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Unit information: Sociolinguistics: Language Variation and Change in 2020/21

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Unit name Sociolinguistics: Language Variation and Change
Unit code MODL30015
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. James Hawkey
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Sociolinguistics is the study of language in its social context; it is primarily concerned with analysing how and why speakers mark their personal history and identity in their speech. The study of language variation and change, a sub-discipline of sociolinguistics, examines the ways in which internal linguistic factors and external social factors influence language use and language evolution. In this unit, students will be introduced to key concepts in sociolinguistics, before analysing the treatment of social meaning in sociolinguistics over time by investigating language use in relation to macro-sociological categories (age, sex, social class), ethnographic methods, and the construction of social meaning through language. Additionally, students will examine the spread of linguistic changes over time and over geographical space, as well as exploring the relationship between language use and more recently studied social variables such as sexuality and ethnicity.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate familiarity with the discipline of sociolinguistics;
  2. Apply new theoretical tools which will allow for the in-depth study of language variation and change;
  3. Demonstrate advanced knowledge of one or more speech communities where their target language of study is spoken;
  4. Apply their new theoretical knowledge to different linguistic situations, and carry out independent, original, critical analyses.
  5. Select and synthesise relevant material.
  6. Evaluate and analyse material from a significant body of source materials appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation

Assessment Details

2 x 2500 word essays (summative, 50% each), testing ILOs 1-6.

Reading and References

Texts may be revised depending on the specific foci of attention in a given academic year

  • Chambers, J. K., and N. Schilling (eds). 2013. The Handbook of Language Variation and Change (Oxford: Blackwell)
  • Mesthrie, R. 2011. The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolinguistics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Wardhaugh, R., and J. M. Fuller. 2015. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Oxford: Blackwell)*
  • Students wishing to purchase a set text should opt for Wardhaugh & Fuller (2015).