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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

LING2360 The Life Cycle of Languages

20 creditsClass Size: 18

Module manager: Dr Diane Nelson

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications

Students are required to have completed one of the following modules, or equivalent:
- MODL1060 Language: Structure and Sound
- ENGL1021 Analysing English
Students who have not completed MODL1060 Language: Structure and Sound should be prepared to do some additional reading to familiarise themselves with linguistic concepts built on in this module. Chapters 1 to 6 of Genetti’s How languages work: An introduction to language and linguistics (Cambridge University Press, 2014) are a good starting point.

This module is mutually exclusive with

LING3250The Life Cycle of Languages

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module introduces students to the major issues concerning language origins, diversity, endangerment and death. Topics covered include: language origins and evolution; biological models of evolution and biodiversity as they apply to languages; linguistic diversity; language and population genetics; social, historical and political factors leading to language endangerment and death; and language documentation and revitalisation. Students are expected to have been introduced to linguistics on a Level 1 module in linguistics or English language before enrolling on this module.


This module aims to:
(1) introduce major issues concerning language origins, diversity, endangerment and death
(2) develop understanding of biological theories of evolution and biodiversity as they apply to linguistics
(3) develop critical awareness of the major causes of language endangerment and death within a historical and political context
(4) develop awareness of indigenous perspectives on language in the larger context of human rights, environmental change, and decolonisation
(5) develop independent research and analytical skills through the completion of assessed coursework

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students should be able to:
(1) demonstrate a broad understanding of the terminology, concepts, and information used in the study of language origins, diversity, endangerment and revitalisation
(2) read and show critical awareness of relevant literature in scientific journals (with guidance)
(3) understand the interdisciplinary nature of the study of language origins, linguistic diversity and language endangerment and revitalisation
(4) demonstrate a basic understanding of the relationship between theory and evidence in the study of language origins, linguistic diversity and language endangerment
(5) demonstrate a basic understanding of the competitive nature of opposing theories, and assess the contribution of evidence to conflicting claims


In lectures and in-class practicals, this module takes an interdisciplinary approach to address questions such as the following:
(1) How, when and why did humans evolve the capacity for language?
(2) How did languages spread and diversify throughout the world into the language groups we know today?
(3) Is it appropriate to apply Darwin's theory of natural selection to languages? What other theories of evolution may explain its emergence?
(4) What are the parallels between linguistic diversity and biodiversity?
(5) What are the factors which are currently causing the premature death of nearly half of the world's languages? What is the scale of the problem, and what is lost when a language dies?
(6) How do indigenous and socially marginalised communities view their language as part of intangible cultural heritage, and how can linguists support their revitalisation initiatives?

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students are expected to devote 180 hours of private study time to this module, with the following suggested breakdown:
• Reading preparation for the lectures: (17x4=) 68 hours
• Research and writing for the threatened language project: 56 hours
• Research and writing for the essay: 56 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Informal feedback is given to groups and individuals in lectures and during the three in-class practical sessions. Formative feedback is given throughout the semester through the use of online quizzes to test understanding of terminology and key concepts. Optional feedback is available for outlines and topic choice for the essay and coursework project. Feedback on the essays is returned before the due date for the threatened language project.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000-word essay50.00
Assignment1,500-word threatened language profile50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:25:36


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