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Postgraduate Module Descriptions

Our department offers the following list of modules. Which modules are available in any given year depends on staff availability and other factors. Please confirm with the lecturer concerned or the postgraduate coordinator that a module is available before assuming that you can do it.

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Module 1: Introduction to Linguistics at Rhodes

Not offered in 2020.


Module 2: Optimality Theory

Lecturer: Will Bennett

Optimality Theory (OT, Prince & Smolensky 1993/2004) is a formal framework that understands linguistic mappings as the interaction of universal, ranked, violable constraints. The module focuses on introducing and understanding the theory at the modern level. Topics to be covered include the form of constraints, determining constraint rankings, understanding how the theory makes typological predications, and the use of software in the analysis. OT is the dominant theory in phonology, so particular emphasis will be on applying the theory to phonological patterns, but other applications (e.g. syntax) will be discussed as well.


Module 3: Introduction to Minimalist Syntax

Lecturer: Mark de Vos

If you are interested in the mechanics of how languages actually work at the level of the sentence, then this module is for you. At first glance, the languages of the world seem chaotic and random, filled with exceptions. So an important question to ask is whether there is anything in common between them all. After all, the entire human species has the same brain, so surely languages should have something in common? Minimalism offers a way of dealing with this problem, focusing on what all languages have in common and deriving the immense diversity from simple, elegant principles that all human languages share. As such, in a world where language is often used to differentiate people and to exclude outsiders, Minimalism is an exploration of what unites us. The module focuses on analytical skills, puzzle solving, theory formation, testing of hypotheses and argumentation skills.


Module 4: Debates in Language Change

Not offered in 2020. Lecturer: Mark de Vos

This module explores some of the implications of Minimalism for the study of language, mind and biolinguistics. The specific topics covered are tailored to the needs of students, but topics covered may include the following: (a) The evolution of language: when did early hominids start to speak?; what did they sound like?; what were the biological prerequisites for this communicative leap?; what aspects of language are innate, and what aspects are socially learned?; what aspects of language are shared by other species? (b) The Minimalism wars: Is Minimalism a better theory?; Why do so many people disagree with it?; Is linguistics `scientific'?; what is `science'? (c) diachronic change: Is English really just "French with a bad accent?" How similar or different is English from the languages that were important in its development, Old French and Old Norse? How do languages change and why? Are there constraints on the ways languages change or is change simply random?

Module 5: The Acquisition of Grammar 

May be offered in 2020, subject to demand. Lecturer: Ron Simango

This module explores the language acquisition process in normal children, including the development of morphology, syntax, and phonology. The module explores the universal characteristics which underlie the grammar of human language(s) as reflected in child language development. We will examine a variety of topics ranging from the Boot-Strapping Hypothesis, argument structure, through Structure-Dependency to the Poverty of the Stimulus (i.e. the Input Problem); and the debate surrounding the acquisition of grammatical categories in natural language.


Module 6: Ethnographic Investigation of Language Practices

Lecturer: Ralph Adendorff

Ethnography focuses on the daily lives of sets of people who associate regularly together (in local networks, institutions, or communities), on what their everyday experience means to them, and on what connections there are between such locally situated, daily activity and broader realms of symbolic meaning and social organization. Ethnography, as Erickson (1992) explains, “makes visible the ordinary and taken-for-granted details of what particular people do together”. This module is intended for students interested in doing research of the above kind and for those with a more general interest in the theoretical assumptions, developments within, procedures of and examples of ethnographic research into language practices. The module is theoretical and practical. From a theoretical perspective, ethnography is understood, firstly, in relation to other, contrasting research paradigms; secondly, in terms of developments within ethnography itself – ‘traditional’ ethnography; the ethnography of communication; micro-ethnography; linguistic ethnography; critical ethnography – and, thirdly, with reference to research studies of specific literacy practices. From a practical point of view, students are introduced to and get experience in methods of data collection and analysis and, among other practical tasks, they are also expected to design a proposal for an ethnographic study of their own.


Module 7: Language and Gender

Not offered in 2020. 


Module 8: Contact Linguistics: Bilingualism and Related Phenomena

May be offered in 2020, subject to demand. Lecturer: Ron Simango

This module, designed around Myers-Scotton’s (2006) Multiple Voices, provides students with an overview of bilingualism, first as a linguistic phenomenon and, second, as a socio-political phenomenon impacting on language policy, language in education, and language and identity. The module also explores cognitive aspects of bilingualism such as bilingual language processing, development of bilingualism in individuals (children and adults), bilingual speech production and code-switching. It also explores the wider linguistic issues such as borrowing, language attrition and language shift.

Module 9: The Psycholinguistics and Linguistics of Literacy

Lecturers: Mark de Vos and Tracy Probert

Reading and literacies are essential in negotiating the complexities of modern life and integrating oneself in the economy. Regrettably, the continuing crisis in South African education has impacted negatively on reading proficiency levels. In a recent study on literacy, South Africa came last out of all countries polled – and not only last but very badly last. One problem is that there are no established reading norms for languages other than English. A teacher can refer to established norms to see if a child reads the required number of words per minute in English. However, no such standard exists for the indigenous languages. Part of the issue is that the notion of what constitutes a “word” in an agglutinating language like Zulu or Xhosa does not correspond to a “word” in English. To complicate the matter still further, some languages, like Venda, use a disjunctive orthography while others, like Xhosa, use a conjunctive orthography. The purpose of this course will be to explore these issues in more detail and consider how linguists could provide solutions. Other topics will be considered as they arise and students are welcome to contribute issues for discussion.


Module 10: The Investigation of Interpersonal Meaning

Not offered in 2020.


Module 11: Research Report

Lecturer: All staff members

This module applies to all Honours students, all Master’s students and all PhD students. The main output of Module 11 is the research report or thesis which fulfils different criteria at the various levels, and at each an appropriate length, depth and scope is specified. There are more details supplied below in Section 6. Students' progress in this module is also supported through, for example, sessions in the PG O-Week on the writing of literature reviews, the design of research questions and so on, the feedback
received during the Postgrad Conference in September, and close collaboration with their supervisor(s) throughout the course of their studies.


Module 12: Corpus Linguistics

May be offered in 2020. Lecturer: Kelly Kilian

Corpus linguistics is a field of study which is rapidly increasing in scope and importance. As computing power becomes more and more readily available and digital storage cheaper, so more applications are found which benefit from the computer-assisted analysis of language. This paper traces the development of corpus linguistics, offers tasters of various applications of the method (e.g. lexicography, diachronic analysis, CDA), covers the various decisions facing corpus builders and affords students the opportunity to develop their own corpus, and analyse it, using a variety of software for a purpose of their choice. Please note that computer literacy is essential if you are considering this


Module 13: Sign Language Linguistics

Not offered in 2020. Lecturer: Ian Siebörger

This module is for students who would like a deeper understanding of the structure of sign languages, as well as those who are interested in further research or work in Deaf communities. Sign languages have expanded our knowledge of the structure of language by showing how language can work in a modality other than the vocal-auditory modality of spoken language. We explore sign language phonology, morphology, and syntax as well as other similarities and differences between signed and spoken languages. While research on a variety of sign languages will be studied, students will investigate to what extent the findings of these studies apply to South African Sign Language (SASL) in their main assignment for the module. 


Module 14: Psycho- and Neurolinguistics

Not offered in 2020.


Module 15: External Language Credit

Lecturers: Outside the department

It is acknowledged that linguistics students at postgraduate level may be enriched by appropriate modules in language offered by other departments. Ideally the language in question must be one which the student has not studied before and in which she or he is not already fluent. The content language course in question should also be amenable to linguistic analysis appropriate to the level of proficiency of the student. For these reasons, students may do a language credit at the discretion of their supervisor. This decision must be ratified by the Head of Department at a subsequent staff meeting. A student will not be allowed to do a language credit if by so doing, their Honours degree is “taken out" of the department (i.e. if it results in a joint Honours as opposed to a Linguistics Honours). It is incumbent on the supervisor to ensure this in advance. The language credit will count as a postgraduate module in Linguistics and cannot count toward credit in another degree. The language credit must be focused on the learning/mastery of a language. The language-oriented part of the credit must not be less than 34 contact hours (i.e. equivalent to the teaching contact hours for an Honours degree). Topics in literature, culture, translation etc. do not count toward this total. The language credit could indeed be a first year credit but doesn't have to be. At Rhodes, this means a student may do French 1P, German 1, Greek and Latin 1, Xhosa 1 (Non-Mother Tongue) or Mandarin. Students may not study English 1 because this is a literary subject at Rhodes. If a student wants to study a language at second or third-year levels then they must provide a course outline (or communication from the relevant HOD) which indicates that the student will have at least 34 contact hours of language/grammar lessons (i.e. equivalent to the teaching contact hours for an Honours degree); there is no upper limit specified. The language credit should be supplemented in the department by having the student write additional, linguistically oriented assignments. The student should do one additional assignment per term or alternatively, one, slightly larger, assignment per semester, subject to negotiation with the supervisor. The length of the assignments may not be cumulatively greater than for any other postgraduate module. The staff members responsible for these should be nominated in consultation with the supervisor before the student commences study. The assignments will necessarily cover areas covered in the language course focusing on linguistic analysis. Staff members should be allocated accordingly. Care should be taken to ensure critical alignment of the objectives of the language course in question and the linguistic  assignments.


Module 16: Language and Knowledge

Lecturer: Ian Siebörger

In recent years, knowledge has become a buzzword. We speak about “the knowledge economy” and “knowledge workers”, but surprisingly little research focuses on knowledge itself: how it is structured and transmitted, and how it relates to knowers. Language is the primary means by which knowledge is built and shared, but few people have studied the relationship between language and knowledge. This module is a basic introduction to Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), a rapidly developing theoretical framework based on Bernstein’s sociology of education which is increasingly being used in linguistic study (particularly with Systemic Functional Linguistics) to investigate how language is used to build and share knowledge. This module will be particularly helpful for those interested in educational linguistics and analysing classroom discourse. It will also be valuable for those interested in analysing discourses in any context to understand how texts are used to build and package knowledge in ideologically-biased ways. The emphasis will be on how LCT can be combined with linguistic study to offer a new perspective on students’ research areas, and students will be introduced to many examples of LCT in action in linguistic research.


Module 17: Critical Discourse Analysis

Facilitator: Tracy Kitchen

This unique course is designed to equip you with the theoretical and practical knowledge and skills to use Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) effectively in your postgraduate work and is currently the only Linguistics postgraduate module to be offered entirely online. Through weekly facilitated online group discussions, this interdisciplinary course encourages theoretical debate on the underpinnings of CDA and a range of approaches to ideology, language and power, while also providing a structured programme of practical CDA: the nitty gritty of how language choices reflect and perpetuate ideological meaning. Throughout the course, students are required to make constant links back to their home department and their own research, and will engage with exciting Southern African research in the field (especially research from Rhodes). While this course is extensive and requires a significant commitment, it will ensure a deep and well-theorised understanding of the use of CDA and its application to your own research.


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Last Modified: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 12:04:01 SAST