Research Articles

Language documentation and language typology

  • Oliver Bond


Typology is a sub-discipline of linguistics originally conceived around the notion that there is a fundamental basic unity underlying the diversity of the world’s languages. Typologists believe that there are certain core properties that languages have in common which can be formulated as generalisations about language in the form of language universals or probabilistic statements about the distribution of language characteristics. At its onset, typology was largely concerned with what is possible in language, that is, discovering what the universals of language might be. However, contemporary typology has a more sophisticated agenda: not simply asking ‘what is possible?’, but examining ‘what is where why?’, with reference to historical and other factors affecting the distribution of language properties (Bickel 2007). In this chapter we are going to explore some core concepts in typology and examine how they relate to language documentation and description. At the end of the chapter you will have a sense of what typology is, some of the principles that underlie it, and understand the symbiotic relationship between the two research fields.

Keywords: language documentation, language documentation and description, language typology, concepts, principles

How to Cite:

Bond, O., (2010) “Language documentation and language typology”, Language Documentation and Description 7, 238-261. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed