Author Interview

Author Miriam Meyerhoff talks about the connections between the textbook Introducing Sociolinguistics and The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader.

Weblinks and Videos

Weblinks and videos for Introducing Sociolingusitics and The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Introduction: Sociolinguistics Methods for Data Collection and Interpretation

Web Links

American Anthropological Association Code of Ethics (1998)
Extremely helpful in outlining rights and responsibilities for all parties in longer-term research, or research where the researcher is a member in good standing of the community they are examining.
British Association for Applied Linguistics – Recommendations on Good Practice
A useful starting point for most sociolinguistic research.
British Psychological Society – Code of Conduct
Well-suited for experiments, including those testing not only linguistic skills but other aspects of cognition and perception.
The Linguistic Society of America Ethics Statement
Very useful as a basic, highly general, ethical framework for linguists of all sub-disciplines.
Praat: Doing phonetics by computer
Program for speech analysis, synthesis and manipulation.
Language archiving technology.
Goldvarb X
A multivariate analysis application. Freeware accessible at:


Variables and variants

Watch these two video clips and pay attention to how Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brandon Flowers pronounce the words dancer and answer. Consider the first vowel in these words and try to apply the notions of variable and variant.

Web links and videos for The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Part One: Identities, Style and Politeness

Web Links

Could we be a little more polite, please?
As well as reading the article, watch the embedded video which “explains” the alleged link between bad manners and obesity
Survey: cell phone users more polite
Different emphasis on positive politeness routines in the US and Britain
Do you think it’s generally true that British politeness values stand-offishness and American politeness values friendship? What about differences within the countries? Try considering what you’ve observed in relation to positive/negative face wants, and also in terms of discernment.
Inferring identities from writing style including overt markers of politeness
Try to summarise what the different characteristics of “male” and “female” style are that different researchers invoke here. Are they all orienting to the same sort(s) of thing?
Explaining “Tarof” to the Twins
Persian conventions of politeness are explained to little boys growing up in the UK
Note: a more usual transliteration of the Persian term is ta’arof.
The Front Lawn’s “How you doing?”
Listen to this song about New Zealanders’ greetings in the background to the beginning and end of this piece from National Public Radio’s Day to Day show (15 February 2007)
Oprah’s style
Listen to Oprah yourself and decide if she style shifts
Mirror neurons and accommodation
Does this short account of mirror neurons provide an alternative account for what sociolinguists have analysed as interpersonal accommodation or does it simply reinforce what we know already?


Stereotypes, markers and indicators

Watch these videos and try to apply the notions of stereotypes, markers and indicators.

Web links and videos for The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Part Two: Perceptions and Language Attitudes

Web Links

Bibliographies on language attitudes
“Do you speak American?”
Perceptions of bad English in the US (includes maps).
LOIA (Open Guide to Galician Language)
Language attitudes, history and description in the North West of Spain.
LANCHART research reports
Results of surveys on language attitudes and language use in Denmark.
Further resources on language attitudes and language use in Denmark
In Danish. See entries on Sociolekter, Multietnolekt and Dansk med accent especially.
There are two N-words
You may have to search on this site for the piece entitled “There are two N-words” (it is Episode No. 126 and the bit you are really interested in starts at about 10mins 30secs). Consider the claim that “we are dealing with awkward transition” (14mins 20secs) and what McWhorter attributes the awkwardness to. What might you add to his explanation?


Linguistic profiling

Have a look at how John Baugh investigates people’s attitudes towards American accents. You can read more about this in Purnell, Thomas, William Idsardi and John Baugh (1999) Perceptual and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification.

Fox News and Black English

How do the notions of prescriptivism and descriptivism relate to this video clip?

Social identity theory (SIT) and advertising

How do the SIT processes of intergroup differentiation and positive distinctiveness relate to this video?

The social meaning of English abroad

Watch these two TV commercials. One of them is a German commercial; the other one is French. What is the role of English in these two commercials? What is its social meaning in these contexts in Germany and France?

Disclaimer: This video contains partial nudity. Please do not view it if it could be deemed unsuitable in your country.

What language?

Listen to this song. What language is it in? This is a nice example of how we can manipulate ourselves when we are primed with specific information.

John Baugh on linguistic profiling

Dennis Preston on perceptual dialectology

Cheryl Cole axed from the US X Factor because of her accent?

Web links and videos for The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Part Three: Multilingualism and Language Contact

Web Links

European Commission on Multilingualism
Minority and regional languages in the Council of Europe
Television and radio clips on bilingualism in Canada. Search: Bilingualism
Language contact in Manchester
A website collecting information on various aspects of language contact in Manchester, the UK and other areas of the world.
When languages collide
Part of the BBC Voices project.
Language contact research
Projects at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology.
Language on the Move
An Australian website devoted to langauge and migration, multilingualism and language rights
African languages – Lifting the mask of invisibility
Read this article and explain how you understand the notion of “pauperisation” introduced by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.



What is Spenglish? Is it a new language? Does everybody like it? Who does, who doesn’t and why / why not?

Tok Pisin

Children speaking Tok Pisin.

Acadieman au call center

Nice example of code mixing. Illustrates many of the features of Joual reviewed in King (2008).

Reference: King, Ruth. 2008. In Miriam Meyerhoff and Naomi Nagy (eds) Social Lives in Language: Sociolinguistics and multilingual speech communities. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Spanish / English code-switching

Web links and videos for The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Part Four: Variation and Change

Web Links

British Library archival sound recordings
The British Library has put recordings from the Millennium Memory Bank and the Survey of English Dialects online.
British Library – Sounds familiar?
Accents and dialects of the UK, with a link to schools and Open University worksheets.
BBC Voices Page
Voice recordings of ca. 1,200 people from all over the United Kingdom and links to schools worksheets.
Dialect resource page at the Center for Applied Linguistics
Good collection of links with particular reference to language variation in the US.
Linguistic Atlases
With further links to numerous sub-projects, including downloads of data and sound.
International Society for Dialectology and Geolinguistics
Lots of internal links, many languages.
The Speech Accent Archive
A large set of speech samples from a variety of languages including many dialectal variations (short standard text, narrow phonetic transcription and sound files).
Linguistic Atlas of the Iberian Peninsula
Free registration required for online searching.
Estuary English
Site at University College London maintained by John Wells.
Studying varieties of English
Site at the University of Duisburg-Essen maintained by Raymond Hickey.
Studying the history of English
Site at the University of Duisburg-Essen maintained by Raymond Hickey.
The Atlas of North American English
A multimedia site by William Labov, Sharon Ash and Charles Boberg.
Northern California and Detroit vowels
Penny Eckert’s page with sound files from her work.
A Handbook of Varieties of English
A multimedia site by Bernd Kortmann and Edgar W. Schneider (eds), in collaboration with Kate Burridge, Rajend Mesthrie, and Clive Upton.
International Dialects of English Archive
Over a thousand recordings (of varying quality) of the same short text from L1 and L2 speakers of English around the world.
World Atlas of Language Structures
A language typology database that allows users to compare the distribution of features across languages worldwide.
Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures
A typological database focused entirely on pidgin, creole, and mixed languages resulting from language contact.
Many of the features parallel those in WALS, and there are a lot more.
Dynamics of Language
An multi-site Australian Research Council funded Centre of Excellence investigating different aspects of the dynamics of human language: the shape of languages, language acquisition, language processing and language evolution.
Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Links to a number of databases that explore different aspects of linguistic and cultural diversity. (Includes links to projects exploring parallels in genetic diversity and linguistic diversity.)


American English

Bill Labov explaining the Northern Cities Chain Shift.

“BBC English”

An example of “BBC English” aka Received Pronunciation.

Or check out trailers and clips from the Netflix series The Crown for loads of examples of people speaking RP.

Standard English

An example of a standard English speaker with a regional accent (Melvyn Bragg).

Web links and videos for The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Part Five: Social Class, Networks and Communities of Practice

Web Links

Corpus of Early English Correspondence at the University of Helsinki (Director, Terttu Nevalainen).
Communities of practice: a brief introduction
Maintained by Etienne Wenger.
Women in the workplace
The Economist suggests that there has been a quiet revolution and women are taking over the workplace.
Social media and language change
Dynamic networks in literary analysis
Not linguistic data as such, but interesting for linguistics in showing directions for network analysis that incorporate temporal information.


Seven Up series

This is only one of many videos on the Seven Up series (Michael Apted, dir.):

Linguists such as Gillian Sankoff have used this series to study language change across the lifespan, e.g. in her article “Adolescents, young adults and the critical period: two case studies from Seven Up”, which can be found here:

Hypercorrection in My Fair Lady

Web links and videos for The Routledge Sociolinguistics Reader

Part Six: Gender

Web Links

International Gender and Language Association (IGALA)
Homepage of IGALA with a link to online resources.

GenderTalk Radio Archives
What are US college fraternities (and sororities)?
Trouble and Strife
This independent feminist magazine has moved to the web. Many articles on gender politics, including many that touch on language issues.
Gender and Language (GaL)
Research group at Lancaster University, includes useful bibliographies.
“Third Wave” variation studies
Penny Eckert’s web page.

Commentaries on the tasks in Doing Sociolinguistics

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Chapter 3

Chapter 5

Chapter 9

How to analyse content?

When investigating language attitudes in speech or text, assigning text material to categories may be crucial. Usually, the following steps are taken when categorising content:

(1) Formulate a specific research question and choose your text material.

(2) Read through your text material and make notes (in the text) when you notice something that strikes you as relevant – with a view to creating content categories based on your reading (i.e. inductively).

(3) Decide what unit you want to focus on in your analysis (e.g. phrases, words, thematically unified sentence clusters, etc.).

(4) Create and define your categories (inductively or deductively) based on your notes or previous research. It is these categories that content analysis is all about, and you should dedicate much time to defining these and putting them to paper, for example in a table that may have four columns: category, definition, examples, rules for coding. Your categories are words or phrases that relate to similar text content and you should define exactly under what circumstances a section of text should be assigned to one category rather than another.

(5) Rethink your categories. Can they be merged or subcategorised into major and minor categories?

(6) Re-read your material and assign categories to all or relevant parts of your text material. You may want to do this directly in the text by highlighting (in different colours) relevant material and assigning a category to it.

(7) Review your coding after about 10-50% of your material (Mayring 2000). Can categories be merged or should you subcategorise or create new categories? Continue coding the text.

(8) Ask an independent coder to re-code the material (clear definitions with examples are key here) and discuss coder disagreement with a third party to make a final decision on coding and whether to include or exclude text where disagreement occurred.

(9) Analyse your data quantitatively or qualitatively and present your results.

One specific approach to the content-based analysis of text is Content Analysis, but this may be much more than you need to know for your study. You can use Content Analysis to study written texts such as essays, magazine articles or letters but also written versions of spoken language, such as speeches and interviews. It allows you to study attitudes by breaking down text into manageable units and assigning relevant material to categories by applying an objective coding scheme to your data (Berg 2001: 238). Once this is done, your data is ready for systematic analysis.

The first chapter in Saldaña (2009) gives a helpful introduction to codes and coding used in qualitative research. Berg (2001: chapter 11), Mayring (2000) and Weber (1990) are good introductions into the methods used in Content Analysis, particularly inductive (you develop your own categories based on the text) and deductive analysis (you use theoretically based categories). Once data units have been assigned to categories, the method can be used for further quantitative or qualitative analysis. While the former aims to count different categories and makes conclusions based on these counts, qualitative content analysis uses the system of content elements to have a closer look at certain text units. Thus, assigning content to categories does not only make text management easier, it also facilitates access to certain content types in order to investigate their formal, presentational and meaning aspects.


Berg, Bruce L. 2001. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. 4th edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Mayring, Philipp. 2000. Qualitative content analysis. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 1(2). Available at [Last accessed 12 June 2014].
Saldaña, Johnny. 2009. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. London: Sage.
Weber, Robert Philip. 1990. Basic Content Analysis. London: Sage.

Creating good stimuli

Stimuli must be carefully selected. You must make sure that potentially relevant factors are controlled for. The guises must be comparable; they should, ideally, be exactly the same, except for the aspect you’re interested in (e.g. a linguistic feature or the accent). Factors you may need to control for may include speaker’s speech rate, voice quality, intonation and the stimuli content. You also should pay attention to where in the speech stream your feature of interest occurs, and you may have to consider the meaning, function and frequency of a linguistic item. For example, if you are interested in how speakers are perceived when using the discourse marker you know and how speakers’ speech is perceived without it, you should ensure you know occurs in similar contexts in all stimuli (e.g. at the end of a proposition and with backward scope), that it is really used as a discourse marker (meaning), that it is used in the same function in all stimuli excerpts (note that you know can have a variety of functions) and that it occurs equally often in all stimuli. There are several other issues to be aware of:

The multiple speaker problem: If you use different speakers for different guises (as you do in a verbal guise study) and each of these represents a different language variety, you may confound voice and variety and won’t know for sure whether listeners react to the speaker or the variety they represent.

Potential solutions:

  • Run a matched-guise study, or
  • Use several speakers to represent one variety, or
  • At the very least be very, very careful and choose speakers whose voices are very similar. One way to find out about this is to run a pilot study with, let’s say, 10 speakers per variety and then choose those speakers who receive similar ratings (see for example Schleef and Flynn 2015).
  • If your interest is in specific features, for example –in versus –ing in words such as singing, you may try and manipulate the acoustic stream of your speakers and create stimuli doublets that only differ in the feature you’re interested in (e.g. Labov et al. 2011; Campbell-Kibler 2007; Schleef and Flynn 2015)

The single speaker problem: On the other hand, if you use a single speaker for different stimuli (as you do in a matched guise study) and each of these represents a different language variety or includes different frequencies of a particular feature, you will have to expect that listeners recognise the voice and may wonder why the same speaker sounds so different in different stimuli.

Potential solutions:

  • Use distractor stimuli or several speakers who each speak more than one variety or vary in the kind of vernacular feature they use.
  • Create a plausible scenario, for example Labov et al. (2011) inform listeners that they will hear news broadcasters in training at different stages in their career. There are other plausible scenarios for the same speaker speaking differently on different recordings, e.g. a person may have changed accent across their lifespan after having worked in a particular profession or after having lived elsewhere for a while.

The matched-guise problem: For a matched-guise study to be convincing the speaker used has to be competent in all the guises they assume. This is difficult to achieve and matched-guise studies have been criticised on this point (e.g. Agheyisi and Fishman 1970: 139). Many researchers doubt that one speaker can handle more than one dialect convincingly (e.g. Labov 1972: 215) and pass the native-speaker test (i.e. the voice is taken to be that of a native-speaker of a dialect in question by native-speakers themselves).

Potential solutions:

  • Test your guises for naturalness and authenticity before using them.

The flip side problem (Campbell-Kibler 2011): If a social attribute is significant for one variant, for example –ing guises may sound more educated, the variant to which it was contrasted does not necessarily have the opposite social value, i.e. uneducated or whatever value you had assigned to the other pole of this scale.

Potential solutions:

  • Campbell-Kibler addresses this issue by eliciting evaluations on not only –ing and –in stimuli but also a stimulus that is covered by white noise.
  • Alternatively, you could avoid making assumptions about the other variant by referring to one as sounding more educated and the other one less educated (if they happen to fall on the educated side of your continuum).

The content problem: We may tell our respondents to ignore the content of the message when evaluating stimuli; however, what someone says will, to an extent, always influence what we think about this person. Content and language often interact and result in particular impressions of a person (see for example Campbell-Kibler 2008).

Potential solutions:

  • Many researchers try to choose text that is “neutral”; however, there is no way to ensure all listeners will agree on this assessment. Campbell-Kibler (2013: 144) recommends thinking about the effect a particular content may have and to have several examples from the same speaker. This will allow you to gauge how content may influence evaluation.

The medium problem: One way to control your stimuli content, but also the words and the linguistic environment in which your variables of interest occur, is to use read-out speech. This ensures that all speakers use the same text. However, evaluating read-out speech, particularly non-standard read-out speech, is a somewhat artificial task (unless you use a context where hearing read-out speech is the normal expectation, e.g. news reading, cf. Labov et al. 2011).

Potential solutions:

  • Many researchers prefer naturally-occurring speech without controlling for topic and, in fact, explore how accent features and topic interact (e.g. Campbell-Kibler 2008).
  • One way to make sure speakers talk about similar things is to make them talk about similar topics when recording them (Campbell-Kibler 2010: 380-381). Campbell-Kibler (2013: 143) recommends, as a compromise, to ask speakers to tell a well-known story or to recite a memorised passage.
  • Clopper (2013: 156) recommends the use of interactive tasks that should result in controlled production data: the map task (Anderson et al. 1991), the diapix picture description task (Van Engen et al. 2010), partially scripted games (Speer, Warren and Schafer 2011) and the holiday tree decorating task (Ito and Speer 2006).
  • Using stimuli which are based on scripted language but acted out can sometimes sound quite natural, especially if you manage to record speakers who are not too self-conscious when performing this task.


Agheyisi, Rebecca and Joshua A. Fishman. 1970. Language attitude studies: A brief survey of methodological approaches. Anthropological Linguistics 12: 137-157.
Anderson, Anne H., Miles Bader, Ellen Gurman Bard, Elizabeth Boyle, Gwyneth Doherty, Simon Garrod and Regina Weinert. 1991. The HCRC map task corpus. Language and Speech 34: 351-366.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2007. Accent, (ING), and the social logic of listener perceptions. American Speech 82: 32-64.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2008. I’ll be the judge of that: Diversity in social perceptions of (ING). Language in Society 37: 637-659.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2010. Sociolinguistics and perception. Language and Linguistics Compass 4: 377-389.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2011. The sociolinguistic variant as a carrier of social meaning. Language Variation and Change 22: 423-441.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2013. Language attitude surveys. In Christine Mallinson, Becky Childs and Gerard Van Herk (eds.). Data Collection in Sociolinguistics: Methods and Applications. New York and London: Routledge, 142-146.
Clopper, Cynthia. 2013. Experiments. In Christine Mallinson, Becky Childs and Gerard Van Herk (eds.). Data Collection in Sociolinguistics: Methods and Applications. New York and London: Routledge, 151-161.
Ito, Kiwako and Shari R. Speer. 2006. Using interactive tasks to elicit natural dialogue. In Stefan Sudhoff, Denisa Lenertova, Roland Meyer, Sandra Pappert, Petra Augurzky, Ina Mleinek, Nicole Richter, Johannes Schliesser (eds.) Methods in Empirical Prosody Research. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 229-257.
Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Labov, William, Sharon Ash, Maya Ravindranath, Tracey Weldon, Maciej Baranowski and Naomi Nagy. 2011. Properties of the sociolinguistic monitor. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15: 431-463.
Schleef, Erik and Nicholas Flynn. 2015. Ageing meanings of (ing) in Manchester, England. English World-Wide 36: 48-90.
Speer, Shari R., Paul Warren and Amy J. Schafer. 2011. Situationally independent prosodic phrasing. Laboratory Phonology 2: 35-98.
Van Engen, Kristin J., Melissa Baese-Berk, Rachel E. Baker, Arim Choi, Midam Kim, and Ann R. Bradlow. 2010. The wildcat corpus of native- and foreign-accented English: Communicative efficiency across conversational dyads with varying language alignment profiles. Language and Speech 53: 510-540.

Chapter 12

Analysing categorical data

The file quotative_data.csv contains 500 tokens of verbs of quotation collected by students at the University of Pennsylvania between 2008 and 2011. The dependent variable has been coded for five different quotative verbs (be like, be all like, be all, say, go) as well as ‘zero’ (for when a speaker uttered a quote that wasn’t introduced by a verb) and ‘other’. The independent variables coded are the sex and age of the speaker who uttered each token, the subject of the quotative verb (e.g. ‘’ for first person singular as in I was like; ‘’ for third person plural as in They said, ‘NP’ for noun phrase as in My dad goes), the tense of the quotative verb, and the content of the quotation: whether it represented an utterance that was actually said aloud or constituted an imitation of something that was said aloud, whether it represented the speaker’s inner thought, or whether it represented a non-verbal feeling.

Explore this data using whatever data analysis software you feel comfortable with. Do you find the use of quotatives to be conditioned by any of the independent variables? Are any of the effects you find statistically significant? If this feels like too daunting of a task, start out by attempting to replicate other researchers’ results. For instance, Tagliamonte & D’Arcy (2004) find that be like is used more in first than third person and more in internal dialogue than direct speech.

To make the data easier to work with, you might consider opposing be like to all other quotatives in your analysis (as some of the quotatives are sparsely represented), or just picking two or three quotatives to focus on. You can group levels of the independent variables in the same ways. Be creative, and have fun in your exploration!


Tagliamonte, Sali, and Alexandra D’Arcy. 2004. He’s like, she’s like: The quotative system in Canadian youth. Journal of Sociolinguistics 8:493–514.

Chapter 13

Presenting continuous data

The file lowback_data.csv contains about 3500 tokens of vowels of the bot and bought classes uttered by eight speakers of Bequian English, collected by Miriam Meyerhoff and James Walker. Each vowel has (unnormalised) F1 and F2 measurements.

One the questions Meyerhoff and Walker are interested in is how many distinct categories speakers of Bequian English have for the low back vowels: so, in this case, can we say that bot and bought are distinct for speakers of this variety? Explore some of the various techniques for presenting continuous data laid out in Chapter 13 and see which ways of visualising this data are most conducive to answering the question.

Chapter 14

Analysing multiple independent variables

Exercise A

The file quotative_data_Rbrul.csv contains just under 500 tokens of verbs of quotation collected by students at the University of Pennsylvania between 2008 and 2011. The dependent variable has been coded for whether the quotative used was be like or some other verb of quotation (e.g. say, go, zero). The independent variables coded are the sex and age of the speaker who uttered each token, the subject of the quotative verb (e.g. ‘’ for first person singular as in I was like; ‘’ for third person plural as in They said, ‘NP’ for noun phrase as in My dad goes), the tense of the quotative verb, and the content of the quotation: whether it represented an utterance that was actually said aloud or constituted an imitation of something that was said aloud, whether it represented the speaker’s inner thought, or whether it represented a non-verbal feeling.

Perform multivariate analysis on this data using Rbrul or another statistical program of your choice. What factors are found to be significant? If you did the online exercise for chapter 12, how do your results compare?

Exercise B

In chapter 14, we saw what the Rbrul output for a categorical dependent variable looks like, but not for a continuous one. The Rbrul output below shows the results for a multivariate analysis of the F2 of the GOOSE vowel in Southern American English, examining the fixed-effect predictors of age, sex, and whether the preceding segment was t/d or some other segment, plus a random effect of word. What can you conclude from this output?

Exercise B - Output code 

Chapter 16

Literature review exercise

Read the following two beginnings of literature reviews on the same topic. They are supposed to review research on how variable features are acquired and set the scene for a study on the acquisition of variation by Polish-born teenagers in London, England, i.e. a very specific context of acquisition. Which review is better? One review needs quite a lot of improvement, how could this be achieved? Have a look at a few literature reviews in research articles to help you decide. Also pay attention to the tense that these reviews are written in. What tense is normally used in literature reviews?

Review 1: Immigrant teenagers and the acquisition of variation

Many researchers have looked into how variable features are acquired. Smith, Durham and Fortune look into this issue in Northern Scotland. They find that children do acquire variable features quite early. They show that “one variable is conditioned by social and linguistic constraints in the speech of the caregiver and these constraints are matched by the children. In contrast, the other variable is influenced by a complex array of linguistic constraints only.”

Older people too acquire variation. Hoffmann and Walker (2010) show this to be the case in Toronto, Canada. They focus on the Chinese and Italian communities and investigate two variables. They investigate the linguistic conditioning of these variables and show that it does not differ much across ethnic groups. However, they do find evidence for language transfer among first generation immigrants but by the second generation these seem to have disappeared.

This is different from Queen (2006) who looks at a similar group of speakers in Germany. She finds that second-generation immigrants do use intonation patterns differently from other Germans. It is difficult to tell why the results in this study are so different. The language background may play a role.

Some of the studies I have read are written in the tradition of second language acquisition, others are of a more sociolinguistic nature. Some were in between. For example, Mougeon et al. (2004) summarise results of a project on the acquisition of 13 sociolinguistic variables among French immersion students. Results indicate that variation is not random but is highly systematic and constrained by a range of linguistic and social factors.

This study looks at a similar group of speakers: Polish-born adolescent learners in London….

[The review then continues to outline results of Mougeon et al. (2004) in much more detail and concludes the literature review.]

Review 2: Immigrant teenagers and the acquisition of variation

Research on the acquisition of linguistic variation is a relatively new, yet fast-growing, area of variationist research, with high interdisciplinary and theoretical impact potential beyond the area of sociolinguistics. It falls into various strands:

  • The acquisition of L1 variation by native children (e.g. Roberts 1994; Smith, Durham and Fortune 2007)
  • The acquisition of sociolinguistic variation by second generation native speakers in minority speech communities. These speakers have been shown to replicate local constraints (e.g. Walker and Hoffmann 2010) or show differential acquisition (e.g. Horvath and Sankoff 1987; Mougeon and Nadasdi 1998; Sharma 2005; Sharma and Sankaran 2011; Queen 2006)
  • The acquisition of L2 variation by non-native speakers in instructed and study-abroad environments (e.g. Regan 1996; Mougeon et al. 2004; Dewaele 2004; Howard et al. 2006; Blondeau and Nagy 2008).
  • The acquisition of L2 variation by non-native speakers in immigrant contexts (e.g. Wolfram 1985; Young 1991; Adamson and Regan 1991; Bayley 1994; Major 2001; Sharma 2005; Sharma and Sankaran 2011; Schleef et al. 2011).

Strands (3) and (4) investigate so-called interlanguage. Many studies (e.g. Dickerson 1975; Wolfram 1985; Young 1990; Bayley 1994; Mougeon et al. 2004; Blondeau and Nagy 2008; Schleef et al. 2011) employ data collection techniques and methods of analysis typical of variationist sociolinguistics, such as the sociolinguistic interview and multivariate analysis. All of these studies suggest that variation in interlanguage is not random but is highly systematic and constrained by a range of linguistic and social factors.

This article falls into the fourth research strand; in particular, it focuses on the acquisition of vernacular variation among Polish-born adolescent learners in London….

[The review then continues to discuss research in strands (3) and (4) in more detail. It is organised into three themes: when variation is acquired; how this happens: social and linguistic factors; how this has been investigated: product versus process.]


Review 1 is nothing more than a collection of small article summaries. Referencing techniques are rather basic as well, e.g. no publication year is given for the first reference, nor are page numbers given for the quote. Articles by different authors are hardly ever related to each other, and there is virtually no evaluation. No coherent picture emerges and different research strands are not differentiated. This is important because generalisations based on the acquisition of variation among native speakers do not necessarily apply to non-native speakers. It is also unclear what exactly is summarised. It seems random. There is no coherent thread or theme in the review at all. In contrast, review 2 (which is loosely based on Schleef 2015) first establishes the various research strands in the literature very clearly and then homes in on the ones that are relevant to the study. It is also indicated that the review continues based on themes investigated or questions asked, e.g. when variation is acquired and how it progresses.

Literature reviews are either written in the present or in the past. Note however that some journals can have very strict guidelines for research that has already taken place to be described in the past. This strikes us as rather odd, as studies on academic writing frequently note how tense can be used strategically. For example, Swales and Feak (2000: 157f) note that the present perfect is often associated with generalisations, while the simple past can sometimes be used to pass judgement and suggest that certain ideas are old and outdated. The present tense suggests these ideas are still relevant. It also expresses a certain degree of generalizability, and one should be careful when using it when talking about ones’ own and other researchers’ results. Consider, for example, these three sentences:

(1) All of these studies have suggested that variation in interlanguage is not random but is highly systematic.

(1’) All of these studies suggested that variation in interlanguage is not random but is highly systematic.

(1’’) All of these studies suggest that variation in interlanguage is not random but is highly systematic.


Schleef, Erik. 2015. Developmental sociolinguistics and the acquisition of T-glottalling by immigrant teenagers in London. In Gunther de Vogelaer and Matthias Katerbow (eds.) Variation in Language Acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Swales, John M. and Christine B. Feak. 2000. English in Today’s Research World: A Writing Guide. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Tips for Writing up Your Final Report

Tell them what you are going to say....
...Say it....
... Tell them what you’ve just said.

Typical Components of a Linguistics Assignment

  1. State your problem or what you’re interested in.
    This should be brief.

  2. Explain why it is a problem or why it is interesting.
    Address the “So what?” question.
    This will also be brief for a small project (in other work, you may spend longer on this; you may call it the “literature review”).

  3. Tell the reader how you plan to address it (and perhaps why you’ve chosen this method rather than some other).
    Again, be brief unless you are doing something wild and crazy and completely novel.

  4. Say what you found.
    In some assignments, this will be your “Results” section.
    It may also overlap with a “Discussion” section.
    This will be longer. Put your efforts here and in the next section.

  5. Say what you make of all that.
    Here’s where you start your “Discussion” if you don’t feel like you’ve done that already in the last section. If your study was inspired to further test results in previous work, then in this section (or the preceding) you should say how your study compares. Are your results in line with or do they differ from the other work? Did problems arise that you hadn’t anticipated? How did they affect the results you were able to gather?

  6. What’s your conclusion?
    Super-short and preferably something pithy or memorable. (Remember: “So what?”)
    Don’t introduce new information here. If you are tempted to introduce new stuff,— STOP! Go back and revise either the “Results” or the “Discussion” section(s).

If you’ve done literature courses, this should look familiar. It’s basically the same structure as a five act play. That’s because your job is basically the same as the playwright’s: you are trying both to provoke thought AND to entertain.

Good Practice in Writing up Linguistics Assignments

Are you a visual person?
Then consider drawing a “map” of your report before you begin writing up. (Even if you don’t think of yourself as visual, this is a really good discipline.)

Are you a verbal person?
Then draft a “non-technical summary” of your report before you begin.

Give your map/non-technical summary to a friend (and have a look at theirs).
Spend a couple of minutes digesting what the map/summary is doing. Now try and explain back to the writer what they seem to be doing.

Listen to your friend. Think about what they are saying.
Is this what you thought you were getting at when you drafted your map/non-technical summary? Is what they are saying better? How can you bridge your ideas and their interpretation? Discuss the gap between your intentions and their interpretation for five-ten minutes. Now return the favour.

Now write up your assignment.
If you have time, swap assignments with a friend in the course. Read each other’s work through and provide comments.
Think about your planning discussions. How successfully have you managed to bridge the gap between writer and reader?



Accent Where speakers differ (or vary) at the level of pronunciation only (phonetics and/or phonology), they have different accents. Their grammar may be wholly or largely the same. Accents can index a speaker’s regional/geographic origin, or social factors such as level and type of education, or even their attitude.

Accommodation The process by which speakers attune or adapt their linguistic behaviour in light of their interlocutors’ behaviour and their attitudes towards their interlocutors (may be a conscious or unconscious process). Encompasses both convergence with or divergence from interlocutors’ norms. (See also Social identity theory.)

Acquiring (language) It is sometimes useful to distinguish between the natural acquisition of a language variety (e.g., a mother tongue) and learning of a language variety (e.g., in the classroom).

Active knowledge Knowledge of a linguistic variety that includes the ability to produce and use that variety, and not only understand it. (See also Passive knowledge.)

Acts of identity LePage’s proposal that intraspeaker variation is a result of the speaker’s desire to present or foreground a different social identity under different circumstances. Strongly associated with LePage’s work on creole language speakers who often display extensive variation between consistent use of the vernacular norms of a creole and the standard variety of the lexifier. Contrasts with attention to speech and accommodation-based models of style-shifting such as audience design.

Age-grading If, as a rule, all speakers of a community use more tokens of one variant at a certain age and more tokens of another variant at another age, the variable is said to be age-graded.

Ageing deficits Changes in individuals’ performance in later stages of their lifespan. ‘Deficits’ refers to impaired performance on tasks or activities compared with younger speakers (e.g., recall, hearing). Focused on more than improvements that are associated with increased age (e.g., narrative skill, vocabulary).

Apparent time The apparent passage of time is measured by comparing speakers of different ages in a single speech community at a single time. If younger speakers behave differently from older speakers, it is assumed that change has taken place within the community. The apparent time construct relies on the assumption that speakers only minimally change the way they speak after the critical period or in adulthood. A useful method where real time data is absent.

Attention to speech Labov proposed that the different distribution of forms in different styles was motivated by the amount of attention the speaker was paying to the act of speaking. In activities, such as reading aloud, reading word lists or minimal pairs, Labov argued that speakers are paying more attention to their speech than they are in interviews and in interviews they paid more attention than when conversing with friends and family. Contrasts with accommodation-based accounts of style-shifting such as audience design. Also contrasts with more agentive theories of style-shifting such as acts of identity.

Attunement A term sometimes preferred over accommodation because of the strong (but incorrect) association of the specific strategy convergence with the more general phenomenon of accommodation. Just as instruments in an orchestra have to be in tune with each other, speakers attune their behaviour to the situation and in relation to the way their interlocutors are behaving.

Audience design Derived from accommodation theory. Proposal that intraspeaker variation arises because speakers are paying attention to who they are addressing or who might be listening to or overhearing them, and modify their speech accordingly.


Bald, on record A technical term in Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness. Refers to an inherently face-threatening act made without any softening through positive or negative politeness strategies. Notice they do not call this ‘impolite’.

Broad stratification A distribution of variants – for example, across groups of speakers in different styles – which shows each group of speakers patterning markedly differently from each other in each style. Shows up as a big gap between trend lines on a line graph.

Brokers The people who introduce innovations into social networks.


Caste systems Relatively fixed social groups. A person is usually born into a particular caste and the possibilities for movement out of it are limited. (See also Social class.)

Change from above Changes taking place in a speech community above the level of individuals’ conscious awareness. Able to be commented on. One variant is clearly standard or has clear overt prestige. It does not refer to changes led by higher social classes (though this may often be the case). (See also Change from below.)

Change from below Changes taking place in a speech community below the level of conscious awareness. Not the subject of overt comment. It does not refer to changes led by lower social classes. (See also Change from above.)

Code mixing Generally refers to alternations between varieties, or codes, within a clause or phrase. Often elicits more strongly negative evaluations than alternations or code switching across clauses.

Code switching In its most specific sense, the alternation between varieties, or codes, across sentences or clause boundaries. Often used as a cover term including code mixing as well.

Collectivist A collectivist society emphasises the relationships and interdependence of the individuals it is comprised of (cf. individualistic). (See also Wakimae.)

Communication accommodation  The full term for accommodation in which accommodation between individuals’ linguistic behaviour is seen as only one way in which individuals may converge or diverge from each other.

Community of practice Unit of analysis introduced to sociolinguistics by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet in their research on language and gender. A smaller unit than a social network. Co-membership is defined on three criteria: mutual engagement, a jointly negotiated enterprise, and a shared repertoire. Associated with analyses of variation that emphasise speakers’ agency. (See also Acts of identity; Speaker design.)

Community-wide change An entire group or community switch to use of a new variant at about the same time.

Competence and performance A distinction drawn by Chomsky. Competence is identified primarily with grammatical competence and is understood as the underlying or innate principle from which the structure of all natural languages derive. Performance, or what speakers do with their competence replete with errors and infelicities, is not seen as the primary interest of linguistics. (See also Pragmatic competence; Sociolinguistic competence.)

Constitutive The view that a correlation between linguistic behaviour and a non-linguistic factor actually helps to bring about and define (i.e., constitute) the meaning of a social category. Often contrasted with an interpretation of variation as reflecting a social category. (See also Reflexive.)

Constrain/constraints If the distribution of variants is neither random nor free, and instead shows systematic correlations with independent factors, those factors can be said to constrain the variation, or to be the constraints on the variable.

Contrastive analysis An approach to second-language acquisition that focuses on points of similarity and difference in two varieties. The assumption is that where they differ, learners will have most difficulty.

Conventional implicature An inference that arises from the meaning (or semantics) of a word or phrase. This means if you try to cancel the implicature, it sounds bizarre or can’t be understood. (See also Conversational implicature.)

Convergence Accommodation towards the speech of one’s interlocutors. Accentuates similarities between interlocutors’ speech styles, and/or makes the speaker sound more like their interlocutor. It is assumed to be triggered by conscious or unconscious desires to emphasise similarity with interlocutors we like, and to increase attraction. (See also Divergence; Social identity theory.)

Conversational implicature An inference that arises from interlocutors’ shared understanding of the norms of conversation. Not part of the semantics or inherent meaning of a word/phrase. Unlike a conventional implicature, you can cancel a conversational implicature (e.g., They have two cats if not more.)

Core network member Term used by Jenny Cheshire to describe the members centrally involved and actively participating in a friendship network. Distinguished from peripheral and secondary members who are progressively less involved.

Cost of imposition Modified term from Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory. A scalar measure of how serious a face-threatening act is in a particular society, and given the power and distance difference between speaker and hearer.

Covert prestige A norm or target that is oriented to without the speaker even being aware that they are orienting to it. Evidence of covert prestige can be found in mismatches between speakers’ self-report of using one variant and actual use of another variant. Often used (wrongly) to refer to the value associated with non-standard or vernacular varieties.

Creole A language variety arising out of a situation of language contact (usually involving more than two languages). A creole can be distinguished from a pidgin: (i) on the grounds that it is the first language of some community or group of speakers, or (ii) on the grounds that it is used for the entire range of social functions that a language can be used for. (See also Creolisation; Vernacularisation.)

Creolisation The process by which a pidgin becomes the first language of a group of speakers. The linguistic outcomes of the expansion of the pidgin into a wider range of social functions. (See also Vernacularisation.)

Critical period The period during which language learning seems to be easiest; that is, in childhood and for some people going into early adolescence. Exposure to language outside the critical period usually results in less than native-like acquisition. Some researchers believe the critical period is an artefact of (i) developmental changes in the brain, or (ii) changes in the receptiveness or attitudes of language learners, or (iii) a mixture of physiological and social factors.

Cross-over effect The cross-over effect emerges at the intersection of style and class. Typically it refers to the breakdown in the most careful speech styles of clear stratification between speakers of different social classes. For example, when reading word lists, speakers from the second highest social class will suddenly produce more tokens of an incoming or prestige form than speakers in the highest social class do, instead of producing slightly fewer tokens as they do in their conversation or interview styles (cf. Hypercorrection).


Dense and loose networks Dense networks are characterised by everyone within the network knowing each other. In loose social networks not all members know each other.

Determinism/deterministic The idea that there is a strong causal relationship between two factors (i.e., one determines how the other will be). The idea that if you know the value for one factor, you can automatically and reliably predict the value for another. (See also Linguistic relativism.)

Diachronic change Change realised over chronological time.

Dialect A term widely applied to what are considered sub-varieties of a single language. Generally, dialect and accent are distinguished by how much of the linguistic system differs. Dialects differ on more than just pronunciation, i.e., on the basis of morphosyntactic structure and/or how semantic relations are mapped into the syntax. (See also Variety.)

Dialect levelling Reduction of differences distinguishing regional dialects or accents. One possible outcome of contact between speakers of different varieties.

Diglossia Classically defined as a situation where two closely related languages are used in a speech community. One for High (H) functions (e.g., church, newspapers) and one for Low (L) functions (e.g., in the home, or market). The situation is supposed to be relatively stable and the languages/varieties remain distinct (cf. creole outcomes of language contact). Now often extended to refer to any two languages (even typologically unrelated ones) that have this kind of social and functional distribution.

Direct and indirect indexing A relationship of identification. The distinction between direct and indirect indexing was introduced by Elinor Ochs. A linguistic feature directly indexes something with social meaning if the social information is a conventional implicature (e.g., speaker gender is directly indexed by some forms of some adjectives in French, je suis [prε] (male speaker); je suis [prεt] (female speaker). However, most variables associated with, e.g., male vs female speakers only indirectly index gender. Their distribution is sex-preferential not sex-exclusive. They are generally associated with several other social meanings, e.g., casualness and vernacularity with masculinity. Because these other factors help to constitute what it means to be ‘male’ the index between vernacular variants and male speakers/masculinity is indirect.

Distance Social distance is a component of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory. It refers to horizontal differences between people (cf. power). Also spatial distance e.g., between cities in the diffusion of an innovation.

Divergence Accommodation away from the speech of one’s interlocutors. Accentuates differences between interlocutors’ speech styles, and/or makes the speaker sound less like their interlocutor. It is assumed convergence is triggered by conscious or unconscious desires to emphasise difference and increase social distance. (See also Convergence; Social identity theory.)

Domain The social and physical setting in which speakers find themselves.


Envelope of variation All, and only, the contexts in which a variable occurs.

Ethnolinguistic vitality   See Vitality, ethnolinguistic.

Evidentials Forms or structures that provide an indication of how the speaker knows the information being conveyed (e.g., direct experience vs reports from a third party).

Exclusive and preferential features An exclusive feature is one associated solely with a particular user or group of users or solely in a particular context. A preferential feature is one that is distributed across speakers or groups, but is used more frequently by some than by others.

Expanded pidgin A term used sometimes instead of creole to describe contact varieties that have spent longer as pidgins (lacking native speakers) within a community. (See also Vernacularisation.)


Face and face wants Erving Goffman’s notion of face, our social persona, adopted into politeness theory. Face wants are the desire to protect our positive face and negative face from threat or damage.

Fine stratification A distribution of variants e.g., across groups of speakers in different styles, which shows each group of speakers patterning minimally differently from each other in each style. Shows up as small gaps between trend lines on a line graph.

Free variation The idea that some variants alternate with each other without any reliable constraints on their occurrence in a particular context or by particular speakers.


Gender Not grammatical gender (i.e., different classes of noun that may be called ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’). Not sex of speaker which (largely) reflects biological or physiological differences between people. Used increasingly in sociolinguistics to indicate a social identity that emerges or is constructed through social actions. (See also Constitutive; Reflexive.)

Generational change Each generation in a community shows progressively more and more frequent use of a variant. A change that can be inferred to be taking place on the basis of apparent time evidence is a generational change.

Globalisation The increased contact between people of different social and linguistic backgrounds across broad swathes of geographical space. Commonly portrayed as a recent phenomenon and strongly associated with (and often attributed to) the new communication technologies (e.g., Internet, mass media, etc.). The dominance of a small number of language varieties (in particular US English) is seen as an important factor decreasing the ethnolinguistic vitality of lesser-spoken languages worldwide. It is worth bearing in mind that globalisation has been an issue in some parts of the world at least since the colonial period.

Grammatical competence See Competence and performance.

Gravity model Model of the diffusion of innovations introduced to sociolinguistics by Peter Trudgill. Social innovations (including linguistic innovations) have been observed to ‘hop’ between large population centres in a (spatially) discontinuous manner. At its simplest, the gravity model predicts that the larger the city/town, the sooner an innovation is likely to show up there. (i.e., the ‘gravitational force’ is provided by the weight of numbers of people).

Group differentiation A hypothesised function for language variation. Social (in which we can include regional) varieties index group boundaries. In some theories of social psychology differentiation between groups is argued to be an important basis for forming positive self-image.


High (H) variety See Diglossia.

Hypercorrection The production of a form which never occurs in a native variety on the basis of the speaker’s misanalysis of the input (cf. Cross-over effect).


Illocutionary force The force of a speech act. Saying ‘I promise’ has the illocutionary force of promising if the speaker is genuinely committed to what they utter (and is not lying or hoaxing).

Independent factors Many things may correlate with or predict the distribution of different linguistic variants. These factors are independent if they have an autonomous effect on the variable. Some factors are inter­dependent and don’t exert an independent effect. (See also Significant/significance.)

Index score A means by which scalar variables like raising of a vowel can be converted into quantifiable data. For example, very low variants can be assigned a score of 0, and very raised ones a score of 3, with two intermediate levels. Aggregate scores across all tokens allow the researcher to identify some speakers or groups of speakers as more or less conservative/innovative than others.

Indexing See Direct and indirect indexing.

Indicator A linguistic variable which shows limited or no style-shifting. Stratified principally between groups.

Indirect index See Direct and indirect indexing.

Individual agency Recent approaches to sociolinguistics have tried to emphasise individuals’ freedom of choice in their analyses. Analysts argue that speakers are social actors or agents, (re)defining themselves through linguistic and other social behaviour. (See also Acts of identity; Community of practice.)

Individualistic A society that emphasises and celebrates the individual over relationships (cf. Collectivist).

Inherent variability A way of modelling variation as a property of the grammar. Contrasts with a model of variation as speakers’ (or a speaker’s) alternation between different sound or grammar systems (see code switching). Also contrasts with the notion of free variation. Inherent variability unifies interspeaker and intraspeaker variation in ways that the other two approaches do not.

Inherently face-threatening acts Speech acts which necessarily threaten the speaker’s and/or hearer’s positive face and/or negative face. In Brown and Levinson’s framework, they require the speaker to decide whether or not to mitigate the threat and which politeness strategies to use.

Interlocutor The people who are talking together are each other’s interlocutors.

Interdependent factors Many things may correlate with or predict the distribution of different linguistic variants. Some factors bundle together and can be said to be interdependent. This means that every possible combination of the factors may not actually be attested, only a sub-set of combinations. As a consequence you can predict or rule out some factors if you know another factor. For example, the linguistic factors place and manner of articulation are interdependent, so for English if you know you are dealing with an initial nasal, you can predict that it will be either /m/or /n/ and will not be /ŋ/.

Intermediate forms Forms emerging following contact between closely related varieties that fall in between the various input forms.

Interspeaker variation Differences and variation that is measured between different speakers (individuals or social groups).

Intraspeaker variation Differences in the way a single person speaks at different times, or with different interlocutors, or even within a sentence. Intraspeaker variation is a necessary corollary of inherent variability in grammars.


Laminated Erving Goffman’s term to refer to the way aspects of the context or the identity of the participants compound, reinforce and add depth to the meaning of each other.

Language attitudes The study of what people think about different linguistic varieties and how those perceptions about language relate to perceptions of attitudes about different users of language.

Learning (language) See Acquiring (language).

Lexifier The language that has provided most of the vocabulary (i.e., lexicon) to a pidgin or creole.

Lifespan change A term introduced to the study of language variation and change by Gillian Sankoff. A change to a speaker’s pronunciation or grammar that takes place after the critical period can be described as a lifespan change. Lifespan changes in pronunciation appear to be severely restricted in their form: they generally only move in the direction of the community overall (see also Generational change) and they may also be constrained to certain input or starting points for a speaker. On the other hand, lifespan change is well-attested for vocabulary.

Lingua franca Language used as a common means of communication among people whose native languages are mutually unintelligible.

Linguistic and non-linguistic factors Sometimes referred to as ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factors respectively. The distribution of the variants of a variable may be constrained by or depend on other factors in the linguistic system. (For example: Is the subject a pronoun or a full NP? Is the following phonological segment coronal or velar?) The distribution may also be constrained by factors that lie outside of the grammar or core linguistic system. (For example: Is the speaker talking to a close friend or a stranger? Is there a lot of background noise?)

Linguistic insecurity Speakers’ feeling that the variety they use is somehow inferior, ugly or bad. Negative attitudes to one’s own variety expressed in aesthetic or moral terms.

Linguistic marketplace A way of talking about the extent to which an occupation or activity is associated with use of the standard language.

Linguistic relativism Weaker position than determinism. Holds that the value of one factor is not wholly independent of the value of another factor, but instead is somehow constrained by it. Associated with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis which suggests that the way we perceive the world around us is in some way reflected in the way we talk. (See also Reflexive.)

Loose networks See Dense and loose networks.

Low (L) variety See Diglossia.


Marker A variable that speakers are less aware of than a stereotype, but which shows consistent style effects. (See also Indicator.)

Monotonic A steady increase or decrease in a feature along the x-axis of a graph. (See also Trend.)

Motivation Some linguists believe there are social or psychological factors which drive or motivate variation. Speakers of a language may be able to talk about the different goals, intentions or motivations that are served by using one variant rather than another, but some motivations may be subconscious and not available for such comment.

Multiplex and uniplex ties Individuals in a social network can be linked through a single social relationship (a uniplex tie; e.g., mother~daughter) or through several social relationships (multiplex ties; e.g., cousins~co­workers~neighbours).


National language A linguistic variety that has been chosen by a nation as the language expressing or representing national identity.

Negative concord A language where a negative element/constituent in a sentence requires all other indefinites to also be negative has a rule of negative concord.

Negative face The want of every competent adult member of a community that their actions be unimpeded by others. ‘Don’t tread on me.’

Negative politeness strategy An action, phrase or utterance that indicates attention is being paid to the negative face wants of an interlocutor. Often achieved through shows of deference. One type of action available to mitigate an inherently face-threatening act. (See also Positive politeness strategy.)


Observer’s paradox The double-bind that researchers find themselves in when what they are interested in knowing is how people behave when they are not being observed, but the only way to find out how they behave is to observe them.

Official language A linguistic variety that has been designated as the medium for all official, government business. There is usually a right to have all legal and public services provided in an official language, and an obligation on state or regional authorities to satisfy this right.

Overt prestige The prestige associated with a variant that speakers are aware of and can talk about in terms of standardness, or aesthetic and moral evaluations like being ‘nicer’ or ‘better’. (See also Covert prestige.)


Panel studies  Studies of variation across real time when the participants are held constant. (cf. Trend studies.)

Participant observation The practice of spending longer periods of time with speakers observing how they use language, react to others’ use of it, and how language interacts with and is embedded in other social practices and ideologies. A means of gathering qualitative data rather than quantitative data.

Passive knowledge The ability to understand, but not speak, a language. (See also Active knowledge.)

Perceptual dialectology The study of people’s subjectively held beliefs about different dialects or linguistic varieties. The focus on lay perceptions about language complements the regional dialectologists’ more objective focus on the way people are recorded as speaking.

Performative/performativity Judith Butler argued that gender is performative in the sense that the iteration of actions and ways of talking in a social context acquires constitutive force within a community. This underlies the social meaning associated with actions, events or categories.

Peripheral network members See Core network members.

Pidgin Generally, a language variety that is not very linguistically complex or elaborated and is used in fairly restricted social domains and for limited social or interpersonal functions. Like a creole, arises from language contact; often seen as a precursor or early stage to a creole. It is often said that pidgin can be distinguished from a creole in having no native speakers.

Politeness The actions taken by competent speakers in a community in order to attend to possible social or interpersonal disturbance. (See also Negative politeness strategy; Positive politeness strategy; Wakamae.)

Positive face The want of every competent adult member of a community that their wants be desirable to at least some others. ‘Love me, love my dog.’

Positive politeness strategy An action, phrase or utterance that indicates attention is being paid to the positive face wants of an interlocutor. Often achieved through shows of friendliness. One type of action available to mitigate an inherently face-threatening act. (See also Negative politeness strategy.)

Power A vertical relationship between speaker and hearer in Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness. Along with distance and cost of imposition, power determines how much and what kind of redressive action the speaker might take with a face-threatening act.

Pragmatic competence The ability of a well-socialised speaker to know when certain speech acts are required, appropriate or inappropriate. A competence required over and above grammatical competence in order to successfully participate as a member of a speech community. (See also Sociolinguistic competence.)

Preferential differences If a feature or variant is found only in the speech of some speakers, it is exclusively associated with them. If it is found more or less frequently in the speech of any member of the community, but occurs more often in the speech of some groups of speakers, it is preferentially associated with them. (See also Direct and indirect indexing; Exclusive and preferential features.)

Principle of accountability Refers to accountability to accurately represent the data. All tokens must be included in a linguistic analysis, rather than focusing solely on the most typical uses, or only on examples that require very subtle, decontextualised judgements.

Principle of maximum differentiation An idea that there may be functional constraints on phonological variation preventing the realisations of one phoneme overlapping or encroaching too much on the realisations of another.

Probability/probabilistic The likelihood with which a variant will occur in a given context, subject to the linguistic and non-linguistic constraints. An adjustment on raw frequencies of forms.


Quotative verbs Verbs introducing reports of discourse (e.g., direct and indirect speech or thought). They include older, more stable variants such as ‘say’ and ‘think’, as well as newer ones such as ‘be like’, ‘be all’.


Rapid and anonymous study A questionnaire used to gather data quickly in the public domain. (See also Sociolinguistic interview; Triangulation.)

Real time Augustinian time. The passing of years, hours, minutes and seconds that we measure with calendars and clocks and that we think we understand until we really think about it.

Reallocate/reallocation Reassignment or reanalysis of forms in contact in a systematic way, e.g., as allophonically distributed variants of a phoneme.

Reflexive The view that a correlation between linguistic behaviour and a non-linguistic factor is due to the fact that language reflects identification with a social category or a personal stance. Often contrasted with a constitutive interpretation of variation.

Regional dialectology The identification and mapping of boundaries between different varieties on the basis of clusters of similar and different features in particular regions, towns or villages.


Salient/salience A maddeningly under-defined term when used in sociolinguistics. Sometimes refers to how readily a particular variant is perceived/heard (this may be due to physiological factors affecting perception, or social and psychological factors that affect prime speakers and make them attend to a form). Sometimes refers to a non-linguistic factor that the context or participants appear to have foregrounded in discourse.

Secondary network members See Core network members.

Semantic derogation Semantic shift that results in a word acquiring more negative associations or meanings.

Semantic shift Incremental changes to the meaning of a word or phrase. Sometimes included within the scope of grammaticalisation (or grammaticisation) theory, but unlike classic grammaticalisation, semantic shift need not entail structural reanalysis of the word/phrase. That is, a verb might stay a verb but its meaning might be severely weakened or altered over time.

Sex No, not that kind of sex. The term is increasingly restricted in sociolinguistics to refer to a biologically or physiologically based distinction between males and females, as opposed to the more social notion of gender.

Shibboleth A linguistic feature that is used to differentiate between groups.

Significant/significance Significance has a technical sense, in which it is a statistical measure. The distribution of a variant is said to be statistically significant if it is unlikely to have arisen just by chance. Sociolinguists generally follow normal social science practice and require that tests show there is less than a 5 per cent chance that the distribution of a variable in relation to other factors might be simply a coincidence before they will claim there is a significant correlation or patterning between the variant and some independent factor.

Situation(al) A more idiosyncratic and personalised view of the context or situation of language use (cf. domain). In this text, used to describe one of the motivations for code switching.

Social class A measure of status which is often based on occupation, income and wealth, but also can be measured in terms of aspirations and mobility. These factors can then be used to group individuals scoring similarly on these factors into socioeconomic classes.

Social dialectology The study of linguistic variation in relation to speakers’ participation or membership in social groups, or in relation to other non-linguistic factors.

Social distance See Distance.

Social identity theory A social psychological theory holding that people identify with multiple identities, some of which are more personal and idiosyncratic and some of which are group identifications. Experimental work in this framework suggests that people readily see contrasts between groups in terms of competition, and seek to find means of favouring the co-members of the group they identify with over others.

Social meaning Inferences about speakers or the variety they use and the interpretations we draw about how those speakers are positioned in social space because of this.

Social networks Introduced to sociolinguistics by Jim and Lesley Milroy. Social networks provide an alternative basis for studying the systematic variation of language to the speech community. Networks are defined by contact between members; however, not all members may know each other, the network connections may be distributive (dense and loose networks) and some members may know each other in a different capacity from others (multiplex and uniplex ties).

Social space How a community perceives boundaries between established or emergent groups within it, and individuals’ (externally or internally perceived) position in relation to those groups. Questions like ‘Where does a person come from?’, ‘What kind of education have they had?’, ‘How much have they moved around in their youth?’ help locate a person in social space.

Sociolinguistic competence The skills and resources speakers need to deploy in order to be competent members of a speech community using language not only grammatically but appropriately in different contexts, domains or with different interlocutors. (See also Grammatical competence; Pragmatic competence.)

Sociolinguistic interview An interview, usually one on one, in which different tasks or activities are used to elicit different styles of speech. (You will sometimes hear it used simply to refer to a one-on-one interview lasting at least an hour covering a range of topics.)

Sociolinguistics The study of language in use, language in society. The field of sociolinguistics is a big tent: it can encompass work done in discourse analysis, studies of interaction, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, feminism, etc. It can also be used much more restrictively to only refer to variationist studies in the Labovian tradition. For this reason, when you come across the term, it is worth stopping long enough to work out how the writer/speaker is using it.

Speaker design A further approach to analysing style-shifting. Stresses the speaker’s desire to represent her/himself in certain ways. (See also Acts of identity.)

Speech acts Utterances which, in saying, do something.

Speech community Variously defined on subjective or objective criteria. Objective criteria would group speakers together in a speech community if the distribution of a variable was consistent with respect to other factors (e.g., style). Subjective criteria would group speakers as a speech community if they shared a sense of and belief in co-membership.

Speech levels Replacement of vocabulary with sometimes radically different forms in the different styles associated with different social groups or castes.

Stable variable If there is no evidence (e.g., from generational change) that one variant is pushing out another variant, the variable can be considered stable. A classic example is the alternation between the alveolar and velar nasals in the word-final ‘-ing’ which has existed for centuries and shows no signs of disappearing at present. Stable variables may exhibit age-grading (i.e., avoidance of a stigmatised variant in adulthood).

Status Max Weber’s theory of social class held that it was based on a person’s status, measured in terms of their lifestyle and life choices in addition to measures of wealth and occupation (as per Marx).

Stereotype A linguistic feature that is widely recognised and is very often the subject of (not always strictly accurate!) dialect performances and impersonations.

Stratified The systematic and consistent patterning of a variant with respect to some independent factor, e.g., style, age, class. See Broad and Fine stratification.

Style-shifting Variation in an individual’s speech correlating with differences in addressee, social context, personal goals or externally imposed task.

Subjective and objective measures A speaker’s perceptions of their own performance and their performance evaluated by some external measure.

Substrate The languages other than the lexifier that are present in pidgin or creole formation. The substrate languages often contribute to the grammatical structure of a creole, or they may constrain the semantics of words that have been taken over from the lexifier – e.g., han meaning ‘hand’ and ‘arm’ in Bislama (same denotation as equivalent words in the Eastern Oceanic languages of Vanuatu) and not the more restricted sense of English ‘hand’.

Symmetric and asymmetric accommodation Symmetric accommodation means both interlocutors converge or diverge. Asymmetric means one interlocutor converges while the other diverges (can be motivated by mismatch in how interlocutors perceive the interaction). (See also Convergence; Divergence.)

Synchronic variation Variation occurring now.


Trend Steady increase or decrease in the frequency of a form across a scale or set of measures. (See also Monotonic.)

Trend studies A trend study involves comparing speech from members of the same community at different points in time. (See also Panel studies; Real time.)

Triangulation A researcher’s use of several independent tests to confirm their results and aid in the interpretation of their results. For example, use of data from sociolinguistic interviews and a rapid and anonymous study.


Uniplex tie A network tie between individuals that expresses one role or basis for contact and interaction. (See also Multiplex and uniplex ties.)


Variable In this text, principally an abstract representation of the source of variation. Realised by two or more variants.

Variant The actual realisation of a variable. Analogous to the phonetic realisations of a phoneme.

Variationist sociolinguistics The study of language in use with a focus on describing and explaining the distribution of variables. An approach strongly associated with quantitative methods in the tradition established by William Labov.

Variety Relatively neutral term used to refer to languages and dialects. Avoids the problem of drawing a distinction between the two, and avoids negative attitudes often attached to the term dialect.

Vernacular In this text, usually used to refer neutrally to the linguistic variety used by a speaker or a community as the medium for everyday and home interaction. In some linguistic work the term may be associated with the notion of non-standard norms.

Vernacularisation The process by which a contact variety becomes used with the full range of social and personal functions served by a language of the home. Also the linguistic changes associated with the expansion of the variety in this way. (See also Creolisation.)

Vitality, ethnolinguistic A measure of the strength and liveliness of a language, usually a good indicator of the likelihood that it will gradually die out or continue to be used as the living language of a community. Measured in terms of demographic, social and institutional support.


Wakimae A Japanese term introduced to the study of politeness by Sachiko Ide. Refers to the attention paid to people’s interdependence and to the reciprocity of relationships, and, specifically, the discernment of appropriate behaviour based on this.

Wave model The theory that language change emanates from a single starting point and is gradually incorporated into the speech of the nearest neighbours.

Weighting An adjustment that can be made to raw frequencies of a variant so as to take into account any biases or skewing of its overall distribution. Expresses the probability or likelihood with which a variant will occur in a given linguistic environment or with a given non-linguistic factor.