Linguistics 310, Sociolinguistics & dialectology: course syllabus

This is a generic version (without dates) for those who want an overall idea of what this course is about. On the first day of the course, students receive a more complete version with day-by-day indications of the material.


Dr. Stan Whitley, 531 Greene, 758-5362; email <>, URL 


Course goals

1. to explore how and why language varies, with emphasis on the social context of speech;

2. to survey methods for describing language variation, from traditional dialectology to modern discourse analysis;

3. to evaluate the social, educational, and political implications of dialect variation, gender and ethnic differences, and other social variables in language differences



The introductory course Lin/Ant 150 is a useful prerequisite; those who have not had it can receive POI but should consult with the instructor for help with unfamiliar concepts (e.g., phonetic symbols) as they arise. A knowledge of other languages is also useful for sharing observations across languages, but the course is in English and examples are given from both the U.S. and other countries. The following personal skills will also be very important for this course:

·        observant eyes and ears, an open mind, and an interest in how language reflects society.

·        willingness to share relevant personal experiences in the topics being discussed.

·        the ability to cover a lot of key material in the field and distill the gist of the goals, methods, and results.



1.      Wardhaugh, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 5th ed. (Blackwell). A well-known standard survey of the area.

2.      Paulston & Tucker, Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings. (Blackwell). A collection of influential articles in the field, many of which are mentioned by Wardhaugh, to give us direct contact with primary sources.

We will use both throughout the course, as indicated on the Course Plan, below.


Course Plan

The fields of sociolinguistics and dialectology are huge and wide-ranging. For this course, we follow the organization of Wardhaugh (W), who surveys general concepts, and at relevant points we branch off into articles from the Paulston  & Tucker (PT) anthology that develop key points in more detail. Note that the there is a good deal of reading for this course, and the course plan shows what you are to prepare before each class session for discussion that day. (Specific dates are given on the regular syllabus students receive.)


·        (no preparation) orientation: the inherent variation in language

·        W: Introduction

·        PT #1 (Shuy) & #2 (Calvet)

·        W Ch. 2: Languages, dialects, and varieties: p. 23-43

·        p. 43-57

·        W Ch. 3: Pidgins and creoles: p. 58-73

·        p. 73-87

·        PT #16 (Reinicke) & #25 (Haugen)

·        W Ch. 4: Codes, diglossia, bilingualism, code-switching: p. 88-101

·        p. 101-118

·        PT #17 (Lambert) & #20 (Ferguson)

·        W Ch. 5: Speech communities and social networks

·        review

·        FIRST EXAM


·        movie: “American Tongues” (56 min.)

·        Language variation: dialects and variables: p. 133-142

·        p. 142-161

·        special lecture: more on dialectology

·        Ch. 7: Findings and issues: p. 162-172

·        p. 172-190

·        PT #13 (Labov) & #15 (Johnstone)

·        W Ch. 8 Language change

·        W Ch. 9: Whorf, taxonomies, and taboo—the power of the word

·        review

·        SECOND EXAM


·        W Ch. 10: Ethnographies: descriptions of kinds of talking

·        PT #3 (Hymes) & #9 (Brown & Gilman)

·        W. Ch. 11: Solidarity and politeness: p. 266-275

·        p. 276-283

·        W Ch. 12: Talk and action: p. 284-296

·        p. 296-311

·        PT #5 (Labov & Waletzky), #6 (Schegloff), & #10 (Holmes)

·        W Ch. 13: Men and women -- Gender in language: p. 313-324

·        p. 324-334

·        PT #11 (Lakoff) & #12 (Tannen)

·        W Ch. 14: Disadvantage and “ethnolects”: AAVE

·        PT#14 (Wolfram)

·        W. Ch. 15: Language planning – Language and Nation: p. 356-369

·        p. 369-386

·        PT #23 (Fishman), #26 (Nahir), #29 (Paulston)

·        review

·        THIRD EXAM (cumulative, not comprehensive)


Classwork, homework, tests, term paper

        Each session starts with a daily evaluation, a brief (about 2 minutes) comprehension check of about 4 questions to check your preparation for the day and to ensure progress with the material. It covers major points in the new material assigned for the day, and the grade is just the number right, plus one point for attendance throughout the period. (Thus, if you get 3 right out of 4 and are present for whole session, that day’s daily evaluation is 4.) There are no make-ups for these since the purpose is to gauge your understanding at that point of basic notions to be expanded on during class; it’s the homework and exams that check your comprehension of material after we’ve worked on it. (But, with so many daily evaluations, missing one or two is a mere drop in the bucket, and is easily compensated for by extra effort and higher scores on subsequent daily evaluations.) At the end of the course, your daily evaluation point total (e.g., “3+5+2+Ř+4...”) is converted to a letter grade relative to the overall class norm.

        After the daily evaluation, we discuss issues in the assigned material, augmented sometimes by lecture on areas not well represented in textbooks. Wardhaugh has good questions, and those will be the focus of most discussions as well as some written homework assignments. On days devoted to readings in the anthology, after the daily evaluation we will start with a brief 10-minute presentation summarizing the gist of each article. Each member of the class is expected to do one such presentation during the semester (choose early!); the instructor will do the rest.


Format of 10-min. presentations:

        1. the authors’ goal (topic, proposed area to explore, what they hoped to show)

        2. the method(s) or models used, major precedents cited

        3. general findings, results, conclusions

        4. at least one point that especially interested you and made you think (and why)

        5. another point that you wondered about and would investigate further if you were continuing this research.

(You may do this presentation with or without notes, with or without PowerPoint, but must not merely read it. Don’t worry if it ends up slightly shorter, say 9 minutes, but do not exceed 10.)


        There are three exams as scheduled on the course plan, and for the review sessions you will receive a study guide outlining the test, with sample questions. You have the full period for each test (up to 55 min. on the first 2 exams, three hours on the last one), but then time is called. If you must miss an exam, a makeup is available if (1) you notify me with a valid explanation, before exam time, and (2) make up the missed exam as soon as you can return to class.

        Finally, to encourage your own individual exploration of a question that personally interests you, you will do a term paper (project) of one of the following kinds. Either kind should build on what we’ve done in class (showing comprehension and ability to apply it effectively) while also pursuing the subject or issue in more detail beyond the general coverage in class.

1. An interview or experiment with one or more speakers. This can be a dialect interview (using a questionnaire you design) of the type that will be explained in the course, or an experiment similar to the methodology reported in other research we read about.  Please discuss your proposal with the instructor, who will be glad to advise on material and procedures; but it is up to you to design the project, carry it out, and report the results in your paper.

2. A research project on an issue or topic broached in class or the readings, pursuing it in greater depth with further readings.  Both Wardhaugh and the Paulston  & Tucker anthology cite lots of works you could explore; you could also browse articles and books in the library, or consult sociolinguistic topics as listed in the MLA Bibliography. Again, discuss your choice with the instructor, who can help ensure that your topic is manageable; but part of this project is the research that you have put into defining an issue, tracking down relevant works on it, and summarizing and critiquing what you have covered while also relating it to other questions and research we have studied in the course.


25%           average of the first 2 exams

25%           final exam (cumulative, but not comprehensive)

10%           homework, exercises, class discussion

10%           daily evaluation total (graded on the basis of class distribution)

10%           oral presentation

20%           term paper

Scale: 93–100=A, 90–92 = A-, 88–89=B+, 83–87=B, 80–82=B-, 78–79=C+, 73–77=C, 70–72=C-, 68–69=D+, 63–67=D, 60–62=D-, <60=F. The midterm grade is advisory only, and is based on your major work up to that point.


Specifications for work turned in

It is assumed that you know the basics of expository writing in English: spelling, punctuation, margins, paragraphing, double-spacing, etc. Here are some additional things to keep in mind for this course.

        1. When any work you turn in has more than one page, always staple the pages together in the upper left corner. (Clips or folded corners are useless.). Otherwise, I will return it without a grade until properly stapled.

        2. Small homework assignments can be handwritten or typed, but your term paper must be typed (word-processed). Always identify your name and the assignment (e.g., “textbook p. 35, exercise F”) on anything you turn in; please don’t make me guess.

        3. Turn in all work on paper; never email it. (My department won’t pay to print out homework.) If your printer breaks down, don’t worry – I accept work as on time as long as it arrives by 5:00pm on the due date. (Just slip it under my office door.) Afterwards, I still accept it but with a lowered grade (the later, the lower), since (presumably) you were able to spend more time on it than other students.


Other advice and policies of the course

        1. Don't hesitate to bring your questions, problems, and ideas to me. One-on-one talks give us a chance to discuss points of personal interest to you for which there wasn't enough time in class, and they’re one of the big advantages of WFU’s smaller classes. Take advantage of that opportunity!

        2. We all have our bad days. When obligations pile up and it’s hard to prepare as fully as usual, some students wonder whether to come to class since it may mean betraying their image as Ideal Wake Student. But come anyway. In a course like this one, each session represents a whole subject area. Even aside from the daily evaluation and the information you’ll miss by relying on a friend's notes, we want your participation: discussions fall flat when you’re not there to contribute. Coming late or unprepared is always better than missing out entirely on what we do in class

        3. Academic dishonesty is handled according to the policies in the WFU catalog and student handbook, and any signs of plagiarism, especially, will be prosecuted severely. Feel free to study together—it’s the best way to really understand the material—but any work submitted in this course for a grade (including turn-in homework) must always be your own individual effort.

        4. In this building’s classrooms, there’s no smoking, eating, drinking, gum-chewing, spitting, barfing, doggie pooping, or anything else that can mess up the nice carpets and furniture. Also, make sure you turn off all your sound-making devices (beepers, cell phones, iPods, radios, alarms, air horns, etc.) before entering class.

        5. If you have a special need, disability, or other condition that may affect your performance in this class, especially on exams and other graded and timed work, see me privately as early as you can, with professional documentation and recommendations for accommodation through the University Counseling Center or Learning Assistance Center.

        6. I ordinarily take a break from business email at night and on weekends. During weekdays, though, I try to respond to messages quickly and am glad to answer simple, brief questions like “What’s the homework?” But for more complicated questions requiring interaction and discussion (e.g., “How can I find out more about bilingualism?”, “I don’t understand this chapter,” “How can I do better on my daily evaluations?”, or “Why do I feel so stressed-out in life?”), please come and see me during my office hours or at another arranged time. In this class, especially, you should understand why written communication just can’t take the place of the many dimensions of face-to-face communication!



The WFU minor in linguistics (see WFU catalog, or the link at my website) is a valuable support for majors in English and foreign languages, anthropology and other social sciences, and similar areas. The interdisciplinary faculty committee on linguistics hopes to offer more courses on specific areas depending on student interest in classes like this one. See me for more information on courses, and also on further study (catalog of all grad programs in the country) and career options in language and linguistics.