AL8470 – Sociolinguistics

Course: AL8470 – Sociolinguistics

Course Description

This course is an introduction to sociolinguistics, the study of the relationship between language and society. We will look at variation at all levels of language and how such variation constructs and is constructed by identity and culture. An exploration of attitudes and ideologies about these varieties will be of particular importance to understanding this relationship. We will also consider some of the educational, political, and social repercussions of these sociolinguistic facts.


Course Reading:

The textbook for the course is available at the GSU bookstore:

Wardhaugh, Ronald (2010). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (6th edition). Malden, MA: Blackwell.


All other readings can be saved on disk and/or printed from the library’s electronic reserves system at I will give you the password once it has been assigned. Let me know right away if you’re having trouble accessing the readings.

Additional resources on the web can be found by accessing my “Linguistics Links” page at


10%     Class participation (includes preparation for class based on readings)

30%     Observation project

25%     Language description project

5%       Presentation on final paper topic

30%     Final Paper


The grading scale is A+ 98-100, A 94-97, A- 90-93, B+ 87-89, B 84-86, B- 80-83, C+ 77-79, etc.


Effective participation requires preparation. It is crucial to come to class having carefully read and thought about the day’s reading. Focusing questions for the readings will be posted on the web syllabus each week to help guide you to think about the general ideas that I find particularly important about the readings. These will be a starting point for discussion, so you should have thought about the questions before class. I may collect your answers to focusing questions if I am dissatisfied with class preparation & participation.


If you are shy and don’t like to speak in class, try to do it anyway. It’s good for you. It’s also useful for everyone to hear how each other’s varied experiences and viewpoints relate to the reading. If you are having real difficulty speaking up, it is a good idea to come talk to me about the focusing questions and your own questions and thoughts about the reading (preferably before the class period when they will be discussed so that you can still take part in the discussion, if only indirectly). If you know you will need to miss class, you should e-mail me your comments and questions before class.

Observation Project (due February 22nd):

Work in pairs (of your choosing), or if necessary, alone, to prepare and submit an observation project that will explore variability in American English (if you are interested in looking at some other variety, come discuss it with me before your topic is due on January 25th). The purpose of the project is to:

a)      make you aware of the types of variation in English (across dialects in the US, within “Standard” American English in the US, and across and within world varieties of English)

b)      make you aware of issues of concern to the ESL/EFL teacher, including the learner’s target variety, error/testing/assessment, and materials adaptation/lesson planning.

Working in pairs is strongly recommended, as you will need to collect at least 40 tokens of some linguistic variable, and this is easier if you have two sets of ears listening for them.


Observation Project Instructions:


1.   Choose an item of American English that exhibits variability in the same linguistic and social context. Some examples are:

“if I were” vs. “if I was”

“real” and “really” or “good” and “well” used as adverbs

the use of objective (e.g., me) vs. nominative (e.g., I) case in object or subject position (particularly conjoined NPs such as “between you and I” or “Me and my brother went”)

pronouns used to replace singular nouns of unspecified gender (e.g., “Someone has left their books here.”)

the use of “whom”

speech acts, such as greetings, responses to “thank you,” apologies, requests, etc.


These are only a few examples. You have many options to choose from—think of your pet grammar peeve and you’re likely to find a good topic. The most important criterion is that the item that you choose must exhibit variability. That is, it must be the case that there is more than one form used in the same context. For example, some people would say “between you and me” and other people would say “between you and I”. Or, the same person might say “between you and me” in some situations and “between you and I” in others. In addition, your item must be something that is typically taught in ESL classes. (You might want to read Chapter 6 of Wardhaugh ahead of time for ideas.)


2.      Collect data. Each time you hear (or see) a variant of your item, write it down with the utterance you heard it in (i.e. don’t just write down “who”, but write down “I don’t know who you’re talking about”). Keep your ears open (or your eyes—printed materials are sources too). Every time you record a token, also record demographic information about the speaker and addressee(s) (sex, age, race/ethnicity, place of origin, relationship between the two interlocutors) and information about the setting. This is very important. What you are trying to do is to uncover the patterns of usage of your variable. These patterns typically reveal themselves in the categories listed above. For example, Southerners may be more likely to say “y’all” for plural “you” than Northerners, and Northerners might be more likely to say “you guys”. If you collected lots of tokens of ways to say plural “you”, then you could look at the characteristics of speakers or settings to see who was using which variant in which setting. To help prepare to for your analysis, you can enter each token with its data into a spreadsheet. Click here for an example.


3.      Once you have collected at least 40 tokens/examples, look for variation. First, identify all the variants you have found. Next, look for patterns. This means that you will look at, for example, how often different social groups (for example, groups by age or gender) used each of the variants and then compare groups to each other (for example, men to women). You might find, for example, that only women use “whom” and that men rarely do. You should also look at other variables such as settings or regions of origin. You might find, for example, that “whom” only occurs in print and never (or rarely) in spoken language. Your data probably won’t fall into discrete categories, but you will notice tendencies for there to be factors that condition the occurrence of specific variants.


4.      After doing the analysis, prepare a written report to be handed in on the observation project due date. I have sample reports available for you to look at if you are not sure how to do yours. Click here for a sample paper that investigates disagreement. The report should describe:

a)      the aspect of American English that you have collected your data on

b)      how you collected your data

c)      the variants you have discovered

d)      an analysis of your data with a table for each of the analytic categories that you found to demonstrate patterning (e.g., Table 1: the variant as it is distributed by gender, Table 2: the variant as it is distributed by age, Table 3: the variant as it is distributed by setting)

e)      how your results compare with explanations given in 3 different ESL textbooks (many different textbooks are available for your perusal in the library and in the GA room)

f)       the implications of your findings for teaching ESL

g)      a table in an appendix that shows all the data that you have collected (i.e. the variants and all the related demographic information for each token).


In the discussion of your results, consider what you already know about variation from the literature (i.e., what we’ve read in this course) and how your results fit in. Notice that your report will have seven sections—the seven described above—including an appendix. You and your partner will both receive the same grade for the project, so be sure that you pick someone with compatible work habits and/or someone you know will share the work!


When you turn in your topic, you should include: what variable you are observing, at least 2 possible variants of that variable, and all data on the first few tokens you have collected.


*** This project is not one that you will want to put off until the last minute. Students who have done this project in the past have found that it was interesting and rewarding, but that the data analysis in particular took a lot of time.


Language Description Project (due March 29th):

Collect data on reactions to recorded speech by (at least) two friends or family members. I will provide you with two sets of recordings in digital format (on a music CD or as a .wav file). The purpose of the project is for you to:

a)      reflect on the readings in a more personal way; relate the readings to your experience with reactions to different varieties, considering whether your findings support the claims made in the readings and how and why they might differ

b)      consider the implications of reactions to language varieties for the speakers’ interactions with others and for language teaching

Human subjects training must be completed before you can get the study materials (February 22nd, the same day the observation project is due, so you will probably want to finish it early!). This is done on an online course at A handout will be given out with more specific instructions on how to choose participants and conduct the study, a consent form, and a language background form. The actual data should be collected by March 15th, when an Excel spreadsheet with the quantitative data for your participants is due (I will provide the template for the spreadsheet when I give out the recordings). I will compile everyone’s data and provide this information to the entire class to be used in your write-ups of the project. The write-up will involve answering questions I will give to you when I give you the compiled data. These questions will require you to describe and reflect on your own experiences and relate your findings and the overall class findings to the readings and the discussions in class.


Paper (due April 26th, 11:59pm):

Write a library research paper of ~15 (12-18) pages on a sociolinguistic topic of your choice. The purpose of this assignment is to give you an opportunity to explore in depth a topic that you have found interesting. For the presentation (April 19th), provide a handout for the class that clearly shows what you looked at and what the main questions, findings, and/or problems are. It should also include a list of the references you are planning to use. The presentation itself should be no longer than about 5 minutes (in order to allow everyone to have time to present).

General requirements for written work:

1.      All work should be typed and double-spaced. You may turn in a hard copy, but you are encouraged to turn in each paper as a Word 2003 attachment to an email. Papers should be emailed to me from your student email accounts before the class period that they are due.

2.      Use APA format (you can use a paper published in any major applied linguistics journal as an example to follow and/or find resources on the web), including non-sexist language. If you need more information about what constitutes sexist language and how to avoid it, you can consult the APA manual or talk to me.

3.      Any material taken from a source needs to be identified as such, even if you have changed the wording. Failure to attribute material to its original author will be considered plagiarism and will result in a zero grade. Read the university policy on academic honesty online at Make sure you understand the appropriate use of sources in your work; if you still have questions after reading the policy, be sure to ask!

4.      Assignments will be graded on depth of coverage (comprehensive/ thorough treatment of the topic reflecting a clear understanding of the subject),presentation (clear, concise, readable prose), and argument (strength of evidence, and attention to counter arguments where necessary).

5.      In case of an emergency that interferes with your work in this class, talk to me as soon as you can. I normally don’t accept late assignments; when I do, I may take off points for each day late.


Program learning outcomes Evaluation
Demonstrate knowledge of the linguistic systems of English phonology, grammar, and discourse Observation project, possibly final paper (depending on topic)
Use cultural knowledge in second language learning and teaching Class discussion, possibly final paper (depending on topic)
Analyze and critique theory and practice of L2 teaching and learning Class discussion, observation project, possibly final paper (depending on topic)
Communicate effectively in both written and oral language All assignments (class participation, presentation, observation project, language description project, and final paper)
Use technology effectively in research and teaching Research for final paper using online databases




*This schedule is subject to change. For example, we may spend more or less time covering some topics, based in part on your feedback. This means that you can play a role in deciding what is covered in class and in what detail, but it also means that you are responsible for making sure you know what you need to do for each class.


Date Topic Assignment due on first day listed
1/11 Introduction (Wardhaugh Ch 1)
1/18 Language Varieties Wardhaugh Chs 2 & 3
dialect, pidgin/creole? handout
dialect, pidgin/creole? handout with notes from in-class brainstorming
Krio examples
1/25 Codes & Speech Communities Wardhaugh Chs 4 & 5
Observation project topics due
2/1 Codes & Speech Communities; Language Variation Lo 1999, Wardhaugh Ch 6, Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 2006 
dialect map–old school
dialect maps
determining social class
2/8 Language Variation & Change Wardhaugh Chs 7 & 8, Snell 2010
2/15 Gender Wardhaugh Ch 13, Cameron 1998
2/22 Linguistic Relativism; Ethnography Wardhaugh Chs 9 & 10
Human Subjects Training must be completed
Handout on language and thought
Linguist Geoff Nunberg on swearing
Handout on ethnography
2/25 Friday, Feb 25, 11:59pm Observation projects due via email; attach Word 2003 doc (& Excel 2003 xls if needed)
3/1 Spring break NO CLASS
3/8 Solidarity and Politeness; Talk and Action Wardhaugh Ch 11, Wardhaugh Ch 12
3/15 Disadvantage Wardhaugh Ch 14, Labov 1972, Lippi-Green 1997 (Ch 9)
Language description summaries due
3/22 Discrimination Lippi-Green 1994, Lippi-Green 1997 (Ch 11), Lindemann 2002 
calculus instructor, in-class discussion
country ratings, in-class discussion
maps & transcripts
3/29 Language description projects due
language description assignment with analyzed data
all data
4/5 Socio(linguistics) & Education Pennycook 2000, Pavelenko 2004, Lindemann forthcoming (first two available on ERes, listed under book editors’ names; last sent out via email 4/1)
4/12 Language Planning Wardhaugh Ch 15
4/19 Presentations
4/26 Papers due, 11:59 pm



Readings available on Electronic Reserves:

Cameron, Deborah (1998). Performing gender identity: Young men’s talk and the construction of heterosexual masculinity. In Jennifer Coates (ed)Language and Gender: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 270-284. Originally published in 1997 in S. Johnson and U. Meinhof (eds) Language and Masculinity (Oxford: Blackwell), 47-64.

Labov, William (1972). The logic of nonstandard English. Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 201-240.Originally published 1969 in Georgetown Monographs in Language and Linguistics 22.

Lindemann, Stephanie (2002). Listening with an attitude: A model of native-speaker comprehension of non-native speakers in the US. Language in Society 31(3), 419-441.

Lindemann, Stephanie (forthcoming). Who’s “unintelligible”? The perceiver’s role. Issues in Applied Linguistics.

Lippi-Green, Rosina (1994). Accent, standard language ideology, and discriminatory pretext in the courts. Language in Society 23: 163-198.

Lippi-Green, Rosina (1997). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States. New York: Routledge. Chapter 9, 176-201 & Chapter 11, 217-239.

Lo, Adrienne (1999). Codeswitching, speech community membership, and the construction of ethnic identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(4), 461-479.

Pavlenko, Aneta (2004). Gender and sexuality in foreign and second language education: Critical and feminist approaches. In Bonny Norton and Kelleen Toohey (eds) Critical pedagogies and language learning. New York, Cambridge University Press53-71.

Pennycook, Alastair (2000). The social politics and the cultural politics of language classrooms. In Joan Kelly Hall and William G. Eggington (eds) The Sociopolitics of English Language Teaching. Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters, 89-103.

Snell, Julia (2010) From sociolinguistic variation to socially strategic stylisation. Journal of Sociolinguistics 14(5), 630-656

Wolfram, Walt & Natalie Schilling-Estes (2006). American English: Dialects and variation (2nd edition). Oxford: Blackwell. 182-187; 190-194; 213-218.


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