Accessibility statement

A Usage-based View of Language - LAN00071H

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Tamar Keren-Portnoy
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

The module will expose students to the idea that order and structure are possible outcomes of language in use. This view is basic to the usage-based approach to grammar and psycholinguistics, but is neither self-evident nor uncontroversial.

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

Subject content

  • Students will become familiar with arguments as to what can be concluded from the evidence provided by linguistic structure: Does it reflect the operation of abstract rules or a preordained plan for the unfolding of structure or can it be seen as the product of learning from use?
  • Students will appreciate the power of various constraints on the shaping of linguistic structures – e.g., memory, frequency of use, rate of speech, conversational interaction.

Academic and generic skills

  • Students will gain a new perspective for understanding the origins of complex and patterned human behaviours, such as language.
  • Students will engage in class discussions and will be expected to take part in class discussions and debates.
  • Students will learn to think critically and to argue their point of view.

Module learning outcomes

At the end of the module students should be aware of the existence of different points of view or different perspectives regarding the origins and nature of linguistic structure. They should be able to understand the fact that experts do not always agree amongst themselves, and that what is taught at university isn't always 'the truth', but may be one of several possible interpretations of 'the truth'.

Students will also, by the end of the module, have developed their argumentation and critical thinking skills.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 1
N/A 50
Essay 2
N/A 50

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

There will be a shorter formative essay to be submitted in week 7 of Spring Term.


Task Length % of module mark
Reassessment Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written feedback within 20 working days.

Indicative reading

Text to be used may include (but will not be limited to):

Deutscher, G. (2005). The unfolding of language. London: Arrow Books. Chs. 1-6.

Bybee, J. (2001). Phonology and language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 1-3, 6.

Bybee, J., Perkins, R., Pagliuca, W. (1994). The evolution of grammar. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Ch. 1 and 4.

Hahn & Chater (1998). Similarity and rules: distince? exhaustive? empirically distinguishable? Cognition, 65, 197-230.

Murphy, G. L. (2004) The big book of concepts. Cambridge: MIT Press.

M. L. Medin & M. M. Schaffer (1978). Context theory of classification learning. Psychological Review, 85, 207-238.

Kirby, S., Cornish, H., & Smith, K. (2008). Cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory: an experimental approach to the origins of structure in human language. PNAS, 105, 10681-10686.

Galantucci, B. (2005). An experimental study of the emergence of human communication systems. cognitive Science, 29, 737-767.

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.