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Typology: Structures of the World's Languages - LAN00052H

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Dunstan Brown
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

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

Additional information

With respect to pre-requisites the following modules are equivalent. 

First year modules

  • Introduction to Syntax, Morphology and Syntax, and Syntactic Structures

  • Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology, Phonetics and Phonology

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

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.

Employability skills

In addition, this module will allow students to develop skills in data analysis. They will use online datasets to observe typological patterns, see how they are distributed across languages and how they relate to other linguistic properties. You will also develop skills in understanding how to express generalisations about languages using logic.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to:

  • use key resources, including online datasets, to check typological claims

  • demonstrate critical evaluation of major typological works and associated claims about language universals

  • critically evaluate typological claims by using the available datasets

  • critically evaluate different approaches to typology, including their strengths and limitations

  • use maps to show the locations of different languages and language families and to visualise linguistic diversity

  • talk and write about different aspects of linguistic diversity

Module content

The weekly module format is as follows:

  1. 20-minute explainer video lecture

  2. Scheduled in-person practical in a pc lab (1 hour): Work with datasets

  3. Schdeduled in-person seminar (1 hour): discussion of datasets

In practical sessions students will learn about the distribution of linguistic diversity across the world, including areas that are diversity hotspots, as well as tendencies in the distribution of language structures. They will learn about potental relationships between structural types and linguistic areas, as well as consider the role that history – specifically language families – plays. We use the World Atlas of Language Structures and other data sources to investigate different structures. We will learn about the most common word order types, as well as least common, and we will consider theoretical predictions about features of languages that go together. As well as skills in working with linguistic data, this will facilitate an understanding of structural tendencies across languages.


Task Length % of module mark
Theoretical discussion 1500 words
N/A 50
Typological generalisations 1500 words
N/A 50

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Theoretical discussion 1500 words
N/A 50
Typological generalisations 1500 words
N/A 50

Module feedback

Feedback for the first formative will be given orally after each presentation with a written follow-up within one week. Feedback for the second formative assessment will be given by the end of week 7. Feedback for the first summative will be given by the end of week 11. Feedback for the second summative will be given within the University’s marking turnaround requirements of 25 working days.

Indicative reading

Anderson, S. R. (2012). Languages: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Baerman, M., Brown, D., & Corbett, G. G. (2005). The Syntax-morphology interface: A study of syncretism. Cambridge University Press.

Corbett, G. G. (2000). Number. Cambridge University Press.

Dryer, M. S., & Haspelmath, M. (Eds.). (2013). The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Evans, N. (2009). Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us. Wiley-Blackwell.

Song, J. J. (2010). Word Order Typology. In J. J. Song (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology. Oxford University Press.

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.