Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language Variation and Change

UM LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DEPARTMENT Institute of Linguistics and Language Technology

DESCRIPTION This study-unit will begin by introducing the key concepts, salient terminology and different approaches which form the basis of sociolinguistic study and analysis, focusing on a variationist perspective. It will start by considering the notion of variables, linguistic as well as social (e.g. sex, age, education). The idea of speech communities will be discussed with a view to starting to look at the social dimension of language usage and getting a preliminary understanding of language variation in all its forms. In particular, this aspect of the study-unit will serve to raise awareness of, and encourage principled study in, the local sociolinguistic context and speech communities of the Maltese islands, which present in themselves a deeply rich and complex resource for the study of variation and change.

Different methodologies for approaching sociolinguistic study and analysis will also be explored. These may include formulating questionnaires and surveys, conducting sociolinguistic interviews, gathering data from secondary sources, and taking field notes. This part of the study-unit will also address issues relating to bias, and the observer's paradox.

Whilst the study-unit will take a mainly synchonic approach to the study of language in society, a brief foray into the study of language from a historical perspective will also be made, with real vs apparent time studies of different sorts being used to contextualise and exemplify, and especially to illustrate the intersection between diachronic and synchronic study. A number of specific themes central to Sociolinguistics (e.g. Linguistic Identities, Language and Power, Multilingualism) will then be examined with a view to allowing the possibility for a more in-depth look at how concepts and approaches outlined in this introductory study-unit can throw light on language usage in society and speech communities, both locally as well as further afield.

Study-Unit Aims:

The aims of this study-unit are to:

- introduce the main concepts for and approaches to the sociolinguistic analysis of language usage - a mainly synchronic approach;
- situate current variationist approaches in the context of these different approaches to sociolinguistic study;
- consider the analysis of language change from the historical perspective - the diachronic approach;
- illustrate and exemplify the concept of variables, linguistic and social, and observe the interplay and relationships between these;
- introduce students to key skills for fieldwork in sociolinguistics;
- provide opportunities for some basic sociolinguistic analysis, and start to think in terms of formulating hypotheses for sociolinguistic analysis;
- carry out a more in-depth examination of a number of key domains of relevance in Sociolinguistics (e.g., Linguistic Identities, Language and Power, Multilingualism).

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- identify key approaches, concepts or terms of sociolinguistic analysis to different scenarios;
- identify linguistic and social variables and the dynamic between the two;
- experiment with the concept of linguistic variation as an approach to linguistic diversity;
- pinpoint key research questions in the local context of sociolinguistic study;
- evaluate appropriate research tools for small-scale fieldwork projects;
- become familiar with domains of study considered relevant in sociolinguistic analysis such as Linguistic Identities, Language and Power, Multilingualism.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- identify patterns of language usage at all linguistic levels in given data;
- analyse sociolinguistic data and engage in a basic level of its interpretation;
- plan, prepare and carry out a very small-scale study to examine language usage in the community;
- take fieldnotes, carry out observations of language usage, and log relevant information all resulting from fieldwork.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Holmes, J., & Wilson, N. (2017). An introduction to sociolinguistics. London/New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.
- Mesthrie, R., Swann, J., Deumert, A., & Leap, W. L. (2009). Introducing sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- Meyerhoff, M. (2015). Introducing sociolinguistics. Routledge: Taylor & Francis.
Romaine, S. (2000). Language in society : An introduction to sociolinguistics (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Tagliamonte, S. A. (2006). Analysing sociolinguistic variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Wardhaugh, R. (2010). An introduction to sociolinguistics (6th edition). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Supplementary Readings:

- Bayley, R., Cameron, R., & Lukas, C. (2013). The Oxford handbook of sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Llamas, C., Watt, D., & Watt, D. J. L. (2010). Language and identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- Romaine, S. (1995). Bilingualism (2nd edition). Oxford: Blackwell.

Main text-books will be identified and announced at the start of the study-unit. Recommendations for additional reading potentially drawn from other texts available in the library or online will also be provided. Specific readings will be assigned on a topic-by-topic basis in the course of the study-unit.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Workshop SEM2 No 10%
Report SEM2 No 15%
Assignment SEM2 Yes 75%

LECTURER/S Sarah Grech


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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2022/3. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.