The Nature of Language – Powerpoint Programs

Arachne | | Friday, October 30th, 2009

Outlines and Synopses for Language Series

(Robert James Loveday  3-11-09)

Telephone:  07   41289308

General Information:

All modules represented in these outlines are in “powerpoint” format. The user will therefore need a powerpoint program on their computer to view or show them. Powerpoint is a standard inclusion in the Microsoft Office suite of programs, so if you have Microsoft Word, you most likely also have Microsoft Powersoft as well. The Open Office suite of programs also include a powerpoint program that will open these files.

All the modules in this series contain many exercises and tasks for the class to do. Suggested answers are either in the speaker notes, or on the slides themselves. Please read “Instructions for Use” to maximise the use of these exercises/tasks.

Although many modules focus mainly on the English language, there are many comparative studies and forays into other languages.

There is also much historical information on earlier forms of English, and the evolution of English.

The “Nature of Language” series should be worked through from part 1 to subsequent parts. This is because they trace language from its smallest units (i.e. individual sounds) through ever larger units (e.g. words and sentences) to end at the complete conversational or written text level.
It may be possible to do parts 4B, 5B, 5C and 6D in isolation, but greater appreciation will be obtained if the series is undertaken in number order.

The “Languages of the World” series looks a language in general and some languages in particular from a global perspective. As well as purely linguistic material, they also contain much general historical, cultural and political information.

If you have any queries, or need assistance regarding the presentation or content, please don’t hesitate to contact me on email:
or telephone (07) 41289308 (preferably before noon).

1. History of English   (150 slides)


Latin influence

Vikings – raiders and settlers

Normans and French

Old English

Middle English

Modern English – Inkhorn Controversy

–       Shakespeare

–       Standardising English

2. Humour – Laugh at English    (80 slides)

This module explores how English is used at various levels to create humour.

Outline:      How humour occurs

Graphological humour

Phonological humour

Comic Alphabets

Morphological humour

Lexical humour

Syntactic humour

Discourse humour

3. English in Society – Language at Work   (350 slides)

This module investigates English at work in everyday society. Topics include:

Taboo and Euphemisms

Registers and Jargon

Double speak

Political correctness

Catch phrases and Slogans



Idioms and Cliché

4. English around the World   (350 slides)

This module tours the world looking into various varieties and dialects of English. It includes:

Learners of English as a second or foreign language


US verses UK standard

Australia and NZ

African Englishes

Indian English

South East Asia and the Pacific

Pidgins and Creoles – History and development

–       Caribbean creoles

–       Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin

–       Northern Australian Aboriginal Kriol

–       Torres Strait Broke

5. Nature of Language – Part 1   (180 slides)

ØLinguistic Knowledge:  What it means to “know” a language

Ø Grammar: Just what is grammar?

Ø Language Universals

Ø Animal languages

Ø    Teaching animals human language.

The “Nature of Language” series, which runs to seven parts and a total of 18 modules, examines language on several levels. Think of the analogy of building a house. In building a house, you begin with the foundations, and build on them more and more complete elements of the house.

With language, we begin at the most basic level, the individual sounds that make up our words, the nature of these sounds and how we make them. This is the phonetic level.

Next, we look at how we cluster these sounds and the way language systemises these clusters. That is the level of phonology.

We then join these clusters to form affixes and words. We are now talking about morphology.

When we join words together in phrases, clauses and sentences, we come up against word order, or the level of syntax.

It is then appropriate, before progressing to the next level, to look at the basic purpose of language, that is, meaning. In linguistic terms, this is the domain of semantics.

Finally, at the most complex and complete level, we study entire blocks of language, in both speech and writing, such as conversation, prose, poetry, the media, and other specialised fields. This is the final level of discourse.

 For more detail of each of the modules in this series, read on.

6. Nature of Language – Part 2 – Phonetics   (170 slides)

Among other things, this module looks at the place and manner of articulation of all the sounds that make up our words. It explores different classes of sounds, not only consonants and vowels, but stops, fricatives, affricates, glides, nasals, voicing and much more. It also looks at other languages which have many sounds that English doesn’t. The module finishes with the International Phonetic Alphabet, with plenty of “coding” and “decoding” exercises to keep the class on their toes, apply their grey matter, and just have fun.

7. Nature of Language – Part 3 – Phonology  (340 slides)

Phonology explores how the individual sounds discovered in  phonetics combine.  You should do “Nature of Language – Part 2 – Phonetics” before this module.

Phonology looks at the rules that underlie sound combinations and how they differ in different languages. You learn concepts such as phonemes, minimal pairs, distinctive features, allophones, prosody (and more). There are forays into non-standard English dialects, other languages, and historical underpinnings.

Learn about the many ways we modify the sounds in our words when we draw them together in connected speech. We also briefly play with sound in poetry and  onomatopoeia.

8. Nature of Language – Part 4A – Morphology  (380 slides)

Morphology deals with the syllable and word level of language. Discover morphemes – bound and free; inflectional and derivational; lexical and grammatical.

There are journeys back into history, as well as windows into languages such as Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese. There’s also exercises where among other tasks, the class gets to “crack the morphemic code” of languages such as Swahili.

9. Nature of Language – Part 4B – Word Coinage (approx. 350 slides)

Now that the class has grasped the concept of morphemes in part 4A, this module reveals the various methods languages have for creating new words. This is not about borrowing words from other languages, but using the existing building blocks in a language to create something new. Techniques such as Affixation, Onomastics, Abbreviations, Compounding, Conversion & stem modification, Backformation, and Word Play are explored.

Of course history cannot be ignored if we are to investigate the invention of new words. And other languages use the same techniques as English to expand their vocabularies. This module compares several foreign languages.

10. Nature of Language – Part 4C – Morphology – pronunciation and rules   (106 slides)

This module finishes of the study of morphology with a look at the rules that underlie the joining together of segments into words. Discover the allomorph. Learn how to decode a foreign language by deducing one or two of its morphemic rules. Learn how analogy has helped rid English of an historical plethora of irregular verbs and nouns, making it the much simpler version we have today.

11. Nature of Language – Part 5A – Syntax   (330 slides)

The series on syntax (Nature of language – parts 5A, 5B, 5C & 5D) contains much of what we called “grammar” when we went to school.

This module, part 5A, explores how words come together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. Word order is important in English, but not so important in other languages. Discover how some other languages make meaning clear despite a “free-and-easy” word order. Encounter earlier forms of English which also had a more varied word order.

The class will also encounter the different types of sentences and clauses that exist in modern English. There are more than you think.

12. Nature of Language – Part 5B – syntax – Word classes part 1 – nouns and verbs   (500 slides)

Before continuing with syntax, it is necessary to get a firm grounding in the word classes, previously called “parts of speech”. The terminology of word classes is also applied to phrases and clauses. It be used to further explore the sentence level and beyond in later modules.

This module covers nouns and verbs. Concepts such as number, gender, transivity, tense, aspect, mood, etc. are introduced. There are plenty forays into other languages and history. As well as the usual brain-teasing exercises, there are some fun memory exercises focusing on the use of some word class functions.

13. Nature of Language – Part 5C – syntax – Word classes part 2 – adj. adv. etc.   (560 slides)

This module completes the investigation of word classes begun in “Nature of Language – part 5B…”  It covers adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, determiners.  As is the pattern in previous modules, there are windows into history and other languages. As well as the usual exercises, there are a couple of memory games to keep the “grey matter” honed and check your class is on the ball.

There are also case studies of particular words and phrases, the uses of which are contentious and give rise to many of the pet hates often expressed on talkback radio. Trace the history from Medieval Times of several (annoyingly?) overused adjectives and adverbs.

14. Nature of Language – Part 5D – syntax continued (440 slides)

Explores levels of sentence structure, looking particularly at the clause and phrase level. Visit some of your schooling nemeses, such a subjects, predicates, complements, prepositional phrases, as well as a few new ones. Learn how to “grow” constituent structure “trees”.  Investigate ambiguity. “Trees” can graphically display the nuances in ambiguous sentences.

Did you know that word order was different and more flexible in earlier forms of English? It is also different in other languages. Languages can be classified according to their basic syntactic patterns. This module visits other languages and their sentence structures.

The interplay between syntax and stylistic issues in speech, writing and the media are also touched on in this module.

15. Nature of Language – Part 6A – Semantics part 1 (500 slides)

This is the first of the modules covering various aspects of semantics – the meanings of words, sentences, and utterances in everyday conversation.

It opens with an explanation of the nature of the study of semantics. Subsequent issues covered include semantic fields and properties, senses & connotation (vis-à-vis dictionary definitions), collocations, and thematic-semantic relations.

Explore semantic fuzziness – the meanings of words, and where they fit in relation to other words is not always cut-and-dried. Prototypes suggest, for example that some birds are more birdy than others. Listen to onomatopoeia in other languages as well as English, where meaning and sound most closely come together. Extralogical meaning, implicature, presupposition and entailment will alert you to the fact that there is much more meaning in an utterance than the actual words used.

Learning meaning is a gradual developmental process. Children do not all of a sudden have an adult concept of a new word. Learn how children learn meaning.

As usual there are some engaging and fun exercises, and windows into other languages and history.

16. Nature of Language – Part 6B – Semantics part 2 (460 slides)

This module explores some special semantic relationships between words – Synonyms, euphemisms, antonyms, homonyms, homographs, homophones, polysemy. Also get a good dose of how some of these contribute to ambiguity.

Plenty of history in this module. Plenty of opportunity to “test” the class with exercises, and possibly a quiz competition based on these relationships.

17. Nature of Language – Part 6C – Semantics part 3 (approx. 700 slides)

This module begins by looking at some more special semantic relations – viz. hyponymy & hypernyms; hierarchies; series; meronym & holonym; metonym.

Next it delves into the “truth value” of sentences. Some sentences are inherently always true, some are always false, and some —- well?? — It all depends! You will encounter tautology, contradiction & oxymoron, and paradox.

Finally, you will explore when “semantic rules” are broken, AND it’s still OK. This includes in-depth studies of anomaly, metaphor and idiom.

There are tangents into history, literature, social and economic theory. And you are kept on your toes with the occasional exercise, and a couple of opportunities to have  team quiz competitions.

18. Nature of Language – Part 6D – Semantic change  (600 slides)

This module focuses on how the meanings of words have changed over time. This is not just a journey through “linguistic” history, but you will discover and be enlightened by the different cultural attitudes, social mores and life styles in our past. Numerous quotes from earlier eras of English will both intrigue and challenge you in their interpretation.

First we look briefly at other types of linguistic change – viz. phonological, morphological and syntactic – before moving on to the main focus of the module, viz. semantic/lexical change.

Some interesting and surprising examples are given. This is followed by an exploration of the different types of semantic change. Next, the question of “why words change” in addressed. Finally, we tackle why some words have met the ultimate fate – they die!

And just so that we don’t become too ethnocentric in our linguistic forays, we occasionally glimpse some examples in other languages.

19. Nature of Language – Part 7A – Discourse Part 1  (Approx. 400 slides)

Discourse refers to the slices of language we encounter everyday – those segments of language larger than the sentence level – that is, speech and written texts.

Some aspects of discourse addressed include:

Maxims of Conversation – the rules we adhere to for conversation to progress.
The language of bureaucracy and politics.

Discourse strategies – how we can manipulate sentence structure to focus attention
and shift emphasis.

Speech Acts – performative verbs, taking turns, repairs, politeness
Pragmatics – how context affects choice of language – anaphora, deixis, implicature
and presupposition.

The module finishes with snippets of context in action with, for example, 57 ways of saying “no” and expressing disbelief.

20. Nature of Language – Part 7B – Discourse Part 2 – Styles and Varieties(Approx. 470 slides)

Do you speak differently when you speak to children, adult friends, professional colleagues, and in informal compared with formal situations?
Are you more careful with your English when writing than you are when you speak?

This is what social styles and varieties of English are about. That is, how we can temporarily change our style of English according to the social context or professional situational.

In this module, we begin by first contrasting written English with spoken English, including situations where we mix features of both. We compare different types of monologue and dialogue (and multilogue???) and the factors that affect them.

Moving on to social variation, we consider the social context, and how it affects style. This leads to occupational varieties, the styles of English that accompany certain types of professions such as sports commentary and advertising, political, religious, scientific & legal English.

As well as analysing all the above aspects of discourse from a linguistic perspective, we also consider some of the social aspects and effects on everyday use and literature.

21. Nature of Language – Part 7C – Discourse part 3 – Style & variety (cont…) (470 slides)

This module opens with a look at the type of English used by the news media, both print and electronic. Then, to conclude the coverage of different varieties begun in the last module (Nature of language – part 7B), we explore some specialised varieties that have restricted uses for particular purposes – viz. chesswrite, airspeak, knitwrite, navyspeak, heraldic English, & new types of “electronic” English.

Next, the notion of “deviant” English is explored. While “bad” English is obvious to most of us, it is surprising the amount of deviant English we encounter every day and are either unaware of, ignore, or feel is essential for the function it performs. Discover what some of these types of English are, and how deviance is a natural feature of them.

The last section of this module explores literary freedom at various levels, and in different genres. You will encounter many examples of prose and poetry, both traditional and modern. Discover how writers manipulate language to create meaning, contrast meanings, and grab the attention of their readers.

22. Nature of Language – Part 7D – Discourse part 4 (276 slides)

This module explores two issues in language use.

First is how context – people, place, time, social mores and norms, circumstances – affect what, how and when we say something. There is more to meaning than just the words used.
There are many conversation conventions and rituals that we follow (and break) without being aware of them. Discover some of these and how and why we may depart from them. Learn also how language affects how we interact, and how, in turn, our interaction influences our language.

The second subject in this module is “girl-talk/boy-talk”. Do females use language differently from males? How? And why? How do some stereotypes stack up? When and why do some differences come about? How is language used to split out social world into ‘male’ and ‘female’ counterparts? And what is the result?
The second part of this module attempts to answer these questions (and more?).

23.  Brainteasers  (seven modules ranging from 20 to over 100 slides each)

These modules are a compilation of various styles and types of exercises. They should be both mentally stimulating and potentially fun. Most of the items have been taken from various IQ tests. They vary in difficulty from “dirt easy” to “screw-up-your-face challenging”.  But don’t despair. Most questions have several clues/hints that don’t appear at first showing of the powerpoint slide, but “appear” on each subsequent click of the mouse. You can stage the appearance of the hints/clues, initially giving the class a chance without clues, then making the clues appear, one at a time until someone gets the answer.

(Note that some of these exercises have been incorporated into appropriate places in other modules, especially in the “Nature of Language” series.)

There are many potential methods for presenting these brainteaser modules. Do them verbally or as written exercises.
Create a competition.
Do as an individual exercise, each class member shouting out the answer, scoring points for correct answers, losing them for incorrect answers.                                                                                                                         Give the most points if someone gets the answer without any clues, then reduce the number of points to be awarded as you give the clues.
Divide the class into teams and conduct as a team competition. If  scores start to get too far apart, alter the scoring and penalties to allow the lagging team to catch up.                                                                                  Consider some sort of prize for the winning team. Some chocolates, or a booby prize.

Your U3A may wish to organise semi-regular “pub quizzes”, or other types of social-quiz get-togethers. These modules, or parts of them, could provide material for these quizzes. Print the slides if you don’t have access to a projector at the quiz venue.

However you present these, the class should benefit by expanding their vocabulary and knowledge of English, as well as their powers of reasoning. Remember, as we age, we have to keep that “grey matter” exercised. It’s the “use it or lose it” principle.

Tutor please note: When you show them to the class, you HAVE TO show them in “slide show” mode so that, initially, they cannot see the hints or answers. By clicking the mouse, the hints and answers will appear on the slide.

24. Etymology  –  Mondegreen   –  Synonyms  –  Treacle

(Created by Geoff Baker, U3A Hervey Bay)

(4 modules ranging from 10 to 50 slides each)

These four short modules explores the etymology of a few dozen English words with  interesting histories.

25. Ozwords extracts  (more than one module – approx. 50 to 100 slides each)

Ozwords is a biannual newsletter published by the Australian National University. It examines the linguistic, historical and cultural background behind Australian words and expressions. It also includes articles on some present-day trends in Australian English.

My modules summarise these “Australian English” stories in a concise and easy-to-present format.

26. Latin origins & Roman culture (84 slides)

The stories behind some Latin words which, in turn have given us some common English words.  A combination of linguistic, historical, and cultural information.  It helps our understanding of language if we can see the bigger picture which both produces it, and which it in turn supports.

27. Syllogisms

This module is along the line of the brainteasers noted above. They will exercise your grey matter, and test your deductive powers as well as focus your attention on how language can be manipulated to mislead.

Syllogisms are a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
An simple example:  All dogs have fur. Bodger is a dog. Bodger has fur.
Many syllogisms can be more complex than this, and can test your powers of logical reasoning. It is easy to fall into the trap of arriving at a false conclusion.

There are both invalid and unsound conclusions. Learn the difference. View some “real-world” invalid syllogisms, then test yourself with the exercises.

28. Adverbs with Attitude (12 slides)

A very short module illustrating how some adverbs can reveal much about the attitude or background knowledge of the speaker. After presenting a few examples, the class is given a chance to devise some examples themselves. My suggestions for the adverbials presented to the class then follow.

28. Cod – some linguistic snippets  (9 slides)

Another short module with some linguistic and historical background to cod. Discover the origins of sterling, and the deadly importance of accent. Translate a medieval recipe. It seems it was not only the Vikings who beat Columbus to America. Who else did? Visit the word cod in other languages, and learn of its other, not so fishy, but less savoury meanings.

29. Hysteria & Hysterectomy (19 slides)

A short, rather saucy module on the etymological link between hysteria and hysterectomy followed by a history of female hysteria, its treatment and the ultimate invention of the vibrator.

30. Old English Literature (117 slides)

Old English was the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons who settled in Britain after the Romans left. The Old English era is conveniently dated between 500 and 1066 AD. This module was inspired by a question put to me by one of my class members: “With what script was Old English written? Was it written at all, or was it only a spoken language? Didn’t all learned men of that time, mainly monks, write in Latin?”

Old English was written. It used two scripts. This module explores some of the literature of the time, and some of the personages involved. Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are only two of many documents discussed. Alfred the Great in one of several famous personages you will meet. And we cannot forget the impact of the Vikings on language, learning and literature during this era.

This module, as with many of the others, combines large doses of history with linguistic study.

31. Bilingual Dictionaries & Australian Terms and Slang  (27 slides)

Bilingual dictionaries are used by translators, travellers and those struggling to learn a new language or operate in a second language community.

While it is obvious that formal terms will be included, how much slang, dialectic, informal and colloquial language should be included?

How much coverage is given to characteristically Australian English?

For a sample, this module takes a brief look at the history of Chinese-English dictionaries and how they have covered “Australianisms”.

32. Languages of the World #1 – the origins of language  (200 slides)

When, where and how did languages arise? Even more basic, WHY did humans develop language? These are some questions this module attempts to answer.

Learn about early “experiments” to discover which was the first – the “original” language. Do “feral” children give us a clue to human’s propensity for language? Discover some of their stories.
Use the archaeological records to follow the evolution of hominids in an attempt to ascertain the origins of language, and how it may have developed and spread.
There are many theories, including the humorously labelled bow-wow, ding-dong, pooh-pooh, yo-he-ho, hey-you, eureka!, hocus-pocus, and sing-song theories.
Some suggest that we are born with a special Language Acquisition Device in our brains, a device that other animals does not have. Look at the evidence – You decide.

33. Languages of the World #2 – Diversity & classification (320 slides)

This is the first of the “Languages of the World” series which looks a language in general and some languages in particular from a global perspective. As well as purely linguistic material, this series also contain much general historical, cultural and political information.

If we are to explore the languages of the world, we first have to ask some basic questions. Just how many languages are there? When is a language a language in its own right, or just a dialect of a larger language? How many speakers of each language are there (not such an easy question as it seems)? How can we classify languages and group them?  Some seem to defy any grouping!
This module tries to answer these questions, among others.

It also looks at the spread of languages, their interactions with each other, and the close relationship between language and cultural identity. The phenomena of bilingualism and multilinguism are also explored.

34Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #3A – Europe and Eurasia – IndoEuropean language family part 1. (325 slides)

Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #3B – Europe and Eurasia – IndoEuropean language family part 2.  (310 slides)

These are two of three modules that cover the language families and languages of Europe and Eurasia. They focus on the largest of the world’s language families,
viz. the Indo-European language family. This family includes the Germanic, Romance, Slavic, Greek, Celtic and Indo-Iranian languages.
(I split it into two modules because, due to technical computer restraints, it was too large for one).

As well as a comparison of the languages, their history and current status, there is much history of the people who speak them – among others, the Goths, Vandals, Franks, Slavs, Russians, and Celts.

35. Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #4 – Europe & Eurasia –
Non-IndoEuropean languages
(250 slides)

This module explores the Uralic and Altaic language families. As with all modules in the series on languages of the world, a wealth of cultural and historical information supplements the linguistic data.
For example, where did the Magyars come from? Who are the Samai (Lapps)? How are these two peoples related?
Witness the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire – savage conquerors or enlightened empire builders?
The Turks are a people with a much deeper history than that of Turkey.

Travel to the Caucasus, one of the most densely packed language regions of the world.

And briefly peruse what is left of a once widely spread, and now seriously threatened Palaeosiberian cultural and linguistic heritage.

36. Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #5 – Europe & Eurasia – Isolates
(245 slides)

This module explores four language isolates – languages for which no relationship with any other language can be established. The origins of these languages and the people who speak them remain somewhat of a mystery.

Learn about the Basques and ETA’s terrorist campaign to establish an independent Basque state.
What do you know about the Ainu, Japan’s indigenous minority.
Discover the intricacies of the Japanese and Korean honorific system of language and their “hybrid” writing systems.
Where did the Japanese come from?

37. Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #6 – South & South East Asia
(370 slides)

This module covers the languages of South East Asia (except Malay and Indonesian) and the Sino-Tibetan language family which includes Chinese. An attempt is made to unravel the mysteries of where the disparate ethnic groups of Southeast Asia came from. Some of the history and politics of this region is also presented.

Discover that “Chinese” is not a single language, but a number of sometimes mutually unintelligible languages that are grouped under this umbrella term because of a common writing system, and a share culture and literary history. Learn also the history and some of the intricacies of Chinese writing.

38. Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #7 – Africa & Middle East
(655 slides)

Tour this vast continent with its amazing cultural, linguistic and historical diversity.

Learn the history of the languages and people of Africa, from ancient times, through the incursion and spread of Islam, to the arrival of the Europeans.
Be surprised by the numerous, highly organised kingdoms and “empires” that rose and fell.
Follow the expansion of the Bantu people over 2000 years from a small pocket in central-west Africa to their present ubiquitous occupation of most of central and southern Africa.
Remnant Khoisan (Bushmen) populations struggle to maintain their culture and languages in southern Africa.
What is an Austronesian language from a Pacific language family doing in Madagascar?

And much more…

39. Languages (& cultures and histories) of the World #8 – Oceania (620 slides)

Trace the spread of the Austronesian language family from its origins in Taiwan, through Indonesia and the Philippines, stretching as far east as the Easter Islands, and as far west as Madagascar. We also follow the great sea voyages of the Polynesian people as they spread through the Pacific. Whenever people migrated, they took their languages with them. Historical linguistics is just one of the tools by which researchers trace the great human migrations.

The Melanesian languages were spoken in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago before the arrival of Austronesian languages. Learn about the history, people and cultures of this amazingly linguistically diverse area – more than 1000 languages in a small geographically region. Learn also about some of the pidgins that have recently evolved.

There is prehistory, history and cultural studies as well as linguistic material in this module. There are also some short exercises to keep the class on their toes.

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