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: 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 Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

  • 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.

Module learning outcomes

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module teaches.

In addition, this module will allow you to particularly develop skills in:

  • forming generalisations and developing arguments;

  • summarising complex texts;

  • arguing in favour of or against other points of view;

  • interpreting and classifying data;

  • writing in an appropriate academic style.

Module content

The module will cover topics including:

  • Introduction to embodiment and cognition

  • Exemplar models

  • Analogy as a learning mechanism

  • Language evolution modelling in the lab

  • Understanding different linguistic structures as emergent structures


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 1 1500 words
N/A 50
Essay 2 1500 words
N/A 50

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Reassessment Essay 1500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Assessment 1

Annotation on formative work, given to students before they begin the summative essay.

Assessment 2

Annotation on submitted work, given to students by the end of Week 11

Assessment 3

Annotation on submitted work, given to students within 25 days of submission

Indicative reading

Blevins, J. (2006). A theoretical synopsis of Evolutionary Phonology. Theoretical linguistics, 32(2), 117-166.

Bybee, J. (2001). Phonology and language use. Cambridge University Press.

Bybee, J. (2010). Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge University Press .

Evans, N. & S. C. Levinson (2009) The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 429–492.

Foulkes, P. & Vihman, M. (2013). First language acquisition and phonological change. In: P. Honeybone & J. Salmons (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of historical phonology (pp. xxx). Oxford: OUP.

Foulkes, P. & J. B. Hay (2015). The emergence of sociophonetic structure. In: B. MacWhinney & W. O’Grady (Eds.), The handbook of language emergence (pp. 292-313). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

Haspelmath, M. & Sims, A. D. (2010). Understanding Morphology (2nd ed.). London: Routledge

Hauser, M. D., Chomsky, N. & Fitch, W. T. (2002). The faculty of language: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science, 298, 1569-1579.

Johnson, M. H. (2011). Developmental neuroscience, psychophysiology, and genetics. In: M. H. Bornstein & M. E. Lamb, (Eds.), Cognitive development: An advanced textbook (pp. 217-257). New York: Psychology Press.

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.

Pierrehumbert, J. (2016). Phonological representation: Beyond abstract versus episodic. Annual Review of linguistics 2, 33-52.

Shibatani, M. (1996). Applicatives and benefactives: A cognitive account. In: M. Shibatani & S. A. Thompson (Eds.), Grammatical constructions: Their form and meaning (pp. 157-194). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Thomason, S. (2008). Pidgins/Creoles and historical linguistics. In S. Kouwenberg & J. V. Singler (Eds). The handbook of pidgin and creole studies (pp.242-262). Wiley-Blackwell.

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.