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7th March 2013: Introduction to Linguistics & Phonetics by Dr Tim Willis

Linguistics

On 7th March 2013 Ali Gower and Tim Willis will be doing a talk from 7pm in the Counting House in Edinburgh

Name of speaker and subject:

Dr Tim Willis, Flexpansion Ltd.

BA (Linguistics & Phonetics, Leeds), MSc (Cognitive Science & Natural Language, Edinburgh), PhD (Informatics, Edin.)

 

Suggested Titles of talks:

Introduction to Linguistics & Phonetics (First of two lectures)

Bullet points of what you would like to cover:

What do all languages have in common? How do they differ? How can we can analyse them? And why?! This will be a whistle-stop tour of the ways in which writing and speech can be looked at, and my next talk (maybe 2!) will go into more details of whichever areas people find most interesting.

Subjects include: meaning (semantics / pragmatics); how words are made up (morphology, e.g. ‘anti-dis-establish-ment-ar-ian-ism’); how words group together and can be moved around (syntax / grammar); Figurative vs literal; speech sounds (phonetics / phonology); computer processing of language; level of formality (“Hey buddy, whassup?” vs. “I wish you good morning”); change over time (“Good morrow”); idioms (“hit the sack”) and many others.

Practical uses include word prediction, language learning, machine translation, speech recognition / generation, spelling correction and search engines.

“Good evening” – this will be based on the introductory tutorial Edinburgh University offers in Linguistics & Phonetics, which I’ve taught several times. It introduces a number of ways of looking at language, as follows.

The subject is descriptive not prescriptive, there’s 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 evening’ or ‘good the’ (though you can often think of a convoluted sentence where it’ll 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 evening’ (perhaps in some places) but might we at a stretch say ‘delicious evening’ – 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 evening’? 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.
  • What are the practical applications of Linguistics & Phonetics?

 

I will be doing a second talk a month or two later on whichever aspects people find most interesting – please let me know during or after the talk.

 

Suggested you-tube links, websites and / or texts where further information may be found:

These are the recommended books for the start of the undergraduate programme at Edinburgh University (comments are theirs):

David Crystal 2003, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. 2nd Edition, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press)

General overview, highly recommended: this is also one of the Linguistics 1 course texts – David Crystal 2003, Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press);

Also recommended general overviews – R.L. Trask & Bill Mayblin 2000. Introducing Linguistics. Thriplow, Royston: Icon Books; George Yule 2006, The Study of Language. 3rd edition. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press);

A more demanding, but excellent and entertaining discussion – Steven Pinker 1995, The Language Instinct (London: Penguin Books).

 

A few words about you and your passion:

I’m fascinated with language, and have thrown a lot of time, money, effort and risk into the my business, which is based on my PhD research. Please try out our advanced word prediction app, Flexpansion, which will help you type much faster on Android devices and is FREE!  Other fun stuff I like doing – kayaking, climbing, snowsports (but I hardly ever have time nowadays 🙁 and spending time with my family.

 

A few lines about the history of your subject:

Linguistics & Phonetics has been studied for millennia – according to Wikipedia (!) modern studies began to develop in the 18th Century and reached something of a golden age the century after.

 

Anything else you may want to say:

I will give an overview of the subjects and will be happy to point people at further sources and answer questions, as much as I can.

What do all languages have in common? How do they differ? How can we can analyse them? And why?! This will be a whistle-stop tour of the ways in which writing and speech can be looked at, and my next talk (maybe 2!) will go into more details of whichever areas people find most interesting.

Subjects include: meaning (semantics / pragmatics); how words are made up (morphology, e.g. ‘anti-dis-establish-ment-ar-

ian-ism’); how words group together and can be moved around (syntax / grammar); Figurative vs literal; speech sounds (phonetics / phonology); computer processing of language; level of formality (“Hey buddy, whassup?” vs. “I wish you good morning”); change over time (“Good morrow”); idioms (“hit the sack”) and many others.Practical uses include word prediction, language learning, machine translation, speech recognition / generation, spelling correction and search engines.

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