Accessibility statement

Typology: Structures of the World's Languages - LAN00052H

« Back to module search

  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Dunstan Brown
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

There are over 6,000 languages spoken in the world. Many of them belong to vast language families, such as the Indo-European languages with which we are most familiar or the Austronesian languages which span the Pacific and Indian Oceans from Taiwan to Madagascar. Some languages are, however, unique, with no known relatives (e.g., Basque spoken in northern Spain or Ainu spoken on a northern island of Japan). In this module we will study the structure of human languages from a global perspective to understand their similarities and differences. We will also explore debates about whether the wide variety of structures we observe have an underlying universal basis.

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

Typology investigates different structural types in the world’s languages. It determines where languages diverge from one another, and where they share properties which are common or potentially universal. The purpose of this module is to enhance the knowledge of students who have reached an advanced stage in linguistics. It enables them to understand the diversity of structures in the world’s languages, thereby allowing them to put their theoretical work in context.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will have:

  • Knowledge of key resources available for checking typological claims
  • Knowledge of major typological works and associated claims about language universals
  • An understanding of different approaches to typology, including their strengths and limitations
  • The ability to evaluate typological claims and their theoretical implications
  • An appreciation of the challenges faced in sampling languages

Module content

We will focus on key areas in syntax, morphology and phonology and investigate possible (and by implication impossible) linguistic types, using available online datasets, such as the World Atlas of Language Structures (, as well as written resources.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 70
Report on dataset investigation
N/A 30

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 70
Report on dataset investigation
N/A 30

Module feedback

Written feedback will be made available within the university mandated time limit.

Indicative reading

Anderson, Stephen R. 2012. Languages: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Evans, Nicholas. 2011. Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us. Hoboken, NJ. Wiley-Blackwell.

Song, Jae Jung. 2001. Linguistic Typology: Morphology and Syntax. London: Longman.

Song, Jae Jung. 2011. The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Online Resources

Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) 2013. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (

Surrey Morphology Group Databases (

Hammarström, Harald & Forkel, Robert & Haspelmath, Martin & Bank, Sebastian. 2021.
Glottolog 4.5. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.