BA English Language and Japanese

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
English Phonology Past and Present

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA30441
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit deals with the prosodic structure of English words: i.e. how the vowels and consonants that make up English words are organized into higher phonological constituents, particularly syllables and rhythmic units called ‘feet’. We will be addressing this topic from both a synchronic and a diachronic perspective, looking first at the situation in present-day English, and then exploring its historical background. In addition, the course unit has another equally important aim: to help you to understand how linguistic theories work, and how linguists go about building and testing those theories. 


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Phonology LELA20011 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:

  • to provide students with an advanced critical understanding of the main theories of syllabification in present-day English;
  • to introduce students to the generative analysis of present-day English stress;
  • to explore the way in which synchronic and diachronic explanation interact in phonology;
  • to survey a wide range of empirical evidence (segmental processes, psycholinguistic experiments, versification patterns, etc) bearing on the prosodic structure of English words;
  • to equip students with advanced skills in theory evaluation and testing (distinguishing between empirical and conceptual arguments, detecting ad hoc hypotheses, appraising empirical content, etc).

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • understand the precise conditions for the application of a range of phonological processes in present-day English;
  • understand and critically assess the main theories of syllabification in present-day English words;
  • explain the location of primary and secondary stress in present-day English words;
  • understand the evolution  of syllabification and stress assignment in the history of English

Intellectual skills

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

  • distinguish between conceptual and empirical arguments in linguistics;
  • assess the strengths of linguistic theories according to criteria such as restrictiveness, simplicity, and learnability;
  • detect ad hoc assumptions in linguistic arguments.

Practical skills

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

  • apply theories of syllable and foot structure to the analysis of phonological processes;
  • use various types of empirical evidence to assess  theories of prosodic structure;
  • incorporate synchronic and diachronic insights into phonological explanations.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

  • assess theoretical models on conceptual and empirical grounds;
  • understand the sources of rational disagreement in debates involving competing (scientific) models;
  • appreciate the interaction between creativity, logic, and evidence in the development and testing of (scientific) theories and models;
  • design a focused piece of research bearing on a larger theoretical debate;
  • produce a succint, coherent, and persuasive synthesis of a complex technical argument;
  • write an essay in the appropriate style and format.

Employability skills

The course enhances skills in the analysis of complex patterns, in the evaluation of explanatory models, and in formal argumentation and writing. It also boosts the student's independence, perseverance, and confidence to trust his or her own intelligence.

Assessment methods

Essay 100%


Feedback methods

  • Comments made during class discussion regarding the relevance and coherence of student responses or participation in discussion. (In other words, you should be able to judge from the discussion which ideas are better or worse.) 
  • Global feedback (delivered orally in class) on a non-assessed mid-term practical assignment. 
  • Written comments on the assessed essay, plus face-to-face discussion if desired (on the understanding that this deanonymizes the marking).

Recommended reading

There is no textbook for this course. Useful reference works for several of its units include:

Giegerich, Heinz J. (1992). English phonology: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jensen, John T. (1993). English phonology. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ricardo Bermudez-Otero Unit coordinator

Return to course details