Sociolinguistics

A Graduate Area Specialization in NC Stateā€˜s Sociology Program

Sociolinguistics is the study of language in its social context and is one of the fastest-growing strands of linguistics and language study. The basic notion underlying sociolinguistics is quite simple: Language use symbolically represents fundamental dimensions of social behavior and human interaction. In the normal transfer of information through language, we use language to send vital social messages about who we are, where we come from, and who we associate with, and we may judge a person's background, character, and intentions based simply upon the person's language, dialect, or even the choice of a single word. Language is thus a code for the transmission of information as well as a symbolic indicator of behavior. The study of language in its social context has demonstrated that language is much more than a formal system to be represented exclusively through abstract notational schemes; indeed, essential knowledge about language can be accessed only be examining its socially-embedded use. 

The sociolinguistics specialization is relatively new to the sociology graduate program, but the discipline has been part of NC State University for over a decade. In fact, the university boasts one of the largest faculties devoted to this subfield of linguistics. The specialization is a joint program between the Sociology Graduate Program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Linguistics Program in the Department of English. Graduate students in this specialization take courses in both disciplines and have access to the expertise and guidance of faculty from both programs. The resulting synergy provides a strong interdisciplinary alignment for examining language in its social context. 

Students in the sociolinguistics specialty area are expected to complete core requirements in the sociology graduate program, and will select another specialty area from those currently offered in the sociology graduate program to complement their sociolinguistics specialty. At least nine hours will be taken in the designated specialty area and at least nine hours will be taken in sociolinguistics, though it is expected that additional hours will be taken in order to assure comprehensive knowledge of the field. Doctoral students in sociolinguistics must pass at least three courses and a preliminary examination in one of the other five concentrations. 

  • Language Variation Research Seminar (ENG 523): Field-initiated research. Group and individual research topics focused on current sociolinguistic issues related to language variation and changes. Ethnographic and quantitative methods of analysis.
  • Variety in Language (ENG 525): Language variation description, theory, method and application; focus on regional, social, ethnic and gender varieties; sociolinguistic analysis, basic discourse analysis.
  • History of the English Language (ENG 526): A survey of the growth and development of the language from its Indo-European beginnings to the present.
  • Discourse Analysis (ENG 527): Overview of major issues, theories, and research methods in contemporary discourse analysis. It explores how language as a form of social practice regulates social actions, relations and identities; how ways of speaking construct and are constructed by social order, cultural practice, and individual agency. Texts/discourses are analyzed to examine how speakers create meaning through formal linguistic choices; what the micro-organization of talk reveals about social order; how critical understanding of discourse helps to interpret complex processes of social life.
  • Language Change Research Seminar (ENG 528): Study of English development and English dialects; processes of language change; historical linguistic methodology; field research; language variation and change. 
  • Narrative Analysis (ENG 532): Introduction to theories concerning the structure, use, and interpretation of narratively organized discourse; application of methods of narrative analysis to both spoken and written narratives.
  • Bilingualism and Language Contact (ENG 533): Linguistic, cultural and socio-political aspects of bi- and mulitlingualism in a global context. Issues and implications of bilingualism from both theoretical and practical perspectives. Topics inlcude: language maintenance and shift; child and adult bilingualism; relationship between language, culture and identity in bi- and multilingual situations; psycholinguistic aspects and lingustic outcomes of bilingual contact, such as code-switching, convergence and language attrition; language ideology, the politics of language choice and language policy; globalization and intercultural communication. 
  • Quantitative Analysis of Sociolinguistics (ENG 534): The quantitative methods specific to sociolinguistic variation are examined in detail, focusing both on gaining experience using quantitative analysis software and on understanding fundamental concepts underlying the quantitative analysis of language variation. This course takes students beyond the basic familiarity with quantitative analysis gained in ENG 523, both in depth of investigation and in attention to the link between method and theory.
  • Sociolinguistic Methods (ENG 535): This course introduces students to the fundamental methodology of sociolinguistics. Students will learn about interviewing techniques, IRB regulations, and both quantitative and qualitative data analysis techniques.
  • Special Topics in Linguistics (ENG 584): Variation in content. Selected problems and issues in linguistics.
  • Linguistics and Literacy (ENG 722): Focus on two-way relationship between linguistic theory and literacy. Metalinguistic awareness and acquisition of literacy, orthography and phonology, oral vs. written language, oral vs. literate cultures, and metalinguistic assumptions in linguistic theory.
  • Language Variation and Social Theory (ENG 729): Although the field of sociolinguistic variation has developed its own body of theory, its central questions continue to call for engagement with theory in related socio-cultural disciplines. This course examines sociolinguists' explicit and implicit incorporation of social theory into the analysis of language variation; it also explores the many ways in which social theory could yet enrich, and be enriched by, empirical sociolinguistic analysis. 
  • Ethnolinguistic Variation (ENG 730): This course examines the nature of ethnolinguistic variation in the English-speaking diaspora, with particular attention to the ethnic varieties in the United States, including African American English, Hispanic English, and Native American English.
  • Applied Sociolinguistics (ENG 731): This course will introduce the main research concentrations and methods in Applied Sociolinguistics, including first language acquisition and teaching, second language learning, bilingualism, and clinical assessment and treatment of communication disorders. Students will be introduced to the basic foundations of language variation from linguistic and sociocultural/historical perspectives and learn how sociolinguistic variation affects clinical and educational processes and organizations. 

Dissertation committees for students in the Sociolinguistics specialization will include at least three members from the Sociology Graduate Program. Ordinarily, these committees will have three sociologists, one as chair or co-chair, and one or two members from the linguistics faculty, one of whom could co-chair the committee. 


Faculty

Distinguished Professor
Ph.D., Hartford Seminary Foundation, 1969
Tompkins 208, 515-4151, email: walt_wolfram@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Language variation, Ethnic dialects of American English, African American English, Dialect recession, Dialect awareness and education, Dialect and the public interest. 

Professor
Ph.D., Linguistics, University of Texas at Austin, 1995
Tompkins 203, 513-7385, email: erthomas@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Sociophonetics, Vowel quality, Prosody, Ethnic variation, Speech perception, Geographical variation, Sound change.

Associate Professor
Ph.D., Linguistics, The Ohio State University, 2004
Tompkins 286, 515-3303, email: jimielke@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Laboratory phonology, computational phonology, phonetics, phonetic and phonological variation, sound change, individual differences, language and autism.

Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of South Carolina, 1999
Tompkins 203A, 368-6914, email: agnes_bolonyai@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Bilingual first language acquisition and attrition; 'social grammar' of code switching; language of belonging and difference in immigrant discourse; identity and ideology in language shift/maintenance; language, gender and power; discourse of emotion; cross-cultural pragmatics.

Associate Professor
Ph.D., Linguistics, The Ohio State University, 2005
Tompkins 287, 515-4178, rmdodswo@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Linguistic variation, sociophonetics, social theory and its interface with linguistics, social network.

Associate Professor
Ph.D., English-Linguistics, Duke University, 2006
Tompkins 217, 515-4176, email: jlreaser@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Expansion of the Voices of North Carolina curriculum in scope and distribution through a series of teacher workshops. Developing additions curricula that insert information about linguistic diversity into the public school curriculum. Developing psychometrically valid instruments for evaluating the language attitudes of students and teachers as well as the changes to these attitudes though education.

Associate Professor of Spanish, 
Ph.D., Penn State University, 2006
Withers 419, 513-9999, email: michnowicz@ncsu.edu
Faculty Webpage

Current Research: Linguistic expressions of identity, bilingual speech, Spanish dialect variation, phonology, morphology, syntax, present day standardization of contact-varieties reported throughout Latin America.