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

This module is compulsory for all of our postgraduate (PG) students, as it is an introduction to PG studies at Rhodes university. During this module you will be taken through our PG curriculum, which includes the requirements of your degree whether that be honours, masters or PhD. Depending on the type of degree you have registered for you will need to complete a certain amount of coursework offered in the form of our PG modules. You will be introduced to these modules by each of the lecturers at which point you will also have the opportunity to ask questions and really determine which of them would be best suited to your own research. You will attend eight sessions with our PG lecturers to discuss different aspects of your PG experience as well as what we expect from you at this level. These sessions include instruction and discussion on topics such as critical reading, managing sources, plagiarism, writing with voice and authority, research questions and research topics, proposal writing, and then the more logistical information like the function of the Higher degrees committee and applying for ethical clearance. During this module you will also have the chance to meet the staff and the other PG students beginning their degrees at the same time. Forming a good working relationship with your colleagues is very important and can provide you with the support you need to complete your degree within the designated time frame.


Module 2: Phonetics and Phonology: Descriptive and Field Approaches

Lecturer: Will Bennett

South(ern) African languages are tremendously under-documented and under-described. As scientists studying Language, There's surely a lot that these languages can teach us; but in order to know what questions to ask, someone needs to do the work of establishing the basic facts first. We will contribute to this in our own small but definitive way. The overall goal of this module is to undertake a detailed description of the phonetic system of an under-studied language of Southern Africa. We will collect data from L1 speaker(s), analyze it, and assemble recordings and quantitative measurements as hard evidence for our observations. The intended aim is to, as a group, co-author a short but comprehensive description of the phonetic and phonological structures for scholars unfamiliar with the target language. Since this approach is very much data-driven, we can't be sure precisely what we'll find. But, some background knowledge of phonetics and phonology will surely serve us well, and more formalish lectures on various topics will be incorporated as we encounter a need for them.


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 2022

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 

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: Optimality Theory

Lecturer: Will Bennett

This course will introduce students to Optimality Theory (commonly called ‘OT’), a constraint-based theory of grammar that is widely used in phonology. We will cover the basic history and structure of the framework, how to define constraints and understand their interactions, and how to determine constraint rankings, and how to construct and support an analysis. Special emphasis will be placed on typologies (including multiple, diverse, languages) as the basic unit of analysis and understanding. Students will also practice using OT software to help with building and testing analyses. In particular, we will likely focus on OT approaches to phenomena common in African languages, such as vowel harmony, tone spreading, hiatus resolution, and reduplication.


Module 7: Language and Gender

Not offered in 2022. 


Module 8: Contact Linguistics: Bilingualism and Related Phenomena

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

Lecturer: Tracy Bowles 

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

Lecturer: Ian Siebörger

This module concentrates on Systemic Functional Linguistic accounts of interpersonal meaning.  After first exploring the Interpersonal Metafunction (and associated resources) outlined in Halliday & Matthiessen (1999), it moves on to the APPRAISAL framework and its various systems as described in Martin and White (2005).  Apart from core reading there is a focus on recent APPRAISAL research studies and on publications that prompt critical reflection on the APPRAISAL framework itself.  Students work consistently with data and so develop skills in coding and interpreting data of different kinds.  They write three syntheses and produce a research proposal.  This module is useful for any students planning research in discourse analysis, and is a useful complement to Module 16: Language and Knowledge for students wanting to investigate the role of values in knowledge-building.


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.

For MA and PhD students, a pilot project in the proposed area of study is required in the first year. The purpose of this task, which takes the form of a research report, is to test the feasibility of the project, to provide a degree of formative assessment and to allow students to engage with research in a low-stakes pilot project.  In addition, this pilot project serves as an excellent basis on which to prepare a research proposal for the larger project. Students conduct small scale research, typically on some aspect of the envisaged thesis topic, and write a research paper on it. It should be no more than 10 000 words (i.e. around 30-35 pages) and is equivalent to an Honours level research report. You need to consult with your supervisor prior to embarking on your research project. 


Module 12: Corpus Linguistics

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 module 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.


Module 13: Sign Language Linguistics

Not offered in 2022.

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 2022.


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 University. 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

Not offered in 2021. Facilitator: Tracy Kitchen

This 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 linguistic postgraduate course to be administered entirely online. Through weekly facilitated online group discussions, this interdisciplinary course encourages theoretical debate on the underpinnings of CDA and general approaches to ideology, language and power and provides a structured programme of practical critical discourse analysis (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 (especially research from Rhodes) in the field. While this course is extensive and requires a significant commitment, it will ensure a deep and well-theorised understanding of the use of Critical Discourse Analysis and its application to your own research.


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Last Modified: Mon, 13 Dec 2021 12:43:46 SAST