General Linguistics is a relatively young department at SU: it was established in 1971, with Rudolf Botha as head. Today, the department is one of only two independently functioning departments remaining in the country.

The then motivation for the establishment of the subject remains: to create a space where the different aspects of language and language use can be studied within established theoretical frameworks, outside of language and discipline boundaries.

The initial focus was on the formal aspects of language – syntax, morphology and phonology, with a critical commitment to generative linguistics. The focus has since expanded to include applied areas of study, specifically second language acquisition, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, intercultural communication and language policy and planning.

This balance between formal and applied linguistics is a distinctive feature of the department.  Undergraduate expansion came about in 2000 with the creation of Applied English Language Studies as a second subject within the department.

A new field that is currently being implemented and expanded is sign language linguistics, and we have instituted a Multilingualism and Cognition Laboratory, MultiCog Lab, ​​the first initiative of its kind in Africa.

In the last decade, the department has grown substantially at postgraduate level. Since 2008 9 PhDs, 152 Master’s degrees and 44 Honours and Postgraduate Diploma qualifications have been awarded, and there are currently 9 PhD, 32 MA and 22 Honours and Postgraduate Diploma students registered in the department. Research outputs stand out, with 62 publications in accredited journals since 2008. The department also publishes two accredited journals, Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics and Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus, which are increasingly sought as forums for linguistic and language-related papers in South Africa.

A department can naturally only excel if it has a knowledgeable and competent staff. In this respect, there are many people over the years who have made considerable contributions, among others Rudie Botha, Walter Winckler, Melinda Sinclair, Cecile le Roux, Mary-Ann Kemp, Debra Aarons, Christine Anthonissen, Johan Oosthuizen, and Simone Conradie. These contributions are continued by the current lecturers – Frenette Southwood, Kate Huddlestone, Manne Bylund, Heather Brookes, Marcelyn Oostendorp, Robyn Berghoff, Sima Mashazi, and Modiegi Njeyiyana​. Not to mention of course the immeasurable administrative contributions by Lottie Gildenhuys in the early years, Christine Smit the past 20 years, and our current administrative staff member, Anthea Joseph.

In the 2013 QS-survey, General Linguistics was rated as one of the top 200 departments of its kind in the world, and one of the 10 top achieving departments at Stellenbosch University. Not bad for a department with barely 8 permanent lecturers!​