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French 3311

Introduction to General Linguistics: Aspects of French Linguistic Theory

No dog has ever been taught how to sing like a warbler. No seal has figured out how to meow like a cat. And no amount of intensive training will ever teach an animal to vocalise in any code but its own. But all human babies learn the language they hear around them, no matter what language their parents learned as children. This ability to learn any human language, and the fact that humans have created many different languages, means that we have a very special and remarkable language faculty, something that sets us apart from other creatures, no matter how talented and communicative they may be. It is this highly developed, complex, mysterious and fascinating talent for creating and decoding the communication system we call language which provides the motivating force behind this course.

As one of thousands of the world’s languages, and as one of its most thoroughly studied, French provides an excellent base for exploring the intriguing question asked in general linguistics: how do we give shape and expression to the worlds we perceive within and beyond ourselves?

Course content

French 3311, cross-listed with Linguistics 3311, is concerned with the way we structure meaning, and attempts to provide a framework for analysing the language faculty. French represents the world not only in the dictionary meanings attached to words, but also in the way it chooses to represent time, to view events as completed, immanent or ongoing, to indicate the speaker’s attitudes towards things and events, and to highlight the performer or the recipient of an activity. These choices, expressed principally through the verbal system, and traditionally referred to as tense, mood, aspect and voice, are a rich and nuanced use of the human language faculty, and serve as clues to its nature.

Students in French 3311 study leading writers on French and on language. The structure and function of French words, phrases and sentences, studied within the framework of theories on psychomechanics, enunciation, stylistics, semantics and pragmatics, are the focus of investigation in this course. Students explore at least one of these theories in depth, and become familiar with several more. In doing so, students learn the specialised vocabulary and categories required to discuss and debate linguistic questions, including problems such as language origins, translation, parts of speech, and speech disorders.


15 credit hours in French and/or Linguistics at the 2000 level or permission of the instructor.


The text is Diagrammatique du langage: linguistique générale et linguistique française, by Jean-Marc Lemelin. Students are also expected to use a unilingual French dictionary, such as Le petit Robert.


There are three tests, worth a total of 45% (10 + 15 + 20), as well as a 30% final examination. The other 25% is earned through a written essay on the theory of one of the linguists studied in the course, or on a linguistic problem such as issues raised by translation from one language to another.


French 3311 is normally offered every Fall semester.

After 3311

The natural companion course for 3311 is 3310 - which is not a prerequisite, and may be taken before or after 3311.


For a full set of details on the material in French 3311, and on related questions, see