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LINGUIST 4XX3 Topics in Linguistic Theory (C01)

Academic Year: Fall 2019

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Elisabet Service


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 505

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 21352

Office Hours: By appointment in TSH-505

Course Objectives:

The course is a seminar.  Students present and discuss theoretical papers outlining approaches to understanding language learning. The objective is to 1) become familiar with theoretical thinking about language learning, 2) learn to critically evaluate theories, 3) learn to use clear and effective prose to describe and argue for or against a particular theoretical account.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Textbook: Ellis & Larsen-Freeman (Editors): Language as a Complex Adaptive System. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.


Method of Assessment:

Grading of all evaluation components will be on a scale of 0 to 12, corresponding to letter marks. The final grade is a weighted average of these marks. Students will be asked to use Powerpoint or equivalent to present a chapter from the collection of papers used as the readings or an equivalent chapter as agreed with the instructor. This oral presentation is worth 30% of the class grade. A second student has the task to come up with discussion questions related to the presentation. These questions are worth 20% of the grade. The students will discuss the presentation and the questions in class. Class participation is worth 10%. All remaining students are also asked to write a one-page reflection on the presented chapter. These reflections are due on Avenue at agreed times. The mean of these reflections is worth 20% of the grade. If a student misses a class for any reason, s/he is expected to write a reflection based on written materials. A final paper is worth 20%. Detailed expectations on the final paper will be different for undergraduate and graduate students.

Extra credit can be earned by participating for two hours (two credits on the SONA system) in research conducted at the Department of Linguistics and Languages. 

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Being late less than 48 hours on an assignment results in a reduction of one point on the 12-point scale of the assignment grade (e.g. A+ becomes A). Being late more than 48 hours results in a grade of zero for the assignment. Work that is missed for legitimate reasons is expected to be passed in at a later date as agreed with the instructor.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

We will use the edited volume by Ellis & Larsen-Freeman (Editors): Language as a Complex Adaptive System. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, as a starting point to explore how language learning can be understood from perspectives developed in the study of complex adaptive systems, including emergentism and dynamic systems theory. Other readings, such as articles and chapters, may be added over the course.