The examination of the programme of any Department of Linguistics always reveals such programmes to be a form of self-definition and self-justification against the background of the age-old question: “what is Linguistics?”. And the nature of the answer to this question indicates the theoretical and practical orientation of the department. Something different is not to be expected in this presentation of our departmental programme.
Such expressions as “the science of language” and “the scientific study of language” are the typical answers to the question: “What is Linguistics?” The “scientific nature” of linguistics evinces itself in its systematic observation of naturally occurring phenomena like speech sounds, words, languages and ways of using language, in addition to the principles of classification of language as a manifestation of human behaviour. Also, linguistic deliberations are from observed data, in the form of particular classes or categories of linguistic behaviours, to theories and explanations of the systems and attributes of such linguistic behaviours.
In summary, there are systematic and practical procedures for identifying, analysing and categorizing the phenomenon of language, which constitute “standard linguistic practice”, in addition to systematic ways of expressing opinions, speculations and conclusions about language which one could call “linguistic theory”. Another way of expressing this is to say that in the research on its object of study, which is language, linguistics has a practical side and a theoretical side. Hence, one could define linguistics as “the theory and practice of language research”. Our departmental programme strives to strike a balance between the two sides, the theoretical and the practical.
With regard to the theoretical side, “the theory of language research”, the focus is to groom the students in both the formal and the functional theoretical approaches, without their being compelled to choose between the two. Instead, the students are groomed to make informed decisions with regard to their choice of theory. That is why, in addition to the traditional areas of linguistics like phonetics and phonology, semantics, morphology etc., we have such courses as Introduction to Generative and Cognitive Linguistics, Cognitive Grammar, Mental Lexicon and Pragmatics. Therefore, “the theory of language research” is a composite term encompassing all endeavours that could be grouped under “linguistic theory”.
For the practical side, “the practice of language research”, almost all the courses in the department involve one form of practical work or the other. Basically, the traditional areas of linguistics are coupled with practical assignments and computer based tests, in addition to practical in-class presentations. Through such a practical orientation our programme inculcates in the students the thought that “linguistics is something you do”. Hence, a grounding in the analysis of language at the purely descriptive level is complemented here with practical application of the acquired linguistic theories to natural language data. That is why the course Introduction to Syntax is simply without any form of theoretical leaning. Other practical courses include Field and Documentary Linguistics, Computational Linguistics, Corpus Linguistics, Lexicology and Lexicography, Practical Phonetics and Translation.
The departmental orientation towards theory and practice also evinces itself in the extent to which our students are exposed to different foreign languages. Obviously, the study of linguistics could be more fun and even serve the practical purpose of enhancing job
prospects if it is explicitly enriched with other foreign languages, either in the form of foreign language electives or also in the form of Combined Honours with some foreign languages. With regard to the first option, our curriculum now offers our students the option of choosing between German, Spanish, Chinese, and French as their elective foreign language options. In addition, any chosen foreign language is for the whole four-year period of study at the rate of one foreign language course per semester. The second option of Combined Honours programme involves 50/50 combination of linguistics with one foreign language. The combinations are: Linguistics/German, Linguistics/Spanish and Linguistics/Chinese. Through their knowledge of linguistics, the students should easily be able to achieve a high level of communicative competence in their chosen foreign languages at the end of their BA programme, in addition to being able to apply the acquired knowledge to the analysis and study of the languages.
In the light of the above academic orientation, our programme seeks to train our students to be both theoretically sound and practically relevant. They can be relevant within the multilingual context of Nigeria, where they can help to develop descriptive materials for the less researched and less developed languages; but they can also be relevant in the general global village through their application of their competence in any of the chosen foreign languages.
Finally, the work on updating and refashioning this curriculum took almost two years. In the midst of all the arguments, disagreements, concessions, and moments of enlightenment, the department seems to have unconsciously formed for itself its own answer to the age-old question:” what is linguistics?”
We have worked hard to ensure that our curriculum remains up-to-date. I thank every member of staff for their input, both the teaching and the non-teaching staff, all of whom I cannot name without drawing up a staff roll call. As we look forward to a bright future for the department, we also pray that the Lord blesses our effort so that it may serve as a source of motivation to our fellow lecturers and our students.