Due to the Corona Virus the information regarding study and examination for semester 2 (block 3 and 4) is not up-to-date. For the latest news please check the course page in Blackboard/Brightspace.


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Topics in Linguistics A: Information Structure


Admission requirements

None, assuming a basic knowledge of phonology, semantics/pragmatics, and morphosyntax.


Speakers of any human language take into account who they are speaking to. But what effect does that have on the language? It affects communication, but does it form part of the grammar? In this course we consider how we convey to the hearer not only information about events (who took part, what happened, etc.) but also what is new or old information, and what is contrasted. That is, how we structure our information. Languages show enormous variation in expressing this information structure, using word order, prosody, and morphosyntactic marking. In this course we overview key concepts of information structure, such as topic and focus, and discuss methodology for investigating them. We will see that information structure is a true web between all other core areas of linguistics!

Course objectives

After the course

  • Students are comfortable with what information structure is and can explain concepts such as ‘focus’, ‘topic’, ‘contrast’, etc.

  • Students have an idea of the crosslinguistic variation in the expression of information structure, and can identify different linguistic strategies for the expression of information structure.

  • Students have practical experience in analysing linguistic data in terms of information structure and are equipped with the methodology needed to investigate it in their own research.


Linguistics (research) (MA)

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 140 h (5EC)
Contact hours: 12
Preparation for class, including presentation: 70 hours
Final paper: 58 hours

Assessment method

  • Active participation in class discussion (20%)

  • Assignments (20%)

  • Presentation (25%)

  • Final paper (35%)

If needed for a ‘resit’, the final paper can be resubmitted. Note that class participation is obligatory.


Blackboard will be used for distribution of program details, to share literature, for discussion, and to submit assignments.

Reading list

Weekly reading is essential course preparation. We will read introductory chapters and more advanced primary literature, provided via Blackboard.

As general preparation, students are encouraged to consult the following:

Féry, Caroline, & Sinichiro Ishihara. 2015. Introduction. In The Oxford handbook of information structure, ed. by C. Féry & S. Ishihara, 1-15. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Foley, William A. 1994. Information structure. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, ed. by R.E. Asher, 1678-85: Pergamon Press.
Krifka, Manfred & Renate Musan. 2012. Information structure: overview and linguistic issues. In The expression of information structure, ed. by M. Krifka & R. Musan, 1-44. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lambrecht, Knud. 1994. Information structure and sentence form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website


G.J. (Jenneke) van der Wal

Education Administration Office van Wijkplaats

E-mailaddress Education Administration Office van Wijkplaats: osz-oa-wijkplaats@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Coordinator of Studies


Note that there is a possibility to join the Linguistics in Kenya Experience, a fieldschool focusing on information structure, in December 2019 or January 2020. This is a great chance to do linguistic fieldwork in Kenya under the supervision of the teachers of this course, Elisabeth Kerr and Jenneke van der Wal. Please contact Jenneke for more information.