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Module QXL-4447:
Language Change

Module Facts

Run by School of Languages, Literatures, Linguistics and Media

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Christopher Shank

Overall aims and purpose

This module is divided into two parts. The first will explore language change via external forces such what happens when languages come in contact with one another, how conscious and unconscious factors can motivate language change such as prestige, language attitudes, and social networks and variation. The second part of the module will explore ‘internal’ forces that motivate language change such as lexicalization, grammaticalization and pragmaticalization. Grammaticalization refers to the change whereby lexical terms and constructions serve grammatical functions in certain linguistic contexts and, once grammaticalized, continue to develop new grammatical functions. The second half of the module emphasizes the mechanisms for the creation of grammar and the universal paths of development that grammatical morphemes follow. The implications of grammaticalization for language typology, language change, synchronic and diachronic analysis of both form and meaning are explored.


  • To introduce students to current literature and theories regarding language change.
  • To acquaint students with the principles, concepts and basic assumptions of ‘external’ sociolinguistic approaches to explain language variation and change including the impact of language contact, social variation, social networks, prestige and language attitudes.
  • To acquaint students with the principles, concepts and basic assumptions of ‘internal’ explanations for language change including the process of lexicalization, the theory of grammaticalization as well as the process of pragmaticalization.
  • To encourage students to think creatively about questions raised by the theory of grammaticalization, to develop a critical attitude towards those ideas and to raise questions of their own.
  • To give students an opportunity to acquire and practise using research skills appropriate to this field of study.
  • To demonstrate the role and/or importance that grammaticalization processes play within both functional and usage based approaches to typology, language use, variation and change.
  • To start a student on his or her own research project (via either a data driven project or a comprehensive review of literature) that examines an example or examples of either synchronic or diachronic language change.

Course content

The following are representative topics: 1.Introduction & Terms / How & why Do languages Change? 2.Language Change in an Evolutionary Framework 3.Language Change – Transition 4.Language Change – Causation 5.Corpus based approaches to linguistics 6.History of Grammaticalization 7.Mechanisms of Lexicalization (Lxn) 8.Parameters / diagnostics of Grammaticalization (Gmx) 9.Mechanisms of Grammaticalization (Gmx) 10. Mechanisms of Pragmaticalization (Pgn)

Assessment Criteria


C: student has achieved the minimum acceptable standard of understanding and/or knowledge in all the LOs


B: student has achieved a better-than-average standard of understanding and/or knowledge in all LOs


A: student has achieved a thorough standard of understanding and/or knowledge in all LOs; or student has demonstrated an exceptional level of achievement in one or more LOs

Learning outcomes

  1. An advanced appreciation of the basic concepts necessary for understanding grammaticalization as a process and a theory.

  2. The ability to identify and explain the principles, concepts and basic assumptions of the theory of grammaticalization versus that of lexicalization.

  3. A sophisticated understanding of the most important theoretical and methodological questions currently being discussed in those areas.

  4. An advanced understanding of the importance of working with corpora and of the issues and problems attendant on this work.

  5. The ability to plan and conduct a research project in this area.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
REPORT Final paper

A 3500 word (+/- 10%) final research paper on an aspect of language change. This paper, which can be either data driven or a literature review, will be worth 60% of the final mark. The is a standard research or review of literature paper and will require the following: an short abstract, a clear research question, a review of literature, a methodology section, a results section, a discussion section, and a conclusion. Example research and review of literature papers will be provided as models. For the research driven paper students will be encouraged to use a corpus based methodology – access to corpora will be provided. A review of literature will require a minimum of 8 peer reviewed articles.

ESSAY Compare and Contrast or Expository

Question(s) to be presented in advance and will be drawn from the literature and/or topics covered up through Week 6 in the course. The goal of this assignment is for the student to reflect upon, apply and discuss some of the main ideas, concepts and issues covered in the course thus far. Students will be presented questions in 5 categories and they must answer one question from 3 of the 5 categories. Students will provide a total of 3 short answers, each no more than 800 / 850 words, for a total of 2500 words maximum.

REPORT Informal Presentation of Article

Students will informally present, in a seminar session, 1 article of their choice to the seminar group that is informing, guiding or serving as the foundation for their their final project. Students will present the article's research question, its methods, results, conclusions and how or why it has served to motivate their final project as well as how it will be used in their final project.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


One 2-hour lecture per week (over 11 teaching weeks)


One 1-hour seminar per fortnight (over 11 teaching weeks).

Private study

Students will read and reflect on all of the assigned articles and conduct additional research etc in order to complete the first essay and final data driven or review of literature assignments.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: