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Topics in Linguistics D: Language and Use


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students of the ResMA Linguistics


Generally, the relationship between a linguistic system and its use is conceptualized in either one of two ways: 1) somehow we have a system, and this is put to a number of (possibly different) uses (like communication, or thinking), 2) people use sounds (or gestures, or marks in a medium like paper, stone, computer screen, …) to communicate, and with repetition these uses give rise to a linguistic system. In this course, we explore recent developments in the research program that aims for an explanatory, comprehensive view of the relation between language and its use that subsumes both of these elementary ways of thinking: the “Usage-Based” (UB) approach to linguistic knowledge.
Since its inception in the final two decades of the 20th century, the UB approach has been elaborated into several conceptual dimensions and adopting a growing variety of methodological tools. A common denominator of a number of these developments, articulated more and more explicitly since about 2010, is that these involve a reconceptualization of the way individual level processes (e.g. experience, processing, learning) are related to supra-individual and community level processes (e.g. joint attention, joint activities, communication, language change). After a quick overview of the basic assumptions, we will explore a number of different aspects and consequences of this reconceptualization. How can speakers with different internal grammars (“I-grammar”) be said to speak the same language (“E-language”)? How can we handle the complexity of connecting myriads of different individual usage events to (in comparison) relatively stable cultural linguistic phenomena? What kind of tools do languages provide their speakers with for the management of social interaction, and how do speakers exploit these in communication? A general point will be that these recent developments in the UB approach allow for a better understanding of both the ways many different aspects of language and language use are dynamically related, and the way in which the study of language may be construed as a special branch of the biological study of behavior and cognition.

Course objectives

To make original observations; to ask questions and form hypotheses about historical-linguistic issues in various languages; to critically evaluate relevant literature; to discuss and present contrasting positions and traditions; and to gain hands-on research experience.


Linguistics research

Mode of instruction

Seminar, with weekly readings and assignments.

Course Load

Total 140 hours (5 EC x 28 hours)

  • Contact hours: 14

  • Preparation for class and weekly assignments: 84 hours

  • Preparing and presentation of research question: 42 hours

Assessment method

1) Weekly assignments: 50%
2) Final presentation of research question: 50%.
Re 1): Students are required to contribute both a question and a response (through the Discussion Board tool of Blackboard ) related to the readings each week. No more than one session may be missed. In case of absence, a reason must be stated and approved. Submitting assignments (question and response) for that session is still mandatory.
Re 2):Teams of two students present an original research question, based on the readings, class lectures, and discussions.

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following: the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

Extended paper motivating and elaborating a research proposal in the domain of Language and Use.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for discussion, distribution of programme details, presentations, and lecture notes.

Reading list

See detailed programme on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Prof.dr. Arie Verhagen

Education Administration Office van Wijkplaats:

Coordinator of Studies: Else van Dijk