Sociolinguistic Theory - LING8450

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


The module will begin with an examination of Labov, Weinreich and Herzog's early 'manifesto' for sociologically informed linguistics, and the reasons for dissatisfaction with structuralist and generative models in the 1960s/early 1970’s. It will then review classic urban sociolinguistic work as exemplified by Labov (New York), Trudgill (Norwich), and the Milroys (Belfast), before exploring in turn the assumptions underpinning sociolinguistic methodology and some of its key findings (for example, the sociolinguistic gender pattern). The claims of sociolinguists regarding language change will then be considered, and some putative sociolinguistic universals, i.e. general claims about language in society which are presumed to be universally applicable, tested. The module will conclude with consideration of the relationship between social and linguistic structure, and examine some recent work in the field, which challenges the general linguistic tenet that all languages are equally complex.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 130
Total Study Hours: 150

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods

Essay (2,500 words) - 80%
In-class presentation - 20%

Reassessment methods

This module will be reassessed by 100% coursework
Essay (2,500 words) - 100%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Chambers, J. (2003; 2nd ed) Sociolinguistic Theory. Oxford: Blackwell;
Chambers, J., Trudgill, P. & Schilling-Estes, N. (eds) (2002) The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Oxford: Blackwell;
Labov, W. (1996/2001) Principles of Linguistic Change (Vols 1 and 2). Oxford: Blackwell;
Trudgill, P. (2004) New Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes. Oxford: Blackwell;
Trudgill, P. (2011) Social Determinants of Linguistic Complexity. Oxford: Blackwell.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Understand and use the basic conceptual terminology of variationist sociolinguistics (e.g. variable, variant, style, indicator, hypercorrection, age-grading);
2 Understand the significance of sociolinguistic data as presented in charts and graphs;
3 Demonstrate an advanced critical awareness of theories of language change;
4 Evaluate critically the social bases for linguistic value judgements;
5 Understand the technical (and ethical) problems of sociolinguistic data collection and analysis;
6 Test theories against language data.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Communicate the results of study and work accurately, with well-structured and coherent arguments in an effective and fluent manner, to a specialist and non-specialist
2 Evaluate and interpret data logically and systematically;
3 Demonstrate their ability to undertake independent learning, by taking initiative, being organised and meeting deadlines;
4 Use IT skills to present information effectively; develop and exchange relevant information through the use of shared access to documents and web-based learning.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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