00660 - General Linguistics (A-M)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

Students will acquire an exhaustive knowledge of theoretical and methodological foundations of language sciences.

Course contents

The course aims at giving the students the theoretical tools for developing a critical and conscious reflection about an aspect of human beings always taken for granted: our communicative skill. Specific properties of human language will be analysed, in comparison with communicative systems attested in the 'animal kingdom'. These issues will be presented according to two complementary perspectives: an 'internal' perspective (that is, human language faculty and human languages will be described in order to focus all levels of analysis) and an 'external' perspective (in this case, we will focus on the role of language faculty and human languages in the history of our species, on how humans profited from language faculty in their evolution, on the place of languages within human communities, etc.)

As far as the 'internal' perspective is concerned, the following issues will be dealt with:

- The properties of language and languages

- The linguistic sign

- Phonetics and phonology: phones / speech sounds and phonemes, the difference between vowels and consonants, the classification of speech sounds, the notion of minimal pair, phonetic transcriptions

- Morphology: the notion of morpheme, the notion of word, its problematic aspects, its cross-linguistic variability

- The key principles of writing systems

- Linguistic typology (with a special focus on morphology and syntax)

- How languages change and how linguistic change spreads

As for the 'external' perspective, we'll focus on the following thematic areas:

- The problem of the origin of language and languages (polygenesis vs. monogenesis)

- The role of language in human evolution

- The relation between language, languages and brain

- The acquisition of the native language; the passage from natural to cultural dimension)

- The anthropological, cultural and social value of writing systems

- The relationship between biological diversity and linguistic diversity


12 cfu:

- Berruto, G. / Cerruti, M. (2017), La linguistica. Un corso introduttivo , Torino, UTET (it is highly recommended to use the latest edition)

- Grandi, N. (2014), Fondamenti di tipologia linguistica, Roma, Carocci (it is highly recommended to use the latest edition)

- Banfi, E. / Grandi, N. (2021), Lingue d'Europa. Elementi di storia e di tipologia linguistica, Roma, Carocci (it is highly recommended to use the latest edition; n.b. chapters 1, 2, 3 are to be studied entirely; for chapters 4 and 5 a general knowledge about the salient features of all Indoeuropean and non-Indoeuropean languages of Europe, as well as a detailed knowledge of two languages / language groups of choice for both chapter 4 and chapter 5).

- Teaching material used in class and uploaded on the e-learning platform

Students who do not attend the lectures will read also:

Masini, F. / Grandi N. (a cura di) (2017), Tutto ciò che hai sempre voluto sapere sul linguaggio e sulle lingue, Bologna -Cesena, Caissa

(for attending students this further book is optional)

Teaching methods

During the lectures slide presentations will be used; they will be made available to students on the e-learning platform.

Assessment methods

The exam is made up of a written test (time allotted: one hour) followed by an oral colloquium. Students are admitted to the oral colloquium only if the score of the written exam is at least 15/30. For students admitted to the oral colloquium, both the written test and the oral colloquium are obligatory and the students will have to be successful in both of them.

The written exam

The written test is made up of 12 questions and assigns 30 points in total. The first 10 questions are multiple choice and single choice questions, or they require short definitions and examples. The last two questions foresee a longer, argumentative answer; they concern the books ‘Lingue d'Europa' and ‘Fondamenti di tipologia linguistica' (one question for each book).

The answers require a combination of synthesis and clarity in exposition.

The score of the written test is determined following the criteria below:

(i) multiple choice questions assign up to 2 points

(ii) question 2 (IPA phonetic transcription of two words) and question 4 (morphological analysis of two words) assign up to 4 point each, since they in fact presuppose two answers. Each answer will be evaluated according to the criteria in (i). For instance, in the case of question 2, each transcription controbutes 0 to 2 points.

(iii) each of the last two questions assigns instead 0 to 3 points each, depending on:

a) relevance of the answer with respect to the question

b) synthesis ability

c) use of language expressions appropriate to the topic.

The oral exam

The oral exam (which, except in special cases, is made up of approximately three questions) assigns a score ranging from 0 to 3 points. Students who achieve less than 15 points in the written exam are not admitted to the oral exam. Students who achieve from 15 points to less than 18 points are admitted to the oral exam under reserve. The final score is the addition of the scores of the two tests.

During the oral exam, students are always invited to start with a subject freely chosen by them.

How to sign up for the exam and advice on how to be successful

It is obligatory to sign up for the written exam through Almaesami. Students who pass the written test do not need to sign up for the oral colloquium through Almaesami.

Candidates who are admitted to the oral exam will be examined following the order of the sign-up list of the written exam. Students needing to anticipate or postpone the oral colloquium (e.g. due to work-related reasons) are required to signal their needs to the teacher during the written test.

The results of the written test are made public (on the internet) according to the modalities that will be indicated on the day of the written exam. The schedule for the oral colloquium is published together with the results of the written test. Hence, the start date of the oral colloquia depends on the number of students who each time sign up for the written test.

It is not possible to take the oral exam at a session different from the one in which the written test is taken.

Some advice to reach the top grade (30 e lode): do not study by heart, do not passively repeat the same examples used in class, show that you can construct in a critical and independent way the course's topics, show that you can find your own personal and self-organized path among the course's topics, also with interdisciplinary connections.

During the first and the last lecture complete information about the assessment methods and the organization of the exam will be given. During the course a mock test will also be proposed: the precise dates for the mock test and for its correction and discussion will be communicated at the beginning of classes. This information will always be available on the e-learning platform.

This assessment method may be modified if the health situation requires it.

Teaching tools

During the lectures I will make use of slide presentations that will be made available to the students on the e-learning platform.

Office hours

See the website of Emanuele Miola