BA English Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Variationist Sociolinguistics

Unit code LELA20502
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course introduces students to the scientific study of linguistic variation and change, also known as variationist (or quantitative) sociolinguistics. The focus is on variation and changes currently occurring in English. A number of classic and recent studies in the field are reviewed, focussing on the role of linguistic and extra-linguistic factors, such as socio-economic status, gender, age, and region, in language variation and change. The module introduces students to the use and interpretation of quantitative methods of analysis, including tests of statistical significance. Topics also include 2nd-dialect acquisition and language change across the lifespan. The course includes data collection and analysis by students and provides a foundation for further work in variationist sociolinguistics and urban dialectology.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
History and Varieties of English LELA10342 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


The principal aims of the course unit are as follows:
  • to learn about the ways in which the English language varies in the present, and the types of factors (both language-internal and language-external) that may condition that variation. These aims are met through exposure to a number of case studies in the literature as well as through your own data analysis;
  • to learn about the effects of age, gender, social class, identity, geographical region, and internal linguistic factors on phonetic, phonological, lexical, and morphosyntactic variables;
  • to learn about and experience the different methods by which sociolinguistic data can be gathered; 
  • to become familiar with statistical tests and methodology for quantitative data analysis.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Some of the topics that will be covered are:
  • foundations for the study of language variation and change
  • quantitative methods of variationist analysis
  • internal and external factors in language variation and change
  • language change from above and from below
  • dialect contact
  • language change across the lifespan

Teaching and learning methods

  • One 2hr lecture per week
  • One 1hr seminar per week
  • Optional individual consultation sessions

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will:
  • be aware of the central issues in variationist sociolinguistics
  • be familiar with and able to comment critically on the major linguistic studies within the field
  • have an understanding of the standard methods using in variationist research

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:
  • critically judge and evaluate evidence
  • recognize flaws in arguments and assess the merits of contrasting explanations

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:
  • analyse existing sociolinguistic data and evaluate the methodologies used in the studies within the field
  • apply standard data analysis techniques and background concepts to new data

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:
  • interpret information presented in the form of diagrams, tables and graphs
  • apply and interpret tests of statistical significance
  • successfully conduct self-directed study and research, with appropriate time management

Employability skills

Quantitative data analysis in MS Excel; the use and interpretation of tests of statistical significance. Students will have gained an appreciation of dialectal differences and their origin. This would be useful to teachers or anyone working with people that speak different varieties of English.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or summative


Weighting within unit

(if summative)


Multiple choice: including terminology and quantitative data analysis questions


2 hours


Field Project: Data collection and quantitative analysis assignment; group submission

Summative and formative



Statistics quiz; online






Assessment task



2 hours


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or summative

Personalized written feedback from course instructors on the fieldwork project submission; global feedback in class on the statistics quiz.



Feedback from instructors during lectures and tutorials



Recommended reading

Labov, William. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.

Levon, Erez. 2010. Organising and processing your data: The nuts and blots of quantitative analysis. In Lia Litosseliti (ed.), Research Methods in Linguistics, 68-92. London: Continuum.

Meyerhoff, Miriam. 2011. Introducing Sociolinguistics. 2nd edition. London: Routledge

Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2012. Variationist Sociolinguistics. Change, Observation, Interpretation. Chichester: Wiley-Backwell

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Maciej Baranowski Unit coordinator

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