Definition: Regional or social variation in pronunciation.

Example: British English
Sam (North of England): ’ave you seen ’enry's new ’ouse?
Jim (South of England): Henry has a new house?

Accommodation: also known as Speech Accommodation Theory (SAT) and Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT)

Definition: Where speakers modify their speech towards that of their addressee(s).

Example: June works as a travel agent in Cardiff. She sees a wide range of clients in the course of her job. Last Tuesday, she saw an accountant, an old friend from school, a woman who works for the council as a cleaner, and a local school teacher. As she spoke to each person she pronounced words like better and matter differently depending on the way her client pronounced these words.

Act sequence

Definition: The order in which turns are taken in a conversation.

Example: In an interview, the interviewer asks a question and then the interviewee answers and the interviewer then responds.

Acquiescence bias

Definition: The tendency for respondents to agree with statements, regardless of their content. This means people may contradict themselves in a long survey.

Example: Acquiescence bias might result in people agreeing with both these statements at different points in a survey.
New Zealanders speak with an attractive accent.
The New Zealand accent is not at all attractive.

Adjacency Pairs

Definition: Sequences of utterances from different speakers made up of a first part and a second part that typically occur together. A particular first part often requires a particular (or range of) second part(s).

A: hello
B: hello
A: how are you?
B: I'm fine thanks

Affective code-switching

Definition: Changing language or formality level to express certain feelings or emotions.

Example: New Zealand Chinese mother speaking to young daughter. Cantonese is in capitals and here expresses impatience.
Mother: Come on let's go
Daughter: No I want to stay here and play
Mother: HURRY UP we're going to be late

Affective function

Definition: Expresses feelings.

Example: I feel really great today!

African-American vernacular English/AAVE

Definition: A distinct variety of American English spoken in many African American communities. Some characteristics are the absence of copula verb be, the use of habitual aspect be, and absence of possessive s. There are also distinctive phonological and lexical features.

He a teacher. = He’s a teacher.
She be at school on weekdays. = She's always at school on weekdays.
Tom hat. = Tom’s hat.


Definition: a sound produced by building up air behind a complete closure at some point in the mouth, followed by a slow release which sounds like a fricative.

Example: the initial sounds in English chin and chat, jar and jury, and the initial sound in German Zeit are affricates.


Definition: Refers to features of people's speech which vary at different ages: e.g. pitch, vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar.

Example: Teenage son: It's munted!
Father: It's what?

American English

Definition: The variety of English associated with the United States of America.

Example: Hillary Clinton’s variety; English spoken by characters in the TV programme Friends.


Definition: A word or usage distinctive to EngIish spoken in the United States of America.

Example: faucet (tap elsewhere), diaper (nappy elsewhere), car trunk (boot elsewhere), switchback (track or road with hairpin bends), pacifier (dummy elsewhere)

Anglicised pronunciation

Definition: When English phonology is used in words adopted from another language.

Example: espresso = expresso.

Apparent-time studies

Definition: Studies which compare the speech of older speakers to that of younger speakers in order to investigate language change in progress.

Example: In her study in Sydney, Barbara Horvath compared the percentage of HRTs (high-rising terminals or rising intonation at the end of statements) used by people in different age-groups. She found that HRTs were used far more by teenagers than by adults, suggesting that HRTs might become an established feature of Sydney speech in the future.

Audience design

Definition: Speakers vary their style according to their (perceived) audience.

Example: Radio news readers vary their style according to the perceived audience of the radio station they are broadcasting on.

Australian English

Definition: The variety of English associated with Australia.

Example: Julia Gillard’s or Tony Abbot’s variety; variety spoken by characters in the TV programme Neighbours.


Back vowel

Definition: a vowel produced by the tongue in the back of the mouth.

Example: the vowel in caught

BBC English

Definition: Regionally neutral accent in England associated with a major broadcasting corporation.

Example: Sir David Attenborough

Bilingual education

Definition: Education where the goal is to produce bilingual pupils.
In Singapore, English is used for teaching alongside Malay or Mandarin (or both), and is available throughout the education system.
In Montreal, English speaking children may attend schools where only French is used for the first few years. English is introduced once French reading and writing have been established.


Definition: Knowledge of two languages.

Example: Marie is bilingual. She grew up in Montreal with English as her first language, learned in the home. She went to a French immersion school so that at age fifteen, she also speaks French fluently.


Definition: A word or phrase used to strengthen the force of an utterance.

Example: I am telling you she is really very polite.

British Black English

Definition: Distinctive varieties used by ethnic minorities in Britain such as those of West Indian or Caribbean descent. For example, many people of West Indian or Caribbean descent speak a variety of Jamaican Creole (often called Patois) as well as English.

Example: dem kids lick him den walk away. = those kids hit him then walked away.

British English

Definition: The varieties of English associated with Britain

Example: Tony Blair’s variety; variety spoken by characters in the TV programme EastEnders.

Broad diglossia

Definition: Where two separate languages are used for different functions in a community, especially where one is used for high (H) or more formal functions and the other for low (L) or informal functions.

Example: In Paraguay, Spanish and Guaraní are used in different situations. Where Spanish is appropriate (usually in more formal contexts), Guaraní is not and vice versa.


Canadian English

Definition: The variety of English associated with Canada.

Example: Variety used by Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy; variety spoken by character Robin Sherbatsky in the TV programme How I Met Your Mother; variety used by Bob and Doug McKenzie in the TV programme Great White North.

Case markers

Definition: affixes on words signalling their grammatical status as subject, object, possessive, etc.

Example: In Latin the -a on Maria in the sentence Mari-a puell-am amat ‘Mary loves the girl’ marks Mary as the subject while the –am on puellam signals it is the object. The –a is thus a subject case marker and the –am is an object case marker.

Change from above

Definition: Linguistic changes which take place above the level of conscious awareness i.e. speakers have some awareness of the fact that these linguistic changes are occurring. This can also refer to changes which are entering the community’s speech from higher social groups and spreading to lower groups.

Example: Labov noted the spread of (r) pronunciation in the speech of people in New York City in the 1960s. He reported that this was a feature which speakers were conscious of in their speech and that of others.

Change from below

Definition: Linguistic changes which take place below the level of conscious awareness i.e. speakers are not aware that such linguistic changes are taking place. This can also refer to changes which are entering the community’s speech from lower social groups and spreading to higher groups.

Example: Labov provided evidence of considerable change in the vowel system of Philadelphian English in the 1990s. None of the changes, however, have risen to any prominent level of social awareness.


Definition: Refers to a person's social standing or socio-economic position in society. This is often judged according to level of education and occupation, and in some societies by income and family background.

Example: Members of the aristocracy in England would be classified as upper class; those engaged in manual or unskilled labour would generally be classified as working class.

Classic or narrow diglossia

Definition: When two distinct varieties of the same language are used in the community for different and complementary functions. One is regarded as a High (H) form, the other as the Low (L) form. No-one uses the high variety in everyday conversation.

Example: In Eggenwil, a town in the Aargau canton of Switzerland, Silvia, a bank teller, knows two very different varieties of German. One is the local Swiss German dialect of her canton which she uses in her everyday interactions with other Swiss Germans. The other is standard German which she learnt at school, and although she understands it very well indeed, she rarely uses it in speech. Newspapers are written in standard German, and when she occasionally goes to hear a lecture at the university it may be in standard German.

Code (or variety)

Definition: Any set of linguistic forms which patterns according to social factors: i.e. used under specific social circumstances. The term includes different accents, different linguistic styles, different dialects and even different languages which contrast with each other for social reasons.

Example: Maria is a teenager whose Portuguese parents came to London in the 1960s. She uses mainly Portuguese at home and to older people at the Portuguese Catholic church and community centre, but English is the appropriate code (or variety) for her to use at school.

Code-mixing (also known as code-switching)

Definition: Rapid switching from one language to another within a conversation.

Example: Samoan is in CAPITALS.
Albert: My doctor told me to go on a diet. She said I was overweight. I tried. BUT IT WAS SO HARD.
Kath: Yeah yeah, it’s all very well for the doctor to say BUT IT IS HARD TO CUT DOWN eh.


Definition: Use of more than one language during a conversation.

Example: Athena and her family moved from Crete to New Zealand ten years ago. Nowadays, when she talks to her younger brother, she tends to use both Greek and English - often in the same utterance.


Definition: A systematic description of language, usually as part of a process of standardisation. This is usually achieved through the production of grammars and dictionaries and sometimes also pronunciation manuals.

Example: In the 1470s, William Caxton used the speech of the London area as the basis for his translations of French works. Selecting forms was not always straightforward, however, as there were often several possible alternatives; he reported that he consulted the best writers of the upper class for judgments on usage issues.


Definition: The creation of new lexical items as a response to the changing world. Some of these become permanent language features and others die out.
Examples: compact disc, website, opensource, blog

Communication Accommodation Theory: also known as Speech Accommodation Theory

Definition: A theory to account for how people change their style of speech towards or away from that of the target audience/speaker. Converging or modifying speech patterns towards the target’s speech indicates familiarity or solidarity or a desire to please; diverging or moving speech style away from a target’s speech style generally indicates a desire to emphasise social distance.

Example: Joe has heavily accented Irish English, Mandy who speaks American accented English, starts to use some of the features of Irish English, indicating her wish to get closer. 

Community of practice

Definition: A group engaged in a shared enterprise, who interact regularly, and who have common attitudes, and values, and a shared repertoire.

Example: a book group, a hiking group, a rugby team.

Consonant cluster simplification (or reduction)

Definition: When a group of two or more consonants, usually at the end of a word, is simplified by the elimination of one or more of them.

Example: fast -> fas’; hold -> hol’; desk -> des’

Contextualization cues

Definition: features (including linguistic, paralinguistic and non-verbal) which allow a speaker to signal and listeners to interpret the social meaning of an utterance.

Example: Laughter may indicate an utterance is intended as a joke or a tease rather than as a serious comment; facial expression or a sigh may indicate a speaker is unhappy with what has just been said; strong stress might indicate surprise.


Definition: Ways in which speakers emphasise similarities between their speech and that of others. When people like the person they are talking to or wish to please them or put them at ease, their speech often becomes more similar: i.e. their speech converges.

Example: A travel agent in Wales using Welsh when talking to Welsh clients and English to English clients.

Covert prestige

Definition: Favourable connotations associated with the use of vernacular forms.

Example: Someone may use local forms to show that they belong to a particular group. Working class men in Norwich told Peter Trudgill that they “speak ’orrible”, yet they continued to consistently use local vernacular forms, indicating that, despite their overt statements, they valued their local dialect.


Definition: A pidgin which has acquired native speakers and has consequently expanded in structure (grammar and vocabulary) in order to express the range of meanings and functions required of a first language.

Example: Tok Pisin in New Guinea, Bislama in Vanuatu, Haitian creole in Haiti.



Definition: a broad grammatical category of words which precede nouns in English.

Example: the definite article (the), the indefinite article (a, an), demonstrative items such as this, that, these and those, and possessives such as my and your. More formally, English determiners can occur in the following slot:  ___ (Adjective) Noun.


Definition: Historical. A diachronic study of a language traces changes in the language over time.

Example: Labov traced how the diphthongs in words like house and right changed over time in the speech of inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard in the United States of America.


Definition: Variety with distinctive regional or social features of vocabulary and/or grammar, as well as differences in pronunciation.

Example: Jill (Cockney): The ol’ bill nicked me mate on Saturday night.
Sue (RP): Oh no. Why did the police arrest your friend?

Dialect continuum/chain

Definition: Moving from one village to another, there are only small changes in speech features from location to location. Inhabitants of adjacent villages can usually understand each other. Over large distances, however, speech differences are so great that inhabitants at either end of the chain may not be able to understand each other.

Example: Miriam learnt both French and Italian at university. While studying in Paris she decided to travel to Rome, staying in many of the provincial towns along the way. She found that the further she moved away from Paris, the more difficult it was to understand what was being said, although she had no problems being understood. In Chambery, near the French-Italian border, she wasn't sure whether she was hearing French Italian or Italian French. Gradually, as she approached Rome, she began to comprehend more and more of what she heard, and on reaching Rome found some kind of a match with the Italian she had learnt at university.

Dispreferred second pair part

Definition: The second part of a sequence of utterances which is unexpected, less frequent, or more structurally complicated.

A: Would you like tea?
B: Coffee would be better thanks.


Definition: Ways in which speakers emphasise differences between their speech and that of others.
When people do not like the person they are talking to or find them irritating, features of their speech often become more different: i.e. their speech diverges.

Example: A number of people learning Welsh were asked to help with a survey. In their separate booths in the language laboratory, they were asked a number of questions by a standard English speaker. At one point this speaker arrogantly challenged the listeners’ reasons for learning Welsh which he called a ‘dying language which had a dismal future’. In responding to this statement the learners generally broadened their Welsh accents. Some introduced Welsh words into their answers, while others used an aggressive tone.


Definition: Involves typical interactions between typical participants in typical settings.

Example: Family, friendship, religion, workplace, education.

Double-nested diglossia

Definition: Where two language varieties exist side by side as H and L varieties, with additional high and low varieties within each variety.

Example: In Khalapur, India, Hindi and a local dialect, Khalapur, function as high (H) and low (L) varieties, and within each of these there are again high and low varieties: oratorical Hindi (H) and conversational Hindi (L); Khalapur saf boli (H) (‘clean speech’); Khalapur moti boli (‘gross speech’) (L).

Double-overlapping diglossia

Definition: Where one variety is used both as a high (H) and low (L) variety in different situations.

Example: A young girl in Tanzania may acquire her tribal language in the home as a L variety and then learn Swahili at school as a H variety. If she then goes to study at university with other students who speak different tribal languages, Swahili changes status in her repertoire. The language of instruction in lectures is now English (her new H variety) while the students use Swahili for everyday interaction i.e. the L variety for this group.


Emblematic code-switching

Definition: Changing between languages to symbolise group membership, often involving just short routine phrases in one language.

Example: membership of Māori community indicated by use of kia ora or nē.

Equivalence of structure constraint

Definition: Switches can only occur at points where the surface structures of both languages match each other.

Example: English/French: red boat/bateau rouge = *bateau red (breaks the constraint);
big house/grande maison = grande house (conforms to the constraint).

Ethnolinguistic Vitality

Definition: Comprised of three components as predictors of language maintenance.
(1) Status of the language as reflected in attitudes towards it. (2) The size of the group who use it and their distribution. (3) Extent to which the language has institutional support.

Example: Welsh language revival in Wales. Welsh has high prestige in Wales; its speakers are generally confined to Wales; it has institutional support in the form of use in the media and in formal education.



Definition: our public self-image that we try both to protect and to promote positively.

Example: People do not like to appear incompetent in front of their boss: i.e. they try not to lose face; when a person has made an error, they often try to minimise it: i.e they try to save face.  

Feedback (or back-channelling)

Definition: signals that one is attending to the speaker’s contribution; may be verbal or non-verbal.

Example: mm, uh-huh, right, head nodding, attentive gaze.

Folk-linguistic beliefs

Definition: The linguistic perceptions that people have on the basis of stereotypes and generalisations rather than research-based evidence.

Example: The beliefs that men swear more than women and that women talk more than men.

Free morpheme constraint

Definition: Code-switching is prohibited after a bound morpheme.

Example: In Greek-English code-switching, when the plural morpheme -s is used in the word dogs, the following word will be in English i.e. the same language used for dogs:
Greek is in CAPITALS
LOOK AT WHAT THOSE dogs are eating!


Definition: a sound made by narrowing the exit passage of air from the lungs at some point sufficiently to cause friction.

Example: [s], [z], [f], [v].


Gender exclusive features

Definition: Features of language (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary) used by one gender but not by other genders in a community.
Japanese men use: oyaji (‘father’), hara (‘stomach’), umai (‘delicious’)  
Japanese women use: lotoosan (‘father’), onaka (‘stomach’, oishii delicious’).

Gender preferential features

Definition: In communities where features of the social roles of women and men are similar or overlap, linguistic features are generally shared, though each gender may use different frequencies in particular social contexts.

Example: In English-speaking communities, women tend to use more -ing pronunciations and fewer –in pronunciations than men in words like swimming and talking in more formal styles.


Definition: Linguistic category referring to the style associated with a specific type of communicative event.

Example: Radio interview, sports commentary, lecture.

Glottal stop

Definition: a brief period of silence or absence of sound caused by cutting off the air stream from the lungs at the vocal cords. It functions as a consonant in some languages. It can be heard in place of medial and final [t] in some English dialects.

Example: English speakers of the Cockney dialect replace standard [t] with a glottal stop in words such as bitter and pint.


Definition: Relaxed talk on familiar topics between friends in informal settings (stereotypically considered characteristic of women’s interactions) which functions to build and maintain social relationships.

Jo: Did you hear that May won Lotto last week?
Chris: Really?
Jo: Yeah she’s always so lucky.



Definition: Word-initial [h] is not pronounced in English.

Example: No [h] pronunciation at the beginning of house, here, hard i.e.'ouse, 'ere, 'ard.


Definition: A word or phrase used to weaken or soften the force of an utterance.
Example: I suspect that he is a bit unreliable.

High (H) diglossic variety

Definition: Variety used for formal functions and in formal contexts in a diglossic situation.

Example: French in Haiti; Standard German in Switzerland; Spanish in Paraguay; Classical Arabic, the language of the Quran/Koran across Arabic-speaking countries.


Definition: Expressions which indicate the relative status or social roles of the speaker and addressee (e.g. higher status of the addressee).

Army private to corporal: Yes sir.

HRT: high rising terminal

Definition: Rising question intonation used in a declarative utterance to make a statement.

Example: (? indicates rising intonation)
I went home at six? And then I had my dinner? And then I watched TV?


Definition: Hypercorrection is when individuals over-extend a particular usage in trying to emulate others. This tends to occur in situations where speakers can monitor their own speech, for instance, when reading word lists. Hypercorrect usage goes beyond the norm.

Example: In Labov's 1966 New York City study he found that lower middle class speakers used even more of the prestigious post-vocalic (r) in their more formal styles than the upper middle class did.



Definition: the standard form of a sentence used to express a command or order in a language. In English this usually involves using the verb without any subject.

Example: Sit down, cook the dinner!


Definition: In variationist sociolinguistics an indicator is a feature which (unlike a stereotype and a marker) does not have any overt social evaluation attached to it and which generally does not attract explicit attention within a speech community.

Example: Vowels which distinguish regional groups are good examples: e.g. North of England (a:) a low vowel is pronounced at the front of the mouth (rather than at the back like the RP vowel) in words like grass, start, bath.  The pronunciation of the word bed in a way that sounds to outsiders like bid is an indicator in the New Zealand speech community. 


Definition: Affixes added to word roots to signal grammatical information such as number, case, gender, tense, aspect.

Example: the –s at the end of books is an inflection; so is the –s on loves in she loves books.


Definition: Modifier which boosts or emphasises the meaning of another word or phrase.
Examples: very good; really awful; so delicious


Definition: The standard form of a sentence used to express a question in a language. In English, this involves reversal of the verb and subject.

Example: Has he cooked the dinner?; where are you going?

Inter-sentential switching

Definition: Changing codes between sentences.

Example: French is in CAPITALS
Marie: IL PLEUT AUJOURDHUI. (It's raining today.) I hate rainy days!

Intra-sentential linguistic constraints

Definition: Potentially universal limits on switching within sentences.

Example: Equivalence of structure constraint.

Irish English

Definition: The variety of English associated with Ireland (also known as Hibernia English).

Example: Daniel Day Lewis’ role in the film In the Name of the Father;Brendan Gleeson’s rolein The Guard; the variety used in the filmWaking Ned Devine.


Definition: Boundary which distinguishes an area on a map where a certain linguistic feature is found from areas in which it is absent.

Example: Near the South Australia/Victoria border, there is an isogloss that runs from midway between Renmark and Dareton south to midway between Penopa and Edenhope. People on the South Australian side say slippery dip while those on the other side say slide.



Definition: The particular and often technical language, especially vocabulary, used by a group of specialists (such as doctors and lawyers) to talk about their speciality; a feature of occupational style.

Example: The label ‘Corporate Responsibility Analyst’ to describe a role that involves examining the effects of an organisation on the environment.


Kinship terminology

Kinship terminology provides labels for relationships based on genealogy and biology: parenthood, marriage relationships, sex and generation are distinctions expressed in some way in most systems.

Example: mother, husband, cousin, nephew, grand-daughter.


Definition: A variety which is the result of dialect contact. Both linguistic and social factors contribute to its creation. The koine typically has some features from each of the contributing dialects, with most features typically coming from the dialect of the largest group of speakers.

Example: People moved into the new British English town of Milton Keyes from many different regions in the 1960s and 1970s, but most came from the east end of London. Consequently, many of the features of the koine which developed could be traced back to this London dialect.


Language attitudes

Definition: How people feel about different languages and dialects. This generally reflects their views of the people who use them.

Example: 'Danish is not a language, but a throat disease', wrote one Norwegian respondent in reply to a 1950s postal questionnaire asking for Scandinavian people's opinions of the relative aesthetic qualities of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.

Language change

Definition: Change within a language over a period of time.

Example: The substitution of a glottal stop for [t] in certain positions is increasing in Norwich.

Language death

Definition: The situation where all the speakers of a language die so that their language dies with them.

Example: Of approximately 200 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia when the Europeans arrived, between 50 and 70 disappeared as a direct result of the massacre of the Aboriginal people or their death from diseases introduced by Europeans.

Language loss

Definition: Attrition process, when an individual's proficiency in their native language diminishes.

Example: Annie is a young speaker of Dyirbal, an Australian Aboriginal language. She also speaks English which she has learned at school. There is no written Dyirbal material for her to read, and there are fewer and fewer contexts in which she can appropriately hear and speak the language. She is steadily becoming less proficient in it. She can understand the Dyirbal she hears used by the older people in her community, and she uses it to speak to her grandmother. But her grandmother is scathing about Annie's ability in Dyirbal, saying she doesn't speak the language properly.

Language maintenance

Definition: Process by which a minority language community sets out to inhibit the shift or loss of their language. Several factors may contribute to language maintenance, such as (1) the degree to which the language is considered an important symbol of the group's identity; (2) frequent contact with other speakers in the community; (3) frequent contact with the homeland, through visits home or new migrants or visitors.
Examples of speech communities engaged in language maintenance efforts: Samoan in New Zealand; Greek in Sydney; Cree in Canada.

Language planning

Definition: A deliberate, systematic attempt to address the communication issues of a society by studying the varieties (languages/dialects), and developing a policy concerning their form, selection and/or use.

Example: In the nineteenth century, Finland, being a close neighbor of Imperial Russia and Sweden, developed the form of its language to differentiate itself from these two countries.

Language revival

Definition: A conscious effort by a community to revitalise a language that is in danger of disappearing.

Example: David is Welsh and he lives in Llandudno in Gwynedd. He is fourteen and he goes to a Welsh-medium boys' secondary school where he is taught maths, physics and chemistry in English, and history, geography and social studies in Welsh. Like most of the boys in his class he went to a Welsh-medium primary school where almost all the teaching and learning was in Welsh. His parents speak some Welsh but they are not fluent, and he reckons he knows a lot more Welsh vocabulary than they do.

Language shift

Definition: When a community moves from using one language to using another for everyday communication. This can be a gradual process over several generations.

Example: Before the First World War the town of Oberwart (known then by its Hungarian name Felsor) was part of Hungary, and most of the townspeople used Hungarian most of the time. However, because the town had been surrounded by German-speaking villages for over 400 years, many people also knew some German. At the end of the war, Oberwart became part of Austria, and German became the official language. In the 1920s Oberwart was a small place and the peasants continued to use Hungarian to each other, and German with outsiders. As Oberwart grew and industry replaced farming as the main source of jobs, the functions of German expanded and people began to use German in domains where Hungarian had formerly been the norm.


Definition: A simplification process which eliminates marked variants from the contributing dialects to a koine.

Example: If people who speak dialects with post-vocalic [r] come into contact with people who do not, levelling generally leads to the disappearance of post-vocalic [r] in the koine. This has happened in large parts of England.

Lexical borrowing

Definition: The process by which words are adopted into one language from another; also known as a loanword.
Examples: kumara (sweet potato) borrowed from Māori into New Zealand English; bungalow borrowed from Gujarati bangalo into British English; garage from French into English.

Lexical diffusion

Definition: The process whereby sound changes spread through different words in the lexicon of a community one by one.

Example: In Belfast a vowel change affected the vowel in the word pull before put, and put before should, although they all started off with the same vowel, and they all ended up with the identical different vowel at a later point.

Lexical item

Definition: a unit in the dictionary of a language. It may consist of more than one orthographic word.

Example: made up is one lexical item in she made up a story.


Definition: Vocabulary; the total stock of words in a language.

Example: Many linguists undertake research in the area of lexis, studying features of the vocabulary of a language. The result may be a new dictionary.

Linear polyglossia

Definition: Where there is more than one set of languages/language varieties which arrange themselves in order of High (H1, H2 ...) and Low (L1, L2 ….). There may also be intermediate or Middle varieties (M).

Example: Language situation for some English-educated Malaysian Hokkien Chinese. Formal Malaysian English = H1, Bahasa Malaysia = H2, Mandarin = DH (i.e. Dummy High, mainly symbolic and rarely used), Colloquial Malaysian English = M1, formal Hokkien = M2, colloquial Hokkien = L1, rarely used. Other Chinese language e.g. Teochew = L2 - not used extensively (if at all), Bazaar Malay = L3.

Lingua franca

Definition: A language serving as a means of communication between speakers whose first languages differ.

Example: In Tanzania, people tend to use Swahili as a lingua franca when speaking to someone from a different tribal group.

Linguistic conservatism

Definition: Use of older more established language forms.

Example: Using he as a generic third person singular pronoun.

Linguistic determinism

Definition: Strong form of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, stating that perceptions of reality are determined by the language people use.

Example: Linguistic determinism claims that a person who speaks Hopi perceives reality differently to an English speaker because Hopi has different linguistic (syntactic-semantic) categories than English.

Linguistic innovation

Definition: Use of newer language forms.

Example: Using they as a generic third person singular pronoun

Linguistic insecurity

Definition: anxiety or lack of confidence about ‘correct’ or standard linguistic usage, especially in formal situations. People sometimes hyper-correct or over-extend a particular usage when they are unsure of themselves.

Example: Latin-based English grammars used by school teachers in an earlier era resulted in linguistic insecurity about when it is appropriate to use I vs me in utterances such as It is I/me.   

Linguistic relativity

Definition: Weaker form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, stating that language influences our perception, attitudes and thoughts and potentially affects our behaviour.

Example: Many languages have a rich array of terms to describe natural phenomena. French, for example, distinguishes between rivière, a river that flows into another river, as opposed to fleuve, a river that runs directly to the sea.

Linguistic (speech) variable

Definition: Linguistic feature with more than one realisation (or variant).

Example: pronunciation of -ing at the end of words such as running, hopping; pronunciation of t between two vowels such as butter, matter.

Loan words

Definition: Words that have been adopted or borrowed by one language from another.

Example: marae = traditional meeting place (from Māori into New Zealand English); dêja vu (from French into English).

Low (L) diglossic variety

Definition: In a diglossia, the variety used as a colloquial means of everyday communication, and especially in the home.

Example: Haitian creole in Haiti; Swiss German in Switzerland; Guaraní in Paraguay.


Māori English

Definition: A variety of New Zealand English often associated with Māori speakers but also used by some non-Māori with Māori networks.

Example: Variety used by Billy T. James playing the newsreader in the YouTube excerpt Te News and character in the New Zealand Film Came a Hot Friday; variety used by Taika Waititi in the film Boy.


Definition: Knowledge of Māori culture, vital and essential elements of Māori culture, Māoriness.

Example: Māoritanga includes knowing how to behave appropriately (including recognition of the appropriate discourse patterns) on the marae, the traditional meeting place for Māori tribes.


Definition: The traditional meeting place of a Māori tribe, sub-tribe or extended family. The term marae is used to refer to a complex of land, carved buildings and their surrounds, including the meeting house, dining hall and other facilities. It is the centre of cultural activity in a community for both social and ceremonial events. The term marae ātea refers to the open space immediately in front of the carved ancestral meeting house of a marae complex. This space is where pōwhiri, formal rituals of encounter, take place.

Example: The tangihanga, funeral, of a Māori person generally takes place at their tribal marae.


Definition: In variationist sociolinguistics a marker is a linguistic feature which indicates people’s social class and style and identity.

Example: When New Yorkers pronounce postvocalic [r] in more formal contexts, they will usually be evaluated as educated and as speaking appropriately. This feature is a marker since it stratifies for both style and social group.

Matched-guise technique

Definition: Technique used in language attitude research. It employs speakers who can convincingly switch varieties (language, dialect, accent), and thus adopt different 'guises'. The speakers produce the same utterances, first in the 'guise’ of a fluent speaker of one variety and then in the 'guise' of another. Listeners are unaware that the different forms are produced by a single speaker, and they therefore respond not to any individual characteristics of the speaker’s voice or the content of the text, which remain constant, but only to the language, dialect or accent being employed. Using this technique, people’s attitudes to different varieties can be identified.

Example: Howard Giles asked children to listen to three accents and rate them in terms of the prestige of the speaker and the pleasantness of the voice. All three accents were actually produced by a single speaker, although the children were not aware of this. They rated them differently according to their stereotypes of the speakers of the different accents.

Metaphorical code-switching

Definition: Changing language varieties to draw on the social meanings associated with each variety. This kind of switching involves rhetorical skill.

Example: At a village meeting among the Buang people in Papua New Guinea the main village entrepreneur uses both Buang and Tok Pisin to persuade people who have put money into a village store to leave it there. (Tok Pisin is in CAPITALS. Buang is not).

(English translation: If any problem comes up, I will be able to settle all the arguments. OK. This is the way - the money that is there can't go back to the shareholders, and the meeting brought up all these arguments.)

Minority language

Definition: Language used by a minority speech community in a society where the majority language is regarded as the norm.

Example: Spanish in America, Gujarati in England.

Modal items

Definition: Elements which express speakers’ attitudes to the truth of their assertions, or express obligation or permission.

Example: English modal verbs include will, would, may, might, can, could, should, must. Other modal items are words such as perhaps, probably and maybe.


Definition: actions that communicate meaning such as gesture, gaze, posture, speech, and so on.

Example: Ann says: ‘These people need to be supported as you said Helen, and we should take steps to assist them’. As she says ‘as you said Helen’, she turns towards Helen and makes a small hand gesture in her direction (GESTURE). She then looks around the whole group as she finishes her utterance (GAZE).


Definition: Knowledge of only one language.

Example: Kerry is from Whangarei. Recently she traveled around Europe. She found it difficult since she could speak only English.


Definition: the word structure of languages and the study of word structure.

Example: A morphologist would analyse the word wonderfully into three components: wonder and ful (adjectival suffix)and –ly (adverbial suffix); and the word boys into two components boy and s (plural suffix).


Definition:A variety which develops in cities where people from many different ethnic groups mix and communicate. It has many distinctive features as a result of the languages and dialects which different speakers bring to its construction.

Example: In multi-ethnic areas of London, Multicultural London English has features such as the use of a rather than an before a noun beginning with a vowel: e.g. a orange, a apple.


Definition: Knowledge of more than language.

Example: Oi Lin Tan lives in Singapore. She uses Cantonese to her mother and grandfather who lives with them. With her friends she generally uses Singaporean English. At primary school she was taught for just over half the time in Mandarin Chinese, and so she often watches Channel 8, the Mandarin television station, and she regularly reads a Chinese newspaper which is written in Mandarin Chinese.

Multiplex network

Definition: A network in which people are involved with a range of different individuals in a variety of distinct spheres or activities.

Example: Gavin plays basketball with Tom, works with Pam, and shares a flat with Sid. His social network is multiplex.


National language

Definition: The language of a political, cultural and social unit, generally developed and used as a symbol of national unity.

Example: Guaraní is the national language of Paraguay. Swahili is the national language of Tanzania.

Negative face needs

Definition: An individual's desire not to be imposed upon nor impeded in action.

Example: Your need to not have others expect you to join in activities you don’t like.

Negative politeness

Definition: The use of language which indicates awareness of an individual’s negative face needs.

Example: I don't suppose there's any chance you're going past my place, is there? = A negatively polite way of asking for a lift.

Network density

Definition: A measure of the extent to which members of a person's social network are in touch with each other.

Example: If all your friends know each other independently of you then network density is high.
Tom's friends and relations know and interact regularly with each other, as well as with him. His network has very high density.

Network plexity

Definition: A measure of the range of different types of relationships people are involved in with different individuals.

Example: Fred, Nick and Jo work together. Fred and Jo also belong to the same indoor netball team and Nick and Jo attend the same church. Their networks are multiplex.

New Zealandism

Definition: A word or usage distinctive to New Zealand English.

Example: Plunket nurse = nurse who advises on baby’s needs; dairy = corner shop.

New Zealand English

Definition: The variety of English associated with New Zealand.

Example: the variety used by Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie and Rhys Darby in the TV series Flight of the Conchords.


Definition: Linguistic forms or varieties that do not conform to the standard.

Example: West Yorkshire English; African American Vernacular English


Definition: The accepted ways of doing something within a community: e.g. way of opening an interaction, way of gaining the floor.

Example: In some Australian Aboriginal communities it is not appropriate to ask direct questions. In some North American Indigenous communities it is not appropriate to speak directly to strangers.


Observer's paradox

Definition: The aim of linguistic research is to find out how people speak when they are not being systematically observed. The paradox is, however, that data of this kind is only available through systematic observation.

Example: Labov developed the ‘danger of death’ question to combat the observer’s paradox. When people become emotionally involved in a story which describes an occasion when they were in serious danger, they tend to forget about the tape-recorder/the observer.

Official language

Definition: A language used for government business with a primarily utilitarian rather than symbolic function.

Example: Swahili and English are both official languages in Tanzania but only Swahili is the national language. In Vanuatu, Bislama, French and English are all official languages but only Bislama is the national language.

Overt prestige

Definition: Favourable connotations generally associated with the features of the language variety used by influential members of society. People may deliberately use such features to convey an educated or cultured impression.

Example: The language behaviour of the lower middle class in Labov’s 1966 New York City study indicated that post-vocalic [r] had overt prestige in the community.



Definition: A non-Polynesian New Zealander, usually used to refer specifically to a New Zealander of European origin.

Example: Sir Edmund Hillary was a famous Pākehā New Zealander. The members of the Flight of the Conchords are also Pākehā.

Passive voice

Definition: In English, the passive voice uses the auxiliary BE + the past participle of the main verb.

Example: The plant is watered every day by Mary. (Active voice = Mary waters the plant every day).

Phatic communion

Definition: Talk that is solely for the purpose of forging a social link between people. It is usually low in referential or informative content but high in affective content.

Bob: Hi, how are you?
Ann: Fine, lovely day isn’t it


Definition: The sound systems of human languages and the study of sound systems.


Phonological assimilation

Definition: When a sound influences a neighbouring sound so that the two sounds resemble each other more closely.

Example: The nasal in think becomes velar because of the influence of the following velar sound.


Definition: Where more than two distinctive languages are used for different functions in a community.

Example: In a city such as Bukavu, in eastern Zaire, people use many different languages for different purposes. For instance, Kalala uses informal Shi when dealing with vendors in the market-place who are from his own ethnic group. When carrying out official transactions, however, he uses Zairean Swahili and when talking to his friends he uses lndoubil, a very in-group colloquial variety based on Swahili, but including features of languages like French, English and Italian.

Positive face needs

Definition: An individual's need to maintain a positive self-image and sense of belonging, and of being appreciated by others.
Examples: The need to have your group membership acknowledged by others; the need to have others approve of your choice of clothes.

Positive politeness

Definition: The use of language to reinforce the hearer's positive face and/or emphasise solidarity.

Example: Hey pal, gonna give me a ride? = A positively polite way of asking for a lift.

Post-vocalic (r)
The sound [r] when it follows a vowel. In sociolinguistic studies the focus is typically on [r] pronunciation at the end of a word or preceding a consonant at the end of a syllable.

Example: car, card, cardigan

Pragmatic particles

Definition: Forms which typically occur in informal speech. Their exact functions are difficult to define since they vary with context. They have been described by some researchers as ‘fillers’ since they give the speaker planning time in speech. Others describe them as ‘hedges’ when they soften the force of a statement, or as ‘boosters’ when they have an emphatic function.

Example: well, you see, you know, anyway, of course and I think.

Prestige form

Definition: Form which people admire and which people associate with high status speech.

Example: Post-vocalic [r] in New York City, absence of post-vocalic [r] in RP.

Purpose/speech function

Definition: Reason for an utterance or communicative event.

Example: A newspaper article may be intended to inform, entertain, persuade etc.




Real-time studies

Definition: Studies which investigate language change in a community by comparing data gathered at different points in time.

Example: Fifteen years after his original study in Norwich, Peter Trudgill returned to collect more data so that he could identify linguistic changes which had occurred in the intervening period.

Received Pronunciation (RP)

Definition: Regionally neutral accent in the UK associated with the most highly educated sections of British English society. Sometimes called BBC English since it is used by some BBC newsreaders.

Example: Edward grew up in a wealthy British family. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge. This is where he acquired RP, the accent with which he now speaks.

Referee design

Definition: Speaker's stylistic variation which is influenced by an absent third party, the referee.

Example: Radio announcers in New Zealand may vary their speech to incorporate some features of British English; advertisements in Japan may incorporate some English.

Referential code-switching

Definition: Changing from one language/variety to another because of the content and function.

Example: Two German-English bilingual children are playing. The older child reads a comic book to the younger child. (German is in uppercase).
Kristoff: The man says STOP THIS!

Regional accent

Definition: Variation in pronunciation relating to geographic location.

Example: American English: /kart/, New Zealand English: /ka:t/

Regional dialect

Definition: Variation in vocabulary and/or grammar and phonology relating to geographic location.

Example: American English vs British English; Swiss German vs Austrian German.


Definition: A word, custom, practice or other characteristic associated with a specific geographical area.
Examples: In Southland, New Zealand: crib = holiday house; rhotic r.
In Liverpool, England: scouser = person from Liverpool; affricated final t in words like mat.


Definition: May refer to types of language used in different situations, including differences in lexical choices. More often used in a narrower sense to refer to specialist jargon associated with certain activities or groups of people.

Example: Cricket terms such as silly mid-off; legal language.


Definition: Conscious attempt to use a language which has fallen out of use.

Example: Promotion of greater use of Māori in New Zealand schools, media, literature etc.


Definition: r-full. Rhotic accents of English are accents in which [r] is pronounced after a vowel in word final position or before a final consonant in a syllable.

Example: star, start, starting.

Rhotic accent

Definition: Dialects where the [r] following a vowel (i.e. postvocalic [r]) is pronounced.

Example: Scottish accents, General American accents.


Scottish English

Definition: The variety of English associated with speakers from Scotland.

Example: Billy Connolly’s variety; David Tennant’s variety (as himself, not as The Doctor), Peter Capaldi’s variety (as himself and as The Doctor), Ewan MacGregor’s variety (as himself)

Self-report questionnaire

Definition: Respondents indicate what they think they say.

Example: What do you say 1) cookie or 2) biscuit?

Definition: the meaning expressed by human languages and the study of meaning especially word meaning and sentence meaning.


Sexist language

Definition: Language use which marginalizes or discriminates against someone on the basis of their gender.

Example: Use of third person pronoun he in English to refer generically to women and men.

Situational code-switching

Definition: Changing between languages in response to contextual factors such as changes in setting or participants.

Example: Māori is in CAPITALS
Sarah: I think everyone's here except Mere.
John: She said she might be a bit late but actually I think that's her arriving now.
Sarah: You're right. KIA ORA MERE, HAERE MAI. KEI TO PEHEA KOE? (Hi Mere. Come in. How are you?)
Mere: KIA ORA E HOA. KEI TE PAI. (Hello my friend. I'm fine). Have you started yet?


Definition: A type of informal, vernacular vocabulary (subject to rapid change).
That's really naff/mingen = that’s really bad; sweet/choice = good

Social accent

Definition: Variation in pronunciation relating to social background.

Mary: As soon as she said ‘grass’ I knew she had been to a private school.

Social dialect

Definition: Variation in language (pronunciation, vocabulary and/or grammar) relating to the speaker’s social background.
Examples: working class Cockney; language used by Brahmin in India; variety used by a ‘Boston Brahman’ = a descendant of an old New England family.

Social dialectology

Definition: The study of language features employed by a range of social groups.

Example: Labov's 1966 New York City study, Trudgill's 1974 Norwich study, Holmes, Bell and Boyce's 1991 Wellington dialect survey are all examples of social dialect research.

Social distance

Definition: The degree of closeness of the relationship between participants in an interaction: i.e. how well they know each other.

Example: The social distance between brothers is minimal but it is greater between a client and their lawyer or doctor.

Social network

Definition: The pattern of informal relationships that people are involved in on a regular basis.

Example: Tom lives in Ballymacarrett, a Protestant area in Belfast. He works as an apprentice in the shipyard. His cousin Mike also works there. He and Mike live in the same street and most nights they have a beer together after work. They also run a disco with two friends. These people form a social network.

Social variable

Definition: Social factor such as age, gender, ethnicity, or social background which may account for the use of one speech feature rather than another.

Example: Miriam Meyerhoff found that younger people in the Wellington area in New Zealand used more American lexical items than older people in the same community. The social factor here is age.

Socio-economic status

Definition: Refers to a person's social and economic position in society often measured by education and occupation and income.

Example: People who live in Belgravia in London, Manhattan in New York, or Remuera in Auckland typically have high socio-economic status.

Sociolinguistic competence

Definition: Knowledge of not only the linguistic code, but also how to use it appropriately e.g. what to say to whom and how to say it appropriately in different situations.

Example: Growing up in Brazil, a Cahinahua child learns that a direct answer to a first question implies that the speaker has no time to talk, while a vague answer means that the question will be answered more directly the second time, and that talk can continue.

Sociolinguistic universals

Definition: Generalisations concerning the relationships between language and society which, it is proposed, can be applied to any speech community.

Example: If a particular pronunciation or grammatical feature is used to express a shift in formality of style, the same feature will be used to signal differences in social group membership.

Sociolinguistic variable; also known as linguistic variable

Definition: A feature which may be realised (expressed/pronounced) in more than one way.

Example: The suffix -ing may be pronounced either as a velar nasal i,e, standard [iŋ] or as the vernacular alveolar [n]: going vs goin', swinging vs swingin'.

Speech Accommodation Theory: also known as Communication Accommodation Theory

Definition: A theory to account for how people change their style of speech towards or away from that of the target audience/speaker. Converging or modifying speech patterns towards the target’s speech style generally indicates familiarity or solidarity or a desire to please; diverging or moving speech style away from a target’s speech style generally indicates a desire to emphasise social distance.

Example: Joe has heavily accented Irish English, Mandy who speaks American accented English, starts to use some of the features of Irish English, indicating her wish to get closer. 

Speech community

Definition: A regionally or socially definable human group, all of whose members share at least a single code/variety and a set of norms and rules for its appropriate use.

Example: Italians in Aosta; Greek community in Melbourne; French-speaking community in Quebec.

Speech function

Definition: Purpose of utterances; reason for saying/writing something.
Examples: Expressive, directive, persuasive; e.g. an advert generally has a persuasive function.

Standard variety

Definition: Language variety which generally has a written form and which has undergone some degree of codification. It is the variety taught in schools and has high prestige. It is generally regarded by the community as the 'correct' variety.

Example: Standard British English in England; Standard American English in the USA.


Definition: A stereotype in everyday language generally refers to a generalization about a particular group which is usually over-simplified, often negative, and may be inaccurate.

Example: the stereotype of Jewish people as avaricious illustrated by Shylock in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.


Definition: In variationist sociolinguistics the term stereotype refers to linguistic features which are generally negatively evaluated or stigmatized. People are aware of them and generally avoid them.

Example: Ain’t is a classic stereotype feature of lower class or uneducated speech in much of the USA. Labov’s example of a feature which is a stereotype is the pronunciation of ‘th’ as [t], as ‘toity-toid’ [thirty-third) in New York City.


Definition: Variation in the formality of speech according to the social context, including features of the setting and addressee(s).

Example: Conversation with friends is typically informal, while a lecture is usually more formal in style.


Definition: At one point in time. A synchronic study of a language is a study at a particular point without regard for previous or succeeding states of the language.

Example: Holmes, Bell and Boyce undertook a synchronic study of the English of people living in an area of Greater Wellington in 1989-1990.


Definition: The structure of sentences and the study of sentence structure.

Example: Many linguists undertake research in the area of syntax, studying features of the grammar of a language, such as the normal word order of components in a noun phrase or a sentence,


Tag questions

Definitions: Forms such as isn’t it? and don’t they? which may be appended to a statement.

Example: Informal tag question forms include eh? and right? French has a tag question form n’est-ce pas? and German has a tag question form nicht wahr?



Definition: A social network measure which indicates that two people interact in only one area of their social lives.

Example: Sue and Todd work together, but never see each other outside of work. Their social network is uniplex.


Variant (also known as sociolinguistic variant)

Definition: The realisation/expression of a (socio) linguistic variable.

Example: The variable -ing can be realized/expressed/pronounced as the variant [in] or the variant [iŋ].

Variety (or code)

Definition: Any set of linguistic forms which patterns according to social factors: i.e. used under specific social circumstances. The term includes different accents, different linguistic styles, different dialects and even different languages which contrast with each other for social reasons.

Example: In Eggenwil, a town in the Aargau canton of Switzerland, Silvia, a bank-teller, knows two very distinct varieties of German. One is the local Swiss German dialect of her canton which she uses in her everyday interactions. The other is standard German which she learnt at school, and though she understands it very well indeed, she rarely uses it in speech.

Verbal (linguistic) repertoire

Definition: The range of codes or varieties available in a community from which an individual selects according to the social context.

Example: Kalala is 16 years old. He lives in Bukavu, an African city in eastern Zaire with a population of about 220,000. It is a multicultural, multilingual city with more people coming and going for work and business reasons than people who live there permanently. Over forty groups speaking different languages can be found on the city. Kalala, like many of his friends, spends his day roaming the streets, stopping off periodically at regular meeting places in the market-place, in the park or at a friend's place. During the day he draws on at least three different varieties or codes from his verbal repertoire, and sometimes more.


Definition: There are at least three components of this term.
(i) an uncodified or unstandardized variety (ii) acquired in the home (iii) typically used for informal colloquial interaction with family and friends.
The term is often used in ways which emphasise one or other of these three components.
So vernacular generally refers to a language that has not been standardised and which has no official status, but some people extend the term to refer to any language which does not have official status. It is therefore sometimes used to refer to the language of a regional speech community, or to the language used in a monolingual community, especially when there is no written form.
The term is also used to refer to the most colloquial variety in a person’s verbal repertoire, the variety used in the home and with close friends (which may be a distinct language, a dialect or a style compared to the variety used, say, in school). It is also sometimes used simply to indicate that a variety is used in everyday interaction. In popular usage the vernacular often refers to the use of swear words.

Examples: Shi in Zaire; informal English in Britain; Spanish in the USA but not in Spain or Uruguay; Greek in Australia but not in Greece.


Definition: Development of a language used in formal domains, such as religion, for use as a language of everyday communication.

Example: Hebrew was a language of ritual and religion with no native speakers. It has now been developed as the national language of Israel and is used in many different domains including casual conversation between friends and family.


Wave theory (of language change)

Definition: Metaphor to describe how the spread of a linguistic variable may propagate throughout a community, through its gradual introduction into new social groups by individuals.

Example: Linguistic changes may infiltrate groups through the speech of marginal or ‘middle’ people – intermediaries who have contact with more than one social or regional group.