Language Variation and Change - LING5520

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Spring Term 5 15 (7.5) David Hornsby checkmark-circle


This module will explore the reasons for the initial exclusion of extralinguistic (i.e. social) data from linguistic theory, and the limitations of traditional dialectology, before exploring some early variationist studies by Trudgill (Norwich) and Labov (Martha's Vineyard; New York) and examining their theoretical bases. It will then examine the advances brought about by network studies (e.g. Lesley Milroy in Belfast), and the extent to which they offer a challenge to traditional assumptions in sociolinguistic methodology, which critically evaluates the so-called sociolinguistic gender pattern. The later lectures focus more specifically on issues of change, looking initially at neogrammarian theories and then the claims of Trudgill, James Milroy and others that certain kinds of change are predictable in specific types of social arrangement.


Contact hours

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

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods

• Essay (2,000 words) – 40%
• Presentation (20 minutes) – 20%
• Examination (2 hours) – 40%

Reassessment methods
• Reassessment Instrument: 100% Coursework

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.
Fasold, R. (1990) The Sociolinguistics of Society. 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. (2005) Sociolinguistics. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Wardhaugh, R. (2005) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. 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 Demonstrate critical understanding and use the conceptual terminology of variationist sociolinguistics (e.g. variable, variant, style, indicator, hypercorrection, age-
2 Show how language and social factors are inter-related;
3 Demonstrate familiarity with theories of language change;
4 Demonstrate critical understanding of the significance of sociolinguistic data as presented in charts and graphs;
5 Evaluate critically the social bases for linguistic value judgements;
6 Demonstrate critical understanding of the technical (and ethical) problems of sociolinguistic data collection.

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 both in speech and in writing, to a
specialist and non-specialist audience;
2 Evaluate and interpret data logically;
3 Work cooperatively with others, exercising personal responsibility and sensitivity;
4 Demonstrate their ability to undertake independent learning, by taking initiative, being organised and meeting deadlines;
5 Demonstrate IT skills that enable them to present information effectively; develop and exchange relevant information by using shared access to documents and web-
based learning.


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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