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Unit information: Sociolinguistic Anthropology: Language Culture and Society in 2017/18

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Unit name Sociolinguistic Anthropology: Language Culture and Society
Unit code AFAC30003
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Jordan
Open unit status Not open




School/department Arts Faculty Office
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Sociolinguistics examines how language is used in (and can be reflective of) society. Anthropological linguistics studies the relation between language and culture, and how language is a lens on diverse social worldviews. In this unit, co-taught by researchers in Modern Languages and Anthropology, students will gain an interdisciplinary perspective on the social usage and meaning of language.

Beginning with a solid grounding in sociolinguistics, the unit will cover topics such as ethnicity; sexuality; language diversity, language change, endangerment, and death; multilingualism; linguistic relativism; and the relationship between language, culture, and cognition.


Students will gain an understanding of

  • The similarities and differences between sociolinguistic and anthropological linguistic perspectives.
  • The challenges of interdisciplinary research on language, culture and society.
  • The importance of language in human social behaviour and interaction, and be able to describe how language is used by speakers in establishing group and individual identities of ethnicity, gender, class, and power.
  • The scope and importance of language diversity and how it is theorised to relate to culture and cognition, particularly in the domain of meaning.
  • The relationship between quantitative empirical research on language variation and change and an understanding of how speakers situate themselves socially.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit a successful student will be able to:

a) Demonstrate in-depth familiarity with the discipline of sociolinguistics, by describing influential theories of how language is used by speakers in establishing group and individual identities

b) Deploy new theoretical tools, which will allow for the in-depth study of language variation and change at both speaker and group level.

c) Demonstrate advanced knowledge of one or more speech communities where their target language of study/language of interest is spoken.

d) Articulate with reference to empirical work the differences and commonalities between socio- and anthropological-linguistic approaches.

e) Appraise the implications of language diversity for our understanding of human culture and cognition, particularly in semantics.

f) Apply their new theoretical knowledge to different linguistic situations, and will have carried out independent critical analyses, in order to arrive at their own informed viewpoint.

g) Demonstrate skill in the selection, synthesis, evaluation and analysis of relevant topic-based material, appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

Ten 1-hour lectures + one 1-hour revision session
Eleven 1-hour seminars over the course of the teaching block.

e-learning: Wiki entries by students

Assessment Details

Summative assessment:

1) A 2-hour exam (50%). Assesses ILOs (b), (d), (f) and (g).

2) A 3000 word written assignment (50%). Assesses ILOs (a), (b), (c), (e), and (g)

Formative assessment:

3) Three short paper summaries on class Wiki. Assesses ILOs (b), (f), and (g).

Reading and References

  • Chambers, J.K. and Schilling, N. (2013) The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Duranti, A. Ed. 2004. A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Evans, N. 2009. Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have To Tell Us. Wiley.
  • Salzman, Z., Stanlaw, J., Adachi, N. 2011. Language, Culture and Society. 5th Ed. Westview Press.
  • Wardhaugh, R. and Fuller, J. M. (2015) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.