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LG 218 Sociolinguistics

 2017, Autumn term

Prof. Peter L. Patrick

University of Essex




On this page:

·      Details of the assignment choices

·      General directions for all assignments

·      How to cite materials from the WWW

·      Link to Assessment page

All assignments are due on the Thursday of week 16, i.e., 18 January 2018. All should be of 3,000 words length, plus or minus 10% (ie, +/- 300 words) -  (not counting References or instructions; do not repeat the assignment instructions). Essays that are under 2700 words may be penalized for key items that are left out. There’s no need to wait until after the lecture in which a topic is discussed before beginning an assignment, as all of them extend out from what is covered in class to incorporate something new. The General Directions at the end should be observed, no matter which essay you choose to do. The usual rules and guidelines issued in the Dept. Undergraduate Handbook apply. All work must be submitted according to Linguistics Dept rules.

You should either come see me in office hours, or email me, after selecting an assignment, to check your understanding of the work and ask any questions. Students who do badly on assignments are invariably those who have not spoken to me about them!

Details about the assignment:

1) The assignments listed below require a type of essay called Literature Review. The idea is to select and give an account of key writings on a topic, then synthesize and evaluate them in the light of your own understanding. The readings are all about the kinds of language variation we have covered in class. All reading selections are fully listed on Talis Aspiremake sure you provide proper and full references for all in your essay. Select several readings, as detailed below for each option. Note that the fewer you choose, the more detailed you must make your review. Review the selected readings, paying attention to the General Directions below.


·       A) British accent variation: Urban Voices. Select any 4 of chapters 2-15 in the book Urban Voices (below). Now compare and review the articles, following the General Directions below. For this essay, you will be seeking to make connections between the works you select. There is no single pre-set topic, but they all share some perspectives or approaches, and part of your assignment is to come up with a theme linking your selections – e.g., chapters which look at similar linguistic variables such as (T) or (ing), or similar social factors such as gender and class, or similar processes such as dialect levelling, etc. Your introduction should briefly state this theme and identify the selections you’ve made. (It’s a good idea to browse through several chapters, and then come check your choices with me – we can discuss your selections in office hours before you begin to write, but after you've read them!).

    1. Foulkes, P & G Docherty eds. 1999. Urban voices: Accent studies in the British Isles. Arnold.
      • Select any 4 of chapters 2-15. You must do four.
      • Note: You may find the book’s introduction helpful in understanding the nature of these shared interests, but don’t count it as a selection.
      • Note: chapters 12 and 13 (both short and on Edinburgh) count as a single chapter.
      • Note: Give full references for each chapter separately in the final References list. Consult the UG Handbook on how to reference properly.

In your assignment, you will want to follow the general directions below (ie, Report, Relate and Evaluate). You should, within that framework, also describe the basic findings in each chapter, as well as the larger points made by each; their importance to sociolinguistics, more broadly; and comment on the issues of methodology involved, where relevant. Note that every chapter briefly summarises dozens of points before reporting a few features in depth; you should NOT attempt to summarise the brief summaries, but rather focus on the features reported in greater depth. Some of these readings may contain linguistic theories or statistical tests you’re not familiar with; if you’re not, your job is to understand, broadly speaking, what the authors think they tell us about the data.

 [Be sure you’ve read the Main Readings for Weeks 3, 5 and 6, also!]


·       B) Local identity, ethnicity and language variation. Read all 5 readings below (4 and 5 are very short). (Topic esp. relevant to Weeks 3 and 6)

    1. Labov, William. 1963. The social motivation of a sound change. Word 19:273-309. Reprinted in W Labov 1972 Sociolinguistic Patterns, Chap. 1 (1-42).  [P 126.L2], and also in Meyerhoff & Schleef (2010), pp292-322.
    2. Blake, Renee, & Meredith Josey. 2003. The /ay/ diphthong in a Martha's Vineyard community: What can we say 40 years after Labov? Language in Society 32: 451-485.
    3. Pope, Jennifer, Miriam Meyerhoff, & D. Robert Ladd. 2007. Forty years of language change on Martha's Vineyard. Language 83:615-627.

       See also these brief overviews – good place to start!:

4.     R Mesthrie, J Swann, A Deumert & W Leap. 2009. Introducing Sociolinguistics. [P 126.I6] Contains a summary account of Labov's original study on pp. 78-82 Chap. 3) and 120-121 (Chap. 4). [If using an earlier edition, see its index as page numbers may differ.]

5.     Miriam Meyerhoff. 2011. Introducing Sociolinguistics. [P 126.M4] Contains a summary account of Labov's original study on pp. 13-26 (Chap. 2), and a comparison of it with Pope et al.'s re-study on pp. 150-153 and 160 (Chap. 7).


The three journal articles (1-3) describe a sound change in the island enclave of Martha's Vineyard – first in the early 1960s (1), and then revisiting it 40 years later (2, 3) – and how it was arguably reversed by some speakers. The Labov article is a milestone in sociolinguistics, establishing the method of apparent-time studies of language change, and arguing for the influences of social factors (age, local identity, socioeconomic factors, attitudes and ethnicity) on language change. Separately, both Blake & Josey and Pope et al. went back to investigate the island after 40 years. They disagree in their findings, however.

As a way in, read the summaries of Labov's research, and the comparison to later work, in Mesthrie et al. and in Meyerhoff (items 4 and 5) – however, in your report, be sure to take into account that these are only someone else's opinion, not the original research, and that they are only textbook summaries. Don't rely on them too much (and certainly do not read them instead of Labov!), but be sure to go to the original work. That is, readings 4 and 5 are secondary sources and textbook treatments, and only there to help shed further light on the primary sources. (NB: Meyerhoff is a co-author of 3 and the author of 5, so her textbook account is obviously open to influence by her own research article). Be sure you’ve read the Main Readings for Weeks 3, 5 and 6, also!


In your assignment, you will want to follow the general directions below (ie, Report, Relate and Evaluate). You should, within that framework, also describe the basic findings, beginning with Labov; explain their importance to sociolinguistics, more broadly; and comment on the issues of methodology involved, which certainly influence and arguably account for the differences between the two more recent works. Be sure to consider possible criticisms in both directions (eg, do not simply accept Pope et al.’s critique of Blake & Josey uncritically, or because it appeared afterwards in a textbook; what criticisms or responses might Blake & Josey have made to Pope et al.?), and to consider what each article’s goal was.


·      C Language attitudes. Select at least 4 readings:

    1. M Dragojevic, H Giles & B Watson. 2014. Language Ideologies and Language Attitudes: A foundational framework. Chapter 1 in Giles, Howard & Watson, Bernadette (eds) 2013. The social meanings of language, dialect and accent: International perspectives on speech styles. NY: Peter Lang, pp 1-25..
    2. At least one other chapter from Giles & Watson, chaps. 2-9 (not the Epilogue).
    3. Another overview or survey of language attitudes, e.g.
      • P Garrett. 2007. Language attitudes. Chap. 14 (pp 116-121) in Llamas, Mullany & Stockwell, eds., Routledge Companion to Sociolinguistics. [P 126.R6, available online].
      • or D Preston. 2002. Language with an attitude. In Chambers, Trudgill & Schilling-Estes, eds. 2002, The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, pp40-66. [P 122.H2, available online]. Also excerpted in Meyerhoff & Schleef 2010, pp. 112-131 (skips about 3 pages of original)
      • or Meyerhoff 2011, Chap 4: Language attitudes (pp 54-80).
    1. A case-study of attitudes to a particular variety/varieties – one listed here below, or an appropriate selection from the Further Readings (check with me):
      • R Lippi-Green. 2012. English with an accent, chap. 10; or chap. 11; or chap. 14; or chap. 15
      • P Garrett, A Williams & B Evans. 2005. Attitudinal data from New Zealand, Australia, the USA and UK about each other’s Englishes: Recent changes or consequences of methodologies? Multilingua 24(3): 211-235. [available online] [Note: this article critiques and updates the research by Bayard et al 2001, below, so it might make sense to review both of them if you choose one]
      • D Bayard, A Weatherall, C Gallois & J Pittam. 2001. Pax Americana? Accent attitudinal evaluations in New Zealand, Australia and America. Journal of Sociolinguistics 5(1): 22-49. [P 1.J538, available online].
      • HJ Ladegaard. 2000. Language attitudes and sociolinguistic behavior: Exploring attitude-behaviour relations in language. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(2): 214-233. [P 1.J538, available online].

Note: Give full references for each edited chapter separately in the final References list. Consult the UG Handbook on how to reference properly.


All of these readings build on the basic ideas and approaches to language attitudes we discussed in Week 4. Your selection of readings should be unified somehow within the general theme of language attitudes, and in your essay that unity should be made clear: your introduction should briefly state this theme and identify the selections you’ve made. Be sure you have read and understood the Main Readings and lecture notes for Week 4. (Note that some of those Main Readings are just background on the topic, and are not part of the assignment above.) You can also refer to these as background in your essay.

In your assignment, you will want to follow the general directions below (ie, Report, Relate and Evaluate). You should, within that framework, also define basic terms, describe the most relevant basic findings and ideas of each reading, as well as the larger points made by each, and give their importance to sociolinguistics, more broadly. (Some of these readings contain statistical tests you may not be familiar with; if you’re not, your job is to understand, broadly speaking, what the author(s) thinks they tell us about the data.)

            Be sure you’ve read the Main Readings on this topic, also!



General Directions:   In your review, you should do three things: Report, Relate, and Evaluate.

(1)  Report in summary the relevant key points, findings or arguments of each. Do not give more than 1 or 2 quotations - if any! - and keep them short. Do not simply paraphrase the author closely. Use your own words. See below for examples of this kind of writing. This section should be objective.

(2)  Relate the works to each other (and to other readings from the term). How are they similar or different in their methods? goals? assumptions? conclusions? Do they share a framework?

(3)  Evaluate the authors’ claims, noting any agreement or conflict between them. Are the conclusions supported by the arguments? the data? Are the findings significant, and why? What position would you take, and why? This section should be subjective, including your own balanced opinion and the reasons for it.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that because you are asked to contrast two readings, one is necessarily right and the other wrong! or that because one reading is more recent (hence had the opportunity to criticise an earlier one), earlier work is mistaken and recent work is correct. Usually things are more complex – every piece of research is subject to possible criticisms; take time and come to your own conclusions, using your own critical abilities.

Some readings are more technical than others - you may be able to write a perfectly good review by concentrating on larger issues, even if you have not mastered all the details - consult me. A sense of balance will be rewarded: you shouldn’t focus exclusively on fine details, but neither should you omit them entirely.

Give full references for each edited chapter, and the book they appeared in, separately in the final References list. (Not doing this is one of the most common errors and will cost you points!) That is, you are supposed to cite the authors of each item you read – not (just) the editors of a book their work appeared in (though you need to put that, too, in your final list of References.). Consult the UG Handbook on how to reference properly.

The nature of this assignment requires you to have, or develop, a clear understanding of what constitutes plagiarism, and what is acceptable academic practice in using other people’s ideas, including how to give citations completely and properly.

Please consult again the course webpage, especially the sections on assessment and plagiarism for details (read them before you write!). Do not give more than 1 or 2 brief quotations at most. Quotation only shows your ability to copy – you are meant to show your ability to understand and process information, and to write about it using your own words. Any quotations, close paraphrases or very specific claims must have page references.

I have a webpage of advice on writing essay assignments in sociolinguistics. It includes advice on writing exam papers, which you may want to look at later in the year, and also hints for answering data problems, of the specific kind you tend to get in this course’s exam papers. Please note that all of these are directed at writing things for ME, and other staff may not agree with all of it! Still, you may find them useful – they are all available here.

The Dept. has put together a general webpage with similar resources – please have a look here.

As examples, you can look at literature review sections and abstracts in sociolinguistic journal articles, and also book reviews, for examples (hopefully good ones!) of this type of writing. Try some of the main journals cited in our References section, e.g. Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language Variation & Change, and Language in Society.


How to Cite Materials from the WWW

Guidelines about proper citation of web-based material for my courses is available both here and in the Undergraduate Handbook.

The main rule is, if the material on the web is directly based on something written in book or journal form, and you can access that book or journal in the library, do that instead – don’t trust the web version! – and cite the book or journal. Certainly, do not rely on web materials which summarize a reading (e.g. from some instructor’s handouts) over the original materials.


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Page last updated on 16 October 2017