SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Sounds, grammar and meaning in language

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2


This module is intended to provide a basic introduction to linguistic analysis, giving students the tools to enable them to think analytically and formally about the structure, meaning and sound patterns involved in language. The focus is on the way in which data leads to questions, which lead to answers, which lead to further questions, and so on. We examine a wide range of core topics from different grammatical systems of the world's languages, focusing on African, Asian and Middle Eastern language datasets.

There are three main components to the content covered in the module – the three major areas of theoretical investigation in linguistics – the study of sounds, the study of sentence structure, and the study of meaning. Thus we investigate how and where sounds are produced in the vocal tract, how the phonologies of the world’s languages vary, and how we can transcribe and analyse these different systems. We look at how sentences of natural language can be broken down into constituents of different kinds, and how the hierarchical and other relationships between these constituents can be analysed and modelled. And we cover the major ways in which phonological and syntactic structures map onto different interpretations, exploring different ways of modelling the meanings of both words and whole sentences, and the role of context and inference in how human beings process meaning.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Learning Outcomes

Students completing this module will:

  1. Understand the different tools and methods used in linguistic analysis
  2. Show familiarity with a variety of datasets from a range of typologically different languages
  3. Show familiarity with the most frequent phonological and grammatical phenomena in the world’s languages
  4. Give an accurate broad phonological transcription of sentences from familiar languages
  5. Provide basic analyses of phonological processes from a range of familiar and unfamiliar languages
  6. Provide basic analyses of grammatical structures from a range of familiar and unfamiliar languages
  7. Provide translations into formal logic of simple syntactic structures
  8. Have a basic understanding of the role of context and inference in the interpretation of words and sentences


Three hours' contact time, each week

Scope and syllabus

  • the speech organs, classification of sounds, the IPA and broad vs. narrow transcription
  • phonetics compared to phonology
  • phonological processes and rule ordering
  • constituent structure, different types of clauses, tree diagrams
  • case and agreement systems
  • subordinate clauses, relative clauses and long-distance dependencies
  • word meaning and the structure of the lexicon
  • logical representations of linguistic meaning
  • non-literal meaning, context, inference

Method of assessment

  • written exam (3 hours), worth 70% of the total mark for the module
  • data analysis 1 (750 words), worth 10% of the total mark for the module
  • data analysis 2 (750 words), worth 10% of the total mark for the module
  • data analysis 3 (750 words), worth 10% of the total mark for the module


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules