Description of the Module
This module aims to increase awareness of the way that language is actually used by individuals and especially by groups. Students will look closely at how language functions both to separate communities and to unite them. As students explore language use patterns, language choices, and language attitudes, they will apply their growing knowledge of language structure and their recognition that in a multilingual society, speakers will necessarily have varying degrees of linguistic and communicative competence in different languages. Examples drawn from many different societies, languages and language varieties (with a concentration on Africa) will illustrate how language is used in complex multilingual situations.
In their exploration of language in its social and cultural environment, students will explore concepts such as regional and social dialect variation, multilingualism, code-switching, language attitudes and ideologies, pidgins and creoles, language standardisation, and language spread, shift and death. They will also apply theoretical concepts to case studies and research exercises.
Objectives of the Module
At the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Describe how languages are used by different groups.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with concepts and basic research findings in the area of language use, and ability to use the relevant terminology where appropriate.
  • Think analytically about language as social behaviour and express their thoughts in a clear and scientific way.
  • Grow in respect for linguistic diversity and in appreciation for living in a multilingual world.
  • Identify and discuss the factors influencing the long-term maintenance and/or shift of language(s) in society.
  • Identify and discuss the effects of language choice, language attitudes, and domains of language use on possible language development programmes in a minority language community.
  • Find relevant resources for further sociolinguistic research, both primary and secondary.

Topics covered in the Module
General introduction to sociolinguistics
Multilingualism & language domains
General overview of African languages
Multilingualism: problem or resource?
Language and identity
Language and dialect
Introduction to SIL’s Ethnologue
Language, power and solidarity
Code choice, switching, mixing
Language and culture
Regional dialectology
Language and education
Language contact
Pidgins and creoles
Introduction to (socio)linguistic research
Language shift, language death
Measuring language vitality (intro to EGIDS)
Sociolinguistics of new terms (neologism and borrowing)
Sign language
Reference dialect
Language policy and planning