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Describing language
Describing language

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Week 1: Making words


Eight cartoon people all wearing different colours appear with speech bubbles above their heads. There are no words in the bubbles, only dots and lines, so we can see that they are talking although we do not know what they’re saying.
Figure 1 Words in the world.

What makes a language? We use language in all its forms – speech, writing, signing – all day, every day, but we don’t often think about what language is and how it works. This week you’ll have a chance to do just that. You’ll start by thinking about how words work and how they are made and you’ll consider whether something can be ‘putdownable’, just a ‘guesstimate’, or ‘googlicious’.

You’ll have an opportunity to examine words closely and think about how they work. Like any formal study, this course will involve a certain amount of technical vocabulary, but as the topics you’ll cover are all parts of language, the terms you’ll learn are essentially labels for things you have been using perfectly well all your life.

By the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • give a simple answer to the question ‘what is language?’
  • understand how words are built
  • identify different types of morphemes
  • begin to analyse how language can be used creatively.

The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations for the course before you begin, in our optional start-of-course survey [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . Participation will be completely confidential and we will not pass on your details to others.