LING102 becomes available in distance mode for STAR school students

LING102: From babies to adults: how our experience shapes our language

In 2013, LING102 will get a lick of paint and a new name. It will be called: From babies to adults: how our experience shapes our language – see the end of this post for a new course description. That’s not all. As part of a new College of Arts initiative, school students in Y12 and Y13 will be able to take LING102 in distance learning mode via the STAR Programme. School students will get the same lectures, handouts, readings and tasks as campus students, but since this version of the course is taught entirely online, students do not need to interrupt their school timetable to come to the UC campus. We are really looking forward to showing new students what linguistics is all about!

Why might school students consider taking LING102?

Many reasons! First, you would get the opportunity to take a university course while still at school, and so get experience of e.g. taking notes and reading critically. These sorts of skills are important whether or not you come to Canterbury later for further degree study. If you do come to UC you will already have experience of our library system and Learn, our online learning environment, which will help you settle in. As well as that, LING102 would count directly to your degree programme, so you would already have course credits even before you got here. LING102 is among the courses required to major in Linguistics at UC, so if you decided to study linguistics as your major subject, you would have already met that requirement before your full degree begins.

Another benefit is that although linguistics isn’t really taught in schools, the topics we cover in LING102 are relevant for lots of other subject areas. Connecting to English, for example, students on LING102 interrogate texts from a linguistic perspective and learn to use linguistic concepts to understand how writers achieve particular meanings. How do writers encourage us to read between the lines? How are certain things implied but never explicitly stated? A big part of one block of the course is to show students how to interpret the underlying intentions of a writer (e.g. in newspapers) and to see how particular styles can position a reader to view a group of people favourably (or otherwise). In another block, we look at how our accents signal parts of our social identities – what makes a New Zealand accent? Why do you change your accent in different contexts? Do men speak differently from women? Answers to questions like these, connecting work in linguistics with work in social sciences and beyond, show us that our language behaviour is closely linked to our individual and community experiences. We’ll investigate why this is so.

And, of course, as well as the connections to other disciplines, we think linguistics is fascinating in its own right! One new addition to LING102 in 2013 will be a block about forensic linguistics. We’ll look at how linguistic analysis can be used to decide whether a given portion of language (e.g. a piece of writing or a spoken utterance) was produced by a particular person. Is our voice like our fingerprint? Can we be reliably identified by it? What about our writing? Do we each have our own identifiable style? We’ll examine real criminal cases where work from linguistics has been used as evidence in court.

The full course description for LING102 in 2013 can be found below. As well as the new distance version, available only via the STAR programme, the course is also open to anyone on campus who is following their full degree (even if not majoring in Linguistics).

If you want to find out more about LING102, the course convenor, Dr Kevin Watson:

For more information about the STAR programme in general, see here:

For more information about the Arts STAR distance programme, email Douglas Campbell,

Course outline

What is LING102 about?

When we hear somebody talk, even for the very first time, we make a split second judgement about them. That’s because a speaker’s language tells us something about them. We not only receive a linguistic message – the content of what is being said – but we also receive social information. Is the speaker male or female? How old are they? Are they working class or middle class? Are they from New Zealand or from somewhere else in the world? In this course, we explore how our language is able to convey social cues such as these. We will see that these social cues are created by our experiences – of language and of life. We will also see that our language is shaped by our experiences from the very beginning to the very end of our lives.

Our overarching questions are: How does our language influence who we are and who we are seen to be? How do our life experiences shape our language? And how does our language shape our experiences?

To answer these questions, the course is organised around five themes, taking us from the ‘beginnings’ to the ‘ends’ of language. The themes are:

1.    The ‘beginnings’ of language: how does language start?

We begin by exploring the origin of language in the human species. When we evolved into modern humans, when did language start? And, why did it start? We will see that there is a close relationship between the beginning of language and our experiences in the early communities that we started to form. We then explore how we learn our first language as a child. How do we make sense of our experiences and learn to put them into words? How do we put words together to form sentences? Why do we have an accent? How does it get there?

2.    What does our language say about us and our past experiences?

In this block we look at accents and dialects of English across the world, including those of New Zealand, Britain and the United States. We will see that speakers talk differently according to their sex, their age, their social class and their ethnicity. But, we will see that most of the reasons for this are social, not biological. Our personal experiences of the world – both today and in the past – make us talk in certain ways. The question is, how?

3.    Language can affect how we experience the world

Here we investigate how language can affect what we think. We will see that everyone has opinions about language, such as that certain words or phrases are ‘correct’ but others are ‘incorrect’. We’ll explore where these views come from. Do young people really talk ungrammatically? Is America really ruining English? We’ll see that views like these are strongly and widely held, but that they are based on myths which are easily disproved once you are able to think objectively about how language works. We will also see how writers are able to get messages across ‘between the lines’. How do newspapers, for example, construct particular messages without ever saying them explicitly? We’ll see that these ‘hidden’ messages present particular viewpoints, and so present particular experiences of the world in certain ways, and we’ll identify how to spot the language techniques that are being used to achieve this.

4.    Do individual experiences result in individual language behaviours?

If our experiences shape our language, and if our individual experiences are slightly different from everyone else’s, then should we expect our language behaviour – on some level – to be different from everyone else’s too? Of course, we have to be able to communicate with other people, and that constrains how different our language can be, but, in this block, we ask: can you identify individual speakers from the way they talk? I will introduce the field of forensic linguistics, where language data is used as evidence in legal settings. What evidence can we use to decide if one writer is guilty of plagiarism? Are there individual styles of writing? Can we reliably identify people from their voice? Is there a voice equivalent of the finger print?

5.    The ‘ends’ of language: how does language ‘die’?

We end the course by examining the ‘ends’ of language. To do this, we focus on language ‘death’. We see that geographical, historical and other social factors largely determine the success – or otherwise – of a given language. What happens when a language dies? Can language death be stopped? What steps can be taken to encourage language revival? And do the steps ever work?

About uclinguistics

Welcome to the blog of the Linguistics programme at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
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