Linguistic approach to
language study
Why study linguistics?
Study human languages from a
scientific perspective
 Understand structures and processes
underlying student errors
 Increase learners’ interest in language
 Help learners develop a new approach
to understanding native and foreign
Fundamental linguistic concepts
Every language is amazingly complex
 All languages are highly systematic
 Systematicity is not transparent to
native speakers
 Speech is primary; writing secondary
 Children are not explicitly taught
language, but they acquire it fluently by
the age of 5
Three aspects of language
Learning language
– Teaching any subject involves teaching the
Learning through language
– L is the medium of instruction
Learning about language
– Academic (explicit)
• Grammar, vocabulary, spelling, phonics, etc.
– Social/political (implicit)
• Value
All 3 aspects affect L acquisition
Descriptive vs. theoretical
Theoretical: study of linguistic universals.
What is human language and how do we
manage to acquire it?
 Descriptive: scientific study of a particular L
(or comparison Ls)
– Phonetics/phonology
• Units of sounds and how they’re organized
– Morphology
• Units of meaning and how they’re organized
– Syntax
• Units of speech and how they’re organized
Linguistic conundrum
Complexity of language
 Ease of acquisition on L1
 Relative difficulty of acquisition of L2
 Difficulty of understanding what we already
intrinsically know about language from a
scientific/linguistic perspective!
– Computer analogy
– LAD (language acquisition device)
Complexity of language
Same message – different forms
– Hey Joey, what’s up?
– Hello Joey, good to see you.
Same forms – different message
– Is Rosa there? (yes/no)
Lexical ambiguity
– Why is the baby ant confused?
• All his uncles are aunts!
– “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks”
– “Prostitutes Appeal To Pope”
Complexity of language
Structural ambiguity
– I saw her[DO] duck[v]; I saw her[DET] duck[N]
– Sears is having a [big stereo sale]
• [[big] [stereo sale]]
• [[big stereo] [sale]]
“Meaningless” messages
– Contradiction
• “I’m my own grandpa”
• Colorless[A] green[A] ideas[N] sleep[V] furiously[ADV]
– Anomaly
• Harry’s cat called me on the phone.
Prescriptive vs. descriptive
approach to language
– Rules – “correct”
– Rules – describe
• SAE (irregular)
• Correct reflexive
– Himself; themselves
– Himself;
• Incorrect reflexive
– Hisself; theirselves
– Teach, practice, drill
– Ideal L use
– Traditional L
– Hisself; theirselves
Real L use
Linguistic approach
New L pedagogy?
• You decide.

Linguistic approach to language study