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The concourse

About language (and English in particular)


This is an index of guides and other pages on this site concerned with language and English in particular.
None of these pages provides essential background reading for teachers of the language although it is obvious that the more you know about language in general and English in particular, the better able you are to teach in an interesting and well informed manner.  Knowing your subject well also allows you to analyse the targets of your teaching and set them in a context.
There are some other good reasons why people who aspire to teach any language need to know something about the background of their subject:

  1. It is difficult to analyse and teach vocabulary unless you know a little about semantics.
  2. It is hard to teach communication if you know nothing much about pragmatics.
  3. Unless you know something of the history and development of English, it is difficult to field questions about it in a knowledgeable and convincing manner.
  4. Without a good understanding of what language actually is and how it is defined, it is easy to fall into the trap of teaching something that is unnecessary or peripheral at best.
  5. Methodological approaches, whether suggested, demanded, prescribed or proscribed are based on an understanding not only of what English is like but on what language is like.  Knowing a bit about language in general means that you can assess and evaluate methodological approaches with sufficient rigour.


The index

Choices, choices  

Chomsky Chomsky is a very influential writer on language, more interested in how it is used than how it is learned and taught but his views on, in particular, Transformational Generative Grammar, the Language Acquisition Device and Universal Grammar are important and considered in this guide.
Cognates This guide considers both lexical and structural cognate forms across languages, considering false and true friends and how they differ from what are often mistakenly called false cognates.
How to speak to an alien This is an article concerned with what has come to be known as xenolinguistics which concerns itself with imagining how an alien life form may use language (if they bother at all) and what such a language may be like.  It is a PDF document which opens in a new tab.
Language acquisition This guide follows on from that about language evolution (below) by considering some of the most persuasive and well-known theories about how people acquire their first, second and subsequent languages.
Language and gender This guide looks at how various languages handle the concept of gender structurally and in the lexicon and also considers efforts to alter the nature of English by excluding gendered terms from its lexicon and how other languages are also influenced by such considerations.
Language evolution This guide starts by considering how human language differs from other forms of communication (such as that between animals) and then goes on to review some important theories about how it evolved and developed.
Language, thought and culture This guide considers some of the main theories of the ways in which language and thought are connected (if they are).  If language is what people use in order to be able to think about things, this has obvious implications for language learning and teaching.
Language variety This guide focuses on varieties of English, considering why they differ, how they have developed and where and by whom they are spoken as well as taking time to discuss English as a lingua franca and English as an International Language.
Pragmatics This is a guide to theories concerning how language is used for communication covering signification and value, utterance meaning, entailment, implicature and presupposition.  It also considers the Gricean maxims.  It inevitably covers similar ground, too, to that covered in the guide to semantics.
The roots of English This guide describes the history and development of English from its earliest roots in Anglo-Saxon languages, through Old to Middle and Modern English.  It contains some time lines and consideration of the influences that have made English what it is today.
Semantics This is a guide to the meaning of meaning.  It covers the definition of the term word and delves into the meaning of a word as well as issues such as illocutionary force, semantic components and semantic space, schemata and (non)compositionality.  It inevitably covers similar ground, too, to that covered in the guide to pragmatics.
Sociolinguistics: language and society This guide considers some of the main concerns of sociolinguistic studies concerning the influences on language varieties of nationality, region, ethnicity, social class, sex, register and interaction settings.  It also tries to define some quite slippery concepts and set out some implications for teachers.
Types of languages This guide starts with a consideration of how languages are distributed across the nations of the world and how they are classified.  It then reviews the variety of human language and describes some of the salient differences between languages.

If you would like a glossary of the terminology used in the analysis of language, there is one here.