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Unit information: Historical Linguistics in 2020/21

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Unit name Historical Linguistics
Unit code MODL20017
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Havinga
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The field of Historical Linguistics studies how languages change over time. In this unit, we will discuss what aspects of language (pronunciation, word and sentence structure, word meaning) can change as well as the theoretical processes that facilitate the occurrence of these changes. The study of linguistic structures and principles as well as historical methods will enable students to analyse languages, including ones that are unfamiliar, in order to establish whether and to what extent certain languages are related. We will draw examples from a wide range of languages to illustrate how historical methods can be applied to all languages.


The unit aims to introduce students to historical methods of linguistic analysis, to apply these methods practically, and inspire students to work more widely, and independently, in this and other fields. The unit will enhance students’ skills in the systematic analysis of languages, in the presentation of information and arguments, and in independent research.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a number of core historical methods used to study languages;
  2. evaluate how and why languages change;
  3. analyse critically cross-linguistic similarities and differences;
  4. formulate linguistic analysis in an appropriately structured form;
  5. collaborate effectively on a joint project.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation.

Assessment Information

1) A 2000-word report based on linguistic analyses (70%). Testing ILOs 1-4. 2) A group poster (30%, group mark). Testing ILOs 1 - 5.

Reading and References

Joseph, Brian D. & Richard D. Janda (eds). 2003. The Handbook of Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Millar, Robert McColl (ed.). 2015. Trask’s Historical Linguistics. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Schendl, Herbert. 2001. Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.