Unit code : LELA20031
Credit rating : 20
Teaching period(s) : Semester 1

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Aims | Objectives | Assessment | Information | Course unit content |
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The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:

  • Students will obtain an overview of the degree of variation, and limits to variation, in selected grammatical characteristics of the languages of the world.
  • Students will acquire the ability to apply grammatical and comparative concepts to a language unfamiliar to them.
  • Students will critically evaluate typological generalisations and test their applicability to specific languages.


Objectives (Learning outcomes)

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand some fundamental assumptions behind the typological approach, and a range of cross-linguistically applicable grammatical concepts
  • apply these concepts to the analysis of previously unfamiliar data
  • extract relevant information from published research, or alternatively conduct a small fieldwork project
  • identify limits in the data which affect the classification of a given language with respect to a linguistic type

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand the role of some key conceptual notions in typology such as animacy or inalienable possession
  • identify the cross-linguistically most frequent strategies of marking of selected grammatical constructions
  • critically evaluate explanations that have been proposed for the prevalence of certain construction types
  • appreciate the methodological issues that arise in making generalisations about languages

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • use different strategies for locating relevant information e.g. in a reference grammar
  • use glosses and translations to analyse structures of unfamiliar languages
  • (optionally) conduct fieldwork on a previously unfamiliar language

By the end of this course students will have improved their ability to

  • tackle a complex and unfamiliar task by completing several steps, following guidelines, taking into account feedback received, and asking for assistance in case of difficulties
  • conduct interviews in an intercultural setting (optional)
  • provide explicit evidence and offer precise argumentation in written work
  • appreciate linguistic and cultural diversity

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Student presentations in preparation for the written assignment


presentation of 5-10 mins


Written assignment (working individually)


3,000 words


Exam with definitions and data problems


2 hours


4 multiple choice online reading quizzes (with a total of 50 questions)





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Course unit overview

This module provides an introduction to the study of linguistic typology, that is, the comparison of languages in terms of shared characteristics rather than historical relationships. We will examine cross-linguistic variation and recurring patterns in a number of features such as morphological type, constituent order, encoding of grammatical relations, word classes, and possession. We will also discuss methods of collecting data for typological research and their limitations, and critically review some of the explanations proposed for highly frequent or universal linguistic structures. Lectures and seminars will include many examples from lesser-known non-European languages, to exemplify and illustrate variation and universal tendencies. Students will conduct a project on a language previously unfamiliar to them, on the basis of published reference grammars and/or own fieldwork.

Teaching staff
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Lectures - 22 hours
Practical classes & workshops - 2 hours
Seminars - 11 hours

Teaching and learning methods
  • Lectures with interactive components
  • Seminars for discussing data problems
  • Student presentations
  • 1:1 consultation on general content and individual coursework