The branch of sociolinguistics focuses on language as a social phenomenon. If we take a closer look at the use of language within society, we find that, characteristically, speakers can be distinguished from each other and distinguish themselves from other speakers by their different use of language. Thus, while two speakers may use the same language they usually do not show the same linguistic behaviour. Instead, linguistic variation – stylistically, regionally, and socially – is a typical feature of language use in society. That is, based on their individual communicative competence, speakers can vary their language systematically (1) with respect to the communicative demands of the speech situation, (2) depending on where they come from regionally, and (3) based on their social background which is determined by socioeconomic status, age or ethnicity.

Linguistic variation can be found on diverse structural levels of language:

(1) grammatical: He very tall (AAVE) vs. He’s very tall,
(2) phonological: feeling [fiːlɪŋ] vs. feelin’ [fiːlɪn],
(3) lexical: drunk vs. intoxicated, car vs. automobile, have sticky fingers vs. have a tendency to steal,
(4) morphological: I walked [wɔːkt] vs. [wɔːk] (no signaling of past tense).

Sociolinguistics or the study of language in society is concerned with explaining all the different forms of linguistic variation which occur in every-day discourse and with the factors which determine this variation.

This ELLO-module will present an introduction to the areas of linguistic variation which sociolinguists classically work on. It aims at explaining the basic principles of linguistic variation and diverse factors which influence variation. Diverse factors include a speaker’s socioeconomic status, age, gender, and ethnicity, but also the context of the speech situation, power relations between speakers, their orientation or attitude towards each other and their language varieties, their social contact to other speakers and to a linguistic variety, as well as their knowledge of particular linguistic varieties.

Categories: Glossary

All modules of Selected Subfields are divided into 3 areas: focus and content, exercises and tools & extras. Note that under focus and content you find the core content, which contains a basic compilation of content on the respective field of linguistics (this information is mostly covered in introductory seminars/lectures on this topic), and the extended content which will be augmented from time to time with content that is more specific (and therefore not necessarily covered in a seminar/lecture)
To broaden your knowledge on a subject, you can use the various short texts and exercises attached to each module in addition to your textbooks and make use of our extensive annotated reading lists and tools. All subfields in the area focus and content are linked to several exercises, designed for the respective topics in three degrees of difficulty. You can either work through the texts and attached exercises in the prescribed order or you can move on directly to the area exercises to improve your skills where necessary.