Languages of the World

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1 or Year 2
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Linguistics

Module overview

This module introduces students to key topics in global linguistic diversity, enabling students to put into a global context the language, region or culture that their degree programme focuses on. The four major themes of the module are: a) the relationships between the world’s languages and language families; b) how the sounds and structures of the world’s languages may vary in general; c) how languages vary in different social and cultural contexts; and d) in which different multilingual settings they are used and what impact they have on language structure, use and imaginations of language.

Under the first theme we examine the tools and techniques which establish the grouping of the world’s languages into distinct families. We will understand how to describe the relationships between languages which derive from a common ancestor, and, in contrast, the relationships between languages which have converged for cultural or historical reasons.

The second theme explores variation in sound and sentence patterns in the world’s languages. We examine the different types of sound inventories that a language can possess, looking especially at sounds that are not found in western European languages, and we investigate some of the major ways that the organisation of grammatical structures varies in the world’s languages.

Having covered the essentials of how the structure of languages varies, the third and fourth themes focus on the ways in which language, culture and politics interact. Here we explore topics such as the influence that languages and writing systems can exert on one other when they come into contact in colonial or other settings, the issue of indigenous and colonially transformed multilingualism, endangered languages and language death, gender and language, and language in the age of social media.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Students completing this module will:

  • understand in broad terms the world’s linguistic diversity.
  • understand the concepts of language genealogy and relatedness.
  • demonstrate factual knowledge of the world’s major language families.
  • demonstrate factual knowledge of writing systems used around the world.
  • understand the key outcomes of language contact.
  • understand the mechanisms underlying multilingualism, language endangerment and death.
  • understand how languages encode social relations.
  • understand how history and technology may affect language.


Two hours' contact time, each week.

Scope and syllabus

  • Language families and historical relationships between languages
  • The diversity and spread of the world’s writing systems
  • The extensive variation in the patterns of sound and grammar in the world’s languages
  • The interface between language and politics
  • Language contact and the birth of new languages
  • Indigenous and postcolonial multilingual settings
  • Endangered languages and language death
  • The expression and negotiation of gender in the world’s languages
  • Language in colonial and postcolonial contexts
  • Language, the internet and social media

Method of assessment

  • 40% - Recorded presentation (approximately 5 minutes)
  • 60% - Final essay (1,500 words)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules