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Linguistics is the scientific study of language.  

Aspects of language studied include:  

  • How speech sounds are produced and combined 
  • Formation of words 
  • The formation of complex structures like sentences 
  • How babies learn to master complex structures and what this tells us about the human brain 
  • The characterisation of language pathologies 
  • The use and representation of language in society 
  • The creation of the meaning of words  

Team at Wits Linguistics

Undergraduate courses

First Year

Introduction to the Structure of Language - LING1001 (1A) / LING1004 (Wits Plus)

In this course, we provide a survey of language structure based on data from many different languages. Students are introduced to the fundamental levels of linguistic structure sounds, words, phrases and meaning and simple modelling of each of these levels. Special attention is paid to data from the languages of South Africa, both Indo-European and African

Language, Mind and Society - LING1003 (2A) / LING1005 (Wits Plus)

In this course, we examine a variety of language-related issues to do with human behaviour both from a psychological and social perspective. The course will focus on language and cognition and on issues such as the evolution of the brain to become uniquely adapted to language, how language shapes our thoughts, and how our thoughts shape our language. Here we will investigate topics such as bilingualism, language acquisition and developmental and acquired language problems. The other focus of the course is on the so-called "social life of language". Here we will consider how language varies depending on a series of social factors such as geographical locale, social class, ethnicity, gender and so forth. We will also consider whether language(s) can be planned and if so, how.

Second Year

Applied Linguistics – LING2007 (1B) / LING2009 (Wits Plus)

This course provides a higher level of understanding to the fields of psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics. Psycholinguistics is the discipline that explores the psychological processes underlying the acquisition, production, and comprehension of language; whereas Sociolinguistics is the discipline that investigates the role language plays in society and what users of language do with it.

Topics Covered

  • Language acquisition
  • Language comprehension
  • Language and thought
  • How we use language in conversation
  • Language variation
  • Multilingualism
  • The expression of identity through language
  • Decolonising language
  • The relationship between meaning and space


Linguistic Structures – LING2006 (2B) / LING2008 (Wits Plus)

This course introduces students to phonetics and phonology, and morphology and syntax, looking at English and other languages, especially the languages of South Africa. Students learn about sound systems and phonological processes. In the second block, students learn about morphological concepts, patterns and processes in different languages and about the structure of sentences and how to diagram sentences.

Third Year

Selected Topic III (Psycholinguistics) – LING3008 (1A)

The aim of this module is to explore one of the most rapidly expanding fields of sociolinguistic research, namely the study of Linguistic Landscapes. The first part of the module will focus on early research on language in public spaces. Here we will be looking at the ways in which the presence or absence of specific languages is the manifestation of specific language policy processes. In the second part of the module we will consider the so-called ‘move to discourse’ in Linguistic Landscape research, looking in particular at the meaning-making processes in through linguistic and visual means in public texts.

Morphology and Syntax - LING3003 (2A)

We focus on two closely linked Linguistics subfields: syntax and morphology. In the syntax part of the course, we look at the rules and principles that determine the architecture of phrases and sentences in human language and discuss contemporary analyses of a variety of phenomena. The morphology section addresses the major topics, such as the derivation, inflection and compounding of words, and the interaction between syntax and word-formation.

Phonology - LING3005 (2A)

This module covers core research topics from theoretical phonology. We investigate in detail the sound patterns — both segmental and suprasegmental from different theoretical paradigms, including generative and declarative models. We pursue the scientific description and modelling of universal and language-particular local and non-local phonological patterns, focusing on the parameters of what constitutes a possible human phonology.

Sociolinguistics – LING3009 (1A)

This module focuses on one of the most important sub-discipline in Sociolinguistics research and the Social Sciences more broadly: discourse studies. The course is divided into three parts: 1) First, we will go over the theoretical background on the notion of discourse and how it allows for the study of language in use; 2) second, we will look into the methodology of Critical Discourse Analysis and its focus on the investigation of power, inequality and discrimination; 3) Thirdly, we will add a multimodal aspect to discourse, focusing mainly on semiotics, visual culture and “What does language look like?”.

Although the course gives a fair amount of theoretical information, it focuses on methodological perspectives and aims to train students to analyse texts, dialogues, media and visual data.

Postgraduate Programmes