance their analytical skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written exam 75%

Micro-teaching presentations will be done in small groups during the tutorials. Every week, one group will give a 40-/50-minute presentation. Presentations will begin in the second part of the semester (contingent on enrolment numbers). The main objective of the presentations is for the relevant group to design exercises that will then be solved by their peers; the students are strongly discouraged from lecturing or presenting materials in a lecture-like fashion as part of this assignment. The exercises, which will deal with any of the contents covered up to that point, can be of the students’ own design, and creativity is strongly encouraged. The exercises can be similar (but not identical) to those done throughout the course. The exercise materials used for the presentations can also come from —or be (partially) based upon— existing sources such as textbooks and online materials. As is customary, all sources must be properly acknowledged. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss their proposed exercise materials with the module convenor in advance of the micro-teaching presentation. Students are advised to use (a combination of) the equipment available (projector, blackboard, visualiser, etc.) and different formats (handouts, presentations, etc.) for effective pedagogy as well as to promote participation from the rest of the class. The exercises will be a way of getting additional practice for the final exam. The feedback given for this part of the assessment is both formative and summative. The groups will be asked to submit their presentation materials as a single file on Turnitin (BB). The presentations will be assessed in terms of relevance, sequencing, time management, delivery, clarity, informativeness and quality of the materials utilised.

The two-hour final exam, to be held during the official examination period, will be based on the materials of the course and will be mainly practical in nature.

Feedback methods

  • Comments on in-class exercises; feedback on micro-teaching presentations.
  • Generic feedback on the exam provided on BB following moderation. Individual feedback provided on request on a one-to-one basis.

Recommended reading

The following can be useful reading. Specific chapters from one or different sources to be read in advance of the meetings will be announced well in advance of each week.

Dawson, Hope C., and Michael Phelan (eds.) (2016). Language Files. 12th edition. Department of Linguistics. Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University.

Haegeman, Liliane (2006). Thinking syntactically: A guide to argumentation and analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.

Honda, Maya, and Wayne O’Neil (2008). Thinking linguistically: A scientific approach to language. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers

Kroeger, Paul R. (2004). Analyzing Syntax: A Lexical Functional Approach. Cambridge: CUP.

Kroeger, Paul R. (2005). Analyzing Grammar: An Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.

Larson, Richard (2010). Grammar as Science. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Radford, Andrew, Atkinson, Martin, Britain, David, Clahsen, Harald, and Andrew Spencer. (2009). Linguistics: An introduction. 2nd edition. Cambridge: CUP.


More detailed recommended reading is provided for each topic.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 117

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Julio Villa-Garcia Unit coordinator

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