David Crystal's Introduction to Language

Welcome to the companion website for David Crystal's Introduction to Language DVD.

The DVD contains 180 minutes (approx.) of video, featuring David Crystal lecturing to a live audience. The material is divided into 12 mini-lectures, each approximately 15 minutes long, ideal for use in class or as part of an online course.

On this site you can watch clips, including bonus extra clips not included on the DVD, read up on the topics covered in the lectures in their synopses, look up points of linguistic or cultural interest in the commentary and find a wealth of additional supporting materials to aid and reinforce study: activities, multiple-choice questions, further reading, a glossary and flashcards for self-testing, and an index of key terms.

This is a unique introduction to language/linguistics that we hope you will find stimulating, engaging and user-friendly.

You can navigate the content by resource type, clicking on the links to the left. Alternatively, you can access the lecture specific content by clicking below.

About this course

This three-hour course provides an introduction to language and linguistics — or, more precisely, to the study of language informed by a linguistic point of view. Linguistics is usually defined as the science of language, by which is meant the study of language in a comprehensive, objective, and systematic way. The contrast is with views of language which are selective, impressionistic and anecdotal, and where myths and fancies about language are propounded as if they were facts. Linguistics also shares with scientific enquiry a concern to test hypotheses about language, to construct models of how language is structured and used, and ultimately to develop an explanation (a theory) of the nature of language.

It's all done through the study of individual languages, any of which can be used as the medium of illustration. For this course, presented on the DVD to an audience of students from schools and universities in the UK, English is the language from which I take virtually all my examples. However, the model of language presented is a general one, and can be used for the analysis of any language. If, then, you are approaching this course with different language interests, an early aim should be to find analogous illustrations to those I have collected for English.

The course is a synthesis of a number of elements that I have used over the years in presenting the subject to A-level, undergraduate, and postgraduate students, as well as to teachers, speech therapists, and others whose profession requires a serious understanding of what is involved in the study of language. I have aimed to incorporate all aspects of language study into a diagram that will fit on one side of a sheet of paper. It aims to be complete, in the sense that it is possible to place any concept in language study under one or other of its headings. At the same time, it is a personal account — one that I have used in my own research and writing over the years. My interests have coloured my selection of examples, and my model of language, and its associated terminology, reflects my own linguistic training. Alternative models of analysis in linguistics are not part of this introductory course.

David Crystal
April 2011

The lectures were recorded in the Franklin-Wilkins Building at the Waterloo Campus of King's College London on 20 October 2010.

Course structure

The course is organized into six units, each about 30 minutes in duration, and each divided into two sub-units of about 15 minutes. The intention behind this structure is to provide units of material which can be easily integrated within an individual lesson or lecture. Some 200 points of content are taken up on this website in the accompanying commentary, which also contains many links to relevant websites.

1 Language, Communication & Pragmatics

  • Part 1: A communication perspective (0:00–12:13)
  • Part 2: The centrality of pragmatics (12:13–29:50)

2 The Structure of Language

  • Part 1: Semantics (0:00–13:40)
  • Part 2: Grammar (13:40–30:48)

3 The Mode of Transmission

  • Part 1: Speech (0:00–16:31)
  • Part 2: Writing (16:31–31:08)

4 Language in Use: Temporal Variation

  • Part 1: Short-term variation (0:00–17:23)
  • Part 2: Long-term variation (17:23–30:19)

5 Language in Use

  • Part 1: Regional and social variation (0:00–14:59)
  • Part 2: Personal variation (14:59–30:06)

6 Language & Discourse

  • Part 1: Discourse variation (0:00–13:45)
  • Part 2: New discourses (13:45–30:35)
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