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Sociolinguistics: Language and Society (10 credit points)

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

This course offers an introduction to the study of the relationship between language and society. It will cover topics such as: language variation according to class, ethnicity, and gender; language interaction and issues of identity and ideology; multilingualism, language policy and linguistic rights.

Course Details

Content of Course

1. Overview of sociolinguistics. This class will introduce the main topics that will be tackled throughout the course, as well as some of the key terminology used in sociolinguistics and in linguistics in general.

2. Language, class and age. The first part of the class will discuss the ways in which social structure affects how language is used and perceived. The second part of the class will tackle language variation across age groups.

3. Language, ethnicity and place. This class will focus on linguistic variation across ethnic and regional lines. How do we define ethnicity? What is ethnic and regional identity? How do we draw dialect maps?

4. Language and gender. Do men and women speak differently? This class will analyse the role of gender and sexuality in language variation and change. Particular attention will be given to how gender interacts with other variables such as class, ethnicity and race.

5. Style, register and jargon - audience design. This class will deal with how speakers use language according to context, subject, and audience. Special attention will be given to how speakers use style to project particular identities.

6. Language in conversation - solidarity and politeness. In this class we will discuss the ways in which speakers interact in conversations, with a particular focus on questions of politeness, and how these are socially and culturally constructed.

7. Language, identity and power - language attitudes and ideology. The first part of the class will deal with how language can be used to express and construct identity but also power dynamics within speakers and within society. The second part will deal with speakers’ attitudes towards other people’s language, and what linguistic and social ideologies these attitudes reveal

8. Multilingual speakers and multilingual societies. This class will consider how some of the themes and topics discussed throughout the course apply to people who speak more than one language, and two societies where more two or more languages coexist. Particular attention will be given to issues of identity and power.

9. Language planning and education. This class will deal with policies that deal with language, from language in education (which language/dialect should be used in education? How should language be taught?) to planning to protect and promote minority languages, to linguistic rights and language in the courts.

10. Recap and conclusions.

Teaching method(s)

Each two-hour class will combine lectures and discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the social dimension of language and knowledge of the main levels of linguistic analysis;

  • Demonstrate familiarity with basic principles of sociolinguistic research methodology, and be able to critically appraise research in this area;

  • Engage critically in discussion and debate on sociolinguistic topics and make informed judgments on language issues;

  • Apply the knowledge acquired throughout the course to real world examples and to their own personal experiences as language users.


Core Readings


  • Van Herk, G. 2012. What Is Sociolinguistics? Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.


  • Meyerhoff, M. 2006. Introducing Sociolinguistics. London and New York: Routledge.

  • Mesthrie, R., Swann, J., Deumert, A., Leap, W.L. 2009. Introducing Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Class Handouts

Handouts will be provided on a weekly basis.


10 credit courses have one assessment. Normally, the assessment is a 2000 word essay, worth 100% of the total mark, submitted by week 12. To pass, students must achieve a minimum of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

Studying for Credit

If you choose to study for credit you will need to allocate significant time outwith classes for coursework and assessment preparation. Credit points gained from this course can count towards the Certificate of Higher Education.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.