Sociolinguistics Essay Questions

What is Sociolinguistics?
Is the field which studies the relationship between language and society, including cultural norms, expectations and context on the way language is used.

What is Language?
Language is a means of communication, it is used to communicate meaning, as it is also used to maintain and establish social relationships.

What do Sociolinguistics study?
Sociolinguistics study the following:

1- They study the relationship between language and society. 2- They are interested in explaining why we speak differently in different social contexts. 3- They examine the way people use language in different social contexts.

What is the primary task of Sociolinguistics? And what are the types of variations used? Their primary task is to map linguistic variations on to social conditions.

Types of variations used are as follows:

1- Synchronic Variation: is a variation used at a single point of time. 2- Dialectic Variation: is a change in a language over time. The existence of patterned variations makes it possible to identify ourselves and others as belonging to a certain group. What are the aspects of language behavior from a social point of view? 1- The function of language in establishing social relationships. 2- The role played by language in conveying information about the speaker. – What are the two factors which language variation is based on? 1- Geographic Factors.

2- Social Factors.

Autonomy: Independence.
Heteronomy: Dependence.

Varieties of language are often referred to as “dialects”

What is Clue-bearing role?
Clue-bearing role helps people in the use of language, as it formulates an opinion about us, not so much from what we say , but actually from how we say things.

Clue-bearing role is a social function of language.
– What is the definition of dialect?
Is a kind of language which is distinguishable to a degree from other kinds of the same language, in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
What is dialectal diversity?
Dialectal diversity develops when people are separated geographically (oceans, mountains) and socially (religion, politics, class)

What is dialect leveling?
Dialect leveling is a movement towards greater uniformity and less variation among dialects.

What is regional dialect?
Regional dialect is a dialect which spreads in one region and does not spread to other regions in language community. The language used has its character.
What is Idiolect?
Idiolect is the individual’s unique way of speaking; it contains idiosyntric characteristics of an individual’s speech.

What is the definition of accent?
Accent is the individual’s phonological pronunciation of language.

What do we mean by continuum?
Continuum is anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition to another without any sudden changes.

In certain cases, when is dialect or language continuum applied? It is applied when people stop speaking one dialect or language, and start speaking another.

What is mutual intelligibility?
If two speakers can understand each other, then they are speaking the same dialect of the same language. And if they don’t understand each other, then they are speaking different languages.

In what case do we choose social and political factors over linguistic factors? At some places along the German Dutch border, the dialects spoken on both sides are extremely similar. If we chose to say that people on both sides of the border speak German and those on the other Dutch, our choice will be based on social and political factors over linguistic factors.

When did Sociolinguistic appear? And who founded Sociolinguistics? Sociolinguistics appeared in the 1960’s and was pioneered by William Labov in the United States and United Kingdom.

What is standard language/English?
Standard language/English is used with/by the following:

1- In printing, such as newspapers.
2- To teach non-native speakers.
3- In news broadcasts.
4- It is used by educated people.
5- It is used in social conditions.

What is the definition of the word Taboo?
Taboo is a strong prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and forbidden based on moral judgment and religious beliefs. In language, taboo is associated with things which are
not said and in particular with words and expressions which are not used.

Why is Arabic not a dialect?
Because Arabic is not used as a native spoken variety of a group of people. And Arabic language is diglossic, which means there are two levels of the language:

1- High (classical, standard, written and formal)
2- Low (Informal, vernacular and spoken)

What is the definition of sociolect?
Sociolect is the variety of language used by a particular social class.

What is social stratification?
It is the social differentiation in terms of power, wealth and status.

The more heterogeneous a society the more heterogeneous is its language.

Western type social-class stratification is not universal.

In India, unlike western societies, traditional society is stratified into different castes, different castes speak different varieties of language.

Because of the rigid separation between different castes, castes dialects tend to be relatively clear-cut. Thus, castes dialects are easier to study and describe over social class dialect.

Since all language varieties are subject to variation and change, it turned out that “pure” homogeneous dialect is a myth, which paved the way for urban dialectology which then became “Sociolinguistics”

What is the definition of ethnicity?
Having an identity with a particular racial, national or cultural group.

What is the definition of pidgin?
Is a language created, usually naturally out of mixture of others languages as a means of communication between speakers of different tongue.

What is the definition of creole?
Creole is when a pidgin comes to be adopted by a community as its native tongue, and children learn it as first language.

How is it possible to identify members of a community?
By language or variety of language they speak.

When does code-switching occur?
Code-switching occurs when there are groups of bilinguals who speak the same two languages.

What is the definition of register?
Register is a specialized variety of language. When we speak we automatically locate ourselves on a specific stylistic level.

What is the definition of slang?
Slang is a vocabulary which is at the extremely informal end of the continuum.

Slang also means colloquial.

What is the meaning of diglossia?
Diglossia is a situation where in a given society, there are two closely-related languages, one of high prestige which is used by the government and formal texts, and one of low prestige which is used usually the spoken vernacular tongue.

What is the definition of style?
Style refers to different ways of speaking a language, a speaker may use a different way of speech according to the situation he is in.

Styles are considered “situation dialects”

In other language communities, style shifting must take place according to the situation.

A shift is style may occur in the following:

1- From formal situations to informal situations.
2- From informal situations to formal situations.

Writing sociolinguistics papers

Here are two sets of guidelines (one shortand one long) for writing a sociolinguistics paper.

In brief:

  1. Present your hypothesis or hypotheses.
  2. Be sure to write these in a "testable" manner-- no hedging.

  3. Describe your methodology.
  4. Be detailed enough that someone could replicate the experiment/study. (This isnecessary to see how robust your findings are.)

  5. Present the data in a clear chart, list, or table (maybe more than one).
  6. This should correspond to your hypothesis.

  7. Discuss what you found.

Does it support your hypothesis?

If not, why not?

What might you do differently if you were to continue this research project?

In moredetail:


What issue(s) is/are at stake?

What questions will be addressed?

What is your hypothesis? Why does that matter?

What type of data will be used?

Lexical, phonological,syntactic... ?

Spoken, written, heard (like theGating experiment)...?

What is/are  the variable(s)? What are the possible variants of eachvariable?

Describe the speech community to be examined in your project.

Who is part of the community? Who isn't? That is, how will you decide who can/can't be an informant for this project? Do they all share some social factors?

Why do they form a cohesive group worth studying?

What can be learned by studying this community?

How are you qualified to be the investigator?

What type of analysis will be conducted?  

Briefly, what conclusions are drawn?


Who are the informants?Who are the investigators? How many of each are there?

Explain the method you used to locate possible informants and get them to participate.

What did you tell them? What was their reaction? (Did your method work well?)

Was the data recorded, transcribed, acoustically analyzed...? By what method?

How many questions (or items elicited)? Where? When?

How were the results analyzed?

Was statistical analysis involved? What type? Why? 


Dependent variable

This is the place to describe the variable(s) you are investigating.  Objectivelyexplain what the different variants are.

Define the envelope of variation for the dependent linguistic variable(s).

Avoid counting tokens that, due to some aspect of their linguistic, social, or stylistic context, do not allow for variation. For example, if you are studying the (ING) variable, you need to avoid counting monomorphemic words such as "ring," since no one ever says [rIn]. Explain all such decisions you make.

Independent variables

There are several types of variables that may affect/be correlated to thedependent variable you are investigating.  These may be grouped intothree sets: social (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity), stylistic(e.g., casual conversation, reading a passage), and linguistic(e.g., preceding context, position in sentence, height of vowel).  

Social independent variables

Define each of the social factors that are relevant to your project.

Explain how you will select the proper code/variant each informant for each factor.

Is the criteria objective?

If not, do the informants or the investigator make the necessary decisions?

What steps did you take to make sure that you can evaluate the effect of each factor?

Provide a table showing how you coded each informant for each social factor.

Stylistic independent variables

Are there stylistic variables?

If so, how will each token be coded for style? Give some examples.

If not, are you taking steps to control for stylistic variation? Why or why not?

How many different styles will you consider? What are they? Why?

Linguistic independent variables

What linguistic factorswere considered (that might influence the outcome)?phonetic, phonological, syntactic...

Define each independent linguistic variable.

Explain what the possible variants are for each.

 Describe them using IPA if appropriate, or using theoretical linguistic apparatus (e.g., trees or brackets for syntactic variables).

Is it clear that all the variants mean the same thing? If not, why do you consider them as one variable?

What method(s) will you use to code each variable?

What effect do/did you expect each variant to have? Why? Were you right? If not, why not?

Provide a table/list that summarizes all the relevant linguistic variables and their possible variants, with examples from your data.

Either provide examples of some coded tokens in the text of your paper, or an appendix with all of the coded data.


Analyze the data and discuss the patterns found. Earlier assignments prepared you for this part.

What did you find out?Discuss each independent variable individually, commenting on how it correlatesto (each/the) dependent variable.

Was there any interaction between the variables?

Organize the section so that the relevance to your hypotheses is evident.

Discussion / Conclusion

What did you find out? What's the most important "take-home message"?

Do your data support your hypothesis?

Be sure to respond to everything you raised in the introduction.

What surprises did you find?

What did this investigation suggest for future research?

How might the study be improved?


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