Abstract - Travis, Grama, Gonzalez

Course: Sociolinguistics in the 21st Century

Instructors: Catherine Travis, James Grama and Simón González

Variationist sociolinguistics has been a trailblazer in areas that have become central to linguistics today, including: analysis based on corpora of spontaneous speech; the application of statistical models; attention paid to minority communities; and the promotion of interdisciplinary work, both between sub-disciplines of linguistics and across disciplines concerned with the study of human society. This course considers some of the key insights that have been put forward over 50 years of variationist work, and places them in the context of linguistics in the 21st Century.

The course will include opportunities for discussion and data analysis. Participants can also engage in a sociophonetics game and have their vowels included in a CoEDL vowel map.

Catherine Travis James Grama Simon Gonzalez

Prerequisites and expected knowledge:  General understanding of linguistics and an interest in the way that language and society intersect. Prior to the course, you might like to listen to: A Life of Learning: Six People I have learned from (Labov, 2009).

Participants who attend all sessions will get the most out of this course, but each session is self-contained and can be taken on its own.

Schedule of topics

Monday November 27th: Insights from 50 years of variationist sociolinguistics

In this first session, we review some of the guiding principles of the variationist method, focusing on the insights they offer linguistics today. In accordance with the typological theme of the Summer School, we examine a range of lects in this and subsequent sessions, including lesser studied varieties and language use in multilingual communities.

Background reading:

Stanford, James. (2016). A call for more diverse sources of data: Variationist approaches in non-English contexts. Journal of Sociolinguistics 20(4):525–541.

Tuesday November 28th: Language change as “orderly heterogeneity”

All language change involves variation, but not all variation involves change (Weinreich, Labov & Herzog 1968: 188). We demonstrate how change over time can be distinguished from stable variation through the quantitative patterning of both social and linguistic variability. In doing so, we take into account a wide range of social categories, drawing from linguistically diverse settings.

Background reading:

Walker, James A. (2010). Variation in Linguistic Systems. London / New York: Routledge, Chapter 7: “Language change”.

Thursday November 30th: Language contact: Testing contact-induced change

Languages come into contact through the speakers who use them. We illustrate how the patterning of variability in speakers’ actual language use provides a yardstick against which to measure the linguistic outcomes of contact. We consider different kinds of measures that have been developed and applied across distinct contact situations.

Background reading:

Sankoff, Gillian. (2013). Linguistic outcomes of bilingualism. In: J. K. Chambers & N. Schilling-Estes (eds.), The handbook of language variation and change. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated (ProQuest Ebook Central).

Friday December 1st: Social meaning via stylistic practice: Identity and the indexical field

As well as being correlated with broad social categories, linguistic variables can be deployed by speakers as a resource both to create social personae and align or disalign with ideologies. We review work that places social meaning in the foreground of the interpretation of variability, and explore how such meaning can be reliably assessed and articulated in broader sociolinguistic inquiry.

Background reading:

Eckert, Penelope. (2008). Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12(4):453-476.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University