Sociolinguistic Theory - LL845

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
View Timetable
7 15 (7.5) DR D Hornsby


LL833; LL838





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.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20

Method of assessment

Essay (3000 words) - 100%

Indicative reading

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

Students will be able to understand and use the basic conceptual terminology of variationist sociolinguistics (e.g. variable, variant, style, indicator, hypercorrection, age-grading);
Students will be able to understand the significance of sociolinguistic data as presented in charts and graphs;
Students will be able to demonstrate an advanced critical awareness of theories of language change;
Students will be able to evaluate critically the social bases for linguistic value judgements;
Students will be able to understand the technical (and ethical) problems of sociolinguistic data collection and analysis;
Students will be able to test theories against language data.

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.