Alicia Beckford Wassink
Introduction to an area of linguistic study not covered by the regular departmental course offerings.
This course is concerned with language in its social context--as it is used by everyday people in everyday interaction. We will examine the ways in which the linguistic behavior of people in society reflects their membership in small and large social groupings: from large-scale social classes and geographic dialects, to small-scale clusters such as neighborhoods or recreational groups. How might social group membership impact an individual's linguistic behavior? Our attention will be centered on social networks--those webs of informal and formal interpersonal contacts that comprise all human societies. Research into social networks is regarded within the field of sociolinguistics as breaking new ground in our understanding of the ways that social forces impact the way that language varies and changes over time. Introduced to sociolinguistic research the 1980s by James and Lesley Milroy, social network theory is the branch of variationist sociolinguistics that synthesizes Labovian approaches to social dialectology and Gumperzian approaches to social anthropology and the sociology of language.
Detailed consideration of several types of networks in various parts of the globe will allow us to explore how an understanding of social network ties can elucidate the regularity and direction of language change: the rate of second language acquisition of English in two immigrant populations in the United Kingdom, phonological change in the Austrian Alps, retention of a rural dialect in an ethnic enclave in urban Brazil, among others.
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