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This course looks at how language works in society. For example, it investigates linguistic variation and language use in conversations, the linguistic markers of social identity and attitudes to different varieties of language (accents, dialects etc).
When we hear somebody talk, even for the very first time, we make a split second judgement about them. That’s because a speaker’s language tells us something about them. We not only receive a linguistic message – the content of what is being said – but we also receive social information. Is the speaker male or female? How old are they? Are they working class or middle class? Are they happy or sad? In this course, we explore how our language is able to convey social cues such as these. Our overarching question is: how does our language influence who we are and who we are seen to be? To answer this question, the course is organised around five themes, taking us from the 'beginnings' to the 'end' of language. The blocks are:1. The 'beginnings' of languageKey questions: How did language develop in the human species? Do animals use language? How do children acquire their first language?2. What does our language say about us?Key questions: How does our language signal the social groups we belong to (e.g. our gender, our age, our social class)? How is language used to project aspects of our social identities?3. Society affects language use, and language use affects societyKey questions: How do our attitudes affect our language use? Why are certain types of language believed to be 'correct' while others are said to be incorrect and ungrammatical? Where do these beliefs come from and how do they affect our society?4. Managing our meaning in a social worldKey questions: How do we get our meanings across in conversation? Do we always say what we mean, and how do listeners understand implied meaning? How do we use language to maintain our social relationships? And how do we use language to cause offence?5. The 'ends' of languageKey questions: Can speakers' language ability 'disappear'? What factors lead to language problems in an individual? Can languages 'die' across whole societies? Can the spread of English be held responsible for the 'death' of other languages across the world?
By the end of the course, students will (1) have developed their knowledge of how language (including sound patterns and grammatical systems) can vary, (2) understand the relationship between language and society, and how e.g. social attitudes can affect language use, (3) understand how different groups of people use language differently. They will also (4) be able to conduct bibliographic searches of relevant work relating to language and society, and (5) be able to critically evaluate rival hypothesis. In particular, they will be able to think critically about the opinions very commonly expressed in the media about linguistic issues, and will be able to evaluate the evidence for those opinions.
An introduction to English sociolinguistics;
Edinburgh University Press, 2010.
Sociolinguistics: an introduction to language and society;
Library portalThe course outline is available on LEARN (only for students enrolled in this course).
Domestic fee $619.00
International fee $2,688.00
* Fees include New Zealand GST and do not include any programme level discount or additional course related expenses.
For further information see
School of Languages and Cultures.