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Introduction to Linguistics, Phonetics and Computational Linguistics by Tim Willis

Good morning this is a talk based on the introductory tutorial Edinburgh University offers in Linguistics & Phonetics, which I’ve taught several times. There’s so much in here it could be stretched ad infinitum, but these are some of the topics which I touch on in my work:

The subject is descriptive not prescriptive, no right language or better one (though some are easier to learn in some ways but usually balanced out by being harder in others).

Grammar: how words go together in sequence which words go together in what order, how they cluster in bigger units and so on upwards. Which ones don’t work and why. E.g. we can’t swap in well morning or good the (though you can often think of a convoluted sentence where it fit 🙂

Semantics: what’s ‘good’ exactly/ morally / functionally / emotionally someone might be ‘good’ at doing a bad thing, which sounds contradictory because of multiple senses of the word.

Hierarchies: e.g. things, animals, mammals, sea-dwelling, whales, blue whales.

Synonymy: nice, pleasant, likeable

Antonymy: – opposite of bad, poor, useless, unpleasant, rainy; But they can’t all be used interchangeably in all contexts; also there can be gradients. We probably wouldn’t say tasty morning but might we at a stretch say delicious morning why?

Figurative vs Literal: form vs function; different ways of asking someone to do something – I’d like the toast, Give me the toast. I’m hungry over here so give me the toast :-]

Morphology: un-complicate-d-ly; how chunks of meaning stick together in set ways.

Phonetics: Speech sounds of English & other human languages, how they’re made and described, how they group together by similarity in how they’re made or sound (stops, voiceless, vowels, nasals, etc.); Comparison with other languages.

How many sounds in ‘Good morning’? Can we break them down and match them up?

How well does the phonetics of English match up to its spelling (Short answer: v. badly! Silent letters, double ones, multiple spellings and pronunciations e.g. mete/meat/meet, compare ough in through, thought, trough, Loughborough etc.)

Phonology we have words starting scl- and scr- but none starting ksl- or lks-, nor ending plfs. About the most complicated set of consonants at the end of a word is in twelfths which is 5 consonant letters but only 4 sounds. Also syllable structure of English.

Other aspects psychology, neurology, philosophy (loaded questions, rephrasing, Orwellian question of can we conceive of something we can’t name? etc.), how language changes both naturally and by imposition in written & spoken form, and meaning), language learning, sociolinguistics, animal communication, etymology, different writing systems compare Chinese characters with letter-based English, taboos, Human-computer-interaction, indexing, search engines, knowledge representation and inference, translation etc. etc.

 

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Tim Willis has developed the Flexpansion technology with his understanding of linguistics, computing and business

www.flexpansion.com

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