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CODE 94688
SEMESTER 1° Semester


This course provides students with a foundation in the scientific study of human language and natural languages. After an introduction to the properties of human language, we will analyse the main levels of linguistic description: the phonetic and phonological level, the morphological level, the syntactic level and the semantic level. Next, we will focus on historical linguistic topics, ranging from the genealogical classification of languages to the analysis of various cases of language change.



At the end of this course, the student will know all main levels of linguistic analysis, namely phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, some basic notions of pragmatics, lexicon, and their possible interrelations from a synchronic and diachronic perspective. The student will have gained some basic knowledge about different theoretical frameworks and their epistemological basis (generative linguistics vs. typological-functional approach). The student will also know the basis of historical linguistics and will be able to analyse the dynamics of simple linguistic changes at the phonetic and phonological, morphological and syntactic levels, including phenomena of grammaticalization, analogy and reanalysis. The student will know the presumable origin of Indo-European and will be able to classify the languages of Europe from a genetic perspective, including non-Indoeuropean ones, and the Indoeuropean languages spoken outside Europe. 


The course aims to provide students with the basics of general linguistics and historical linguistics and the essential tools for the synchronic and diachronic analysis of languages, as well as an introductory presentation on the origin of Indo-European and European languages. Some assumptions of typological linguistics and sociolinguistics are also briefly presented in the treatment of some case studies.

At the end of this course, the student will:

  • Gain an understanding of the main characterizing properties of human language and of natural languages.
  • Gain the essential knowledge needed to analyse languages at the phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic level, and master the appropriate terminology. Moreover, the student will be able to apply the acquired knowledge to the analysis of linguistic data.
  • Know the main ways in which languages can be classified.
  • Know the main linguistic families and subfamilies, especially those of the of the Indo-European family (genealogical classification)
  • Know the main criteria that are used to classify languages based on structural resemblances and differences (typological classification).
  • Know introductory notions of historical linguistics, especially those discussed during the course. Moreover, the student will be able to apply the acquired knowledge to the analysis of linguistic data, commenting cases of language change based on those discussed during the classes.
  • Be acquainted with the main subdisciplines of linguistics, in particular with those introduced and discussed during the course.
  • At an operational level, the student will be able to carry out a phonetic and phonological transcription of Italian words, to establish whether two words constitute a minimal pair, to break down into morphemes, classifying them on a functional basis, derivative and compound words of Italian, and to carry out the analysis in immediate constituents of an Italian sentence by means of a tree diagram. They will also be able to place the main ancient Indo-European languages in time and space and will be able to classify genealogically and typologically the languages currently spoken in Europe, including non-Indo-European languages, and the Indo-European languages spoken outside Europe.


This is an introductory course: no prior knowledge of linguistics is therefore expected from students.


This course will include lectures as well as exercises on the most technical aspects of the discipline (e.g., phonetic transcription, morphological and syntactic analysis).


The first part of the course consists of an introduction to general linguistics. More specifically:

The notions of “language” and “linguistic sign”.

Phonetics and phonology (linguistic sounds): articulatory phonetics, phonetic transcription; the notions of phoneme, allophone, and minimal pair

Morphology (words and their internal structure): the notions of word, morpheme, allomorph; morphological processes of derivation and composition; morphological analysis of words

Syntax: structure of phrases and sentences, with a focus on the essential structure of the nuclear sentence and its representation through analysis into immediate constituents

The second part of the course focuses on language classification and language change. More specifically:

Synchrony vs diachrony.

Genealogical classification, focusing on the Indo-European family.

Language change, with examples from Indo-European languages.

Typological classification, focusing on morphological and syntactic typology


  • Gaetano Berruto e Massimo Cerruti 2017. La linguistica. Un corso introduttivo. Torino: UTET. (Chapters 5 and 8 excluded)
  • Slides and lecture notes





Written test. The exam will include:

1)Exercises (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax)

(in October and November, space is dedicated to these exercises; there will also be a mock test at the end of the course that will further clarify the structure of the test, the assessment criteria and the marks assigned to each exercise and question

2) A classification exercise on the languages of Europe

3) Open questions to verify knowledge of the general and historical linguistic topics addressed during classes and in the textbooks.


The exam assesses the level of theoretical knowledge achieved by the student, and the ability to apply it to the analysis of the linguistic data.

The evaluation is based on the correct completion of the exercises and, especially as concerns open questions, on expressive clarity and mastery of the linguistic terminology.


Students with certified special educational needs are advised to contact the lecturer at the beginning of the course