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Unit information: Historical Linguistics in 2018/19

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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 Open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts


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

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

1) demonstrate knowledge, understanding and appreciation of a number of core historical methods used to study languages.

2) demonstrate understanding appropriate to Level I/5 of how and why languages change.

3) analyse critically cross-linguistics similarities and differences.

4) perform and present linguistic analysis in an effective structured form, both orally and in writing.

Teaching details

One 1-hour lecture plus one 1-hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

One group presentation for a group mark (20%) and a 1000-word individual presentation write-up for an individual mark (20%) plus one 2000-word report based on linguistic analyses (60%), assessing ILOs 1–4.

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.