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Sociolinguistics Essay and Research Prompts

Essay Prompt: SOC1 - Challenges of Applying the Framework of a 'Community of Practice' to Online Social Communities

You must answer one and only one of these four options – either SOC1, SOC2, SOC3 or SOC4

Discuss some of the challenges of applying the framework of a ‘community of practice’ (CofP) as discussed by Meyerhoff & Strycharz (2013) to online social communities. In your answer make sure to refer to specific examples of 2 or 3 online groups. These may be any online communities you are familiar with. Some examples include…

Programming support communities, e.g. Stack Exchange (

‘Mummy bloggers’, i.e. women who write about motherhood online (see e.g.

Gamer communities, as found on, e.g. Minecraft (r/Minecraft/) or Animal Crossing (r/AnimalCrossing/) subreddits, or Pokemon GO forums (

Mailing lists such as Variationst List ( or Teachling ( 

Based on an investigation of your chosen groups, to what extent do you think each constitutes a community of practice? Your answer should examine the ways, if any, these groups satisfy the necessary criteria for a community of practice. Be sure to clearly define the key criteria that characterize a community of practice and its application to modern contexts, with references to the literature (e.g. Androutsopoulos 2006), and make sure to support your arguments with linguistic examples and evidence. 

You might also want to consider what particular aspects of these groups, if any, suggest that the CofP framework might need to be adapted to study an increasingly online social world. 

Androutsopoulos, Jannis. 2006. Introduction: Sociolinguistics and computer-mediated communication. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10(4). 419–438. 

Meyerhoff, Miriam & Anna Strycharz. 2013. Communities of practice. In J. K. Chambers & Natalie Schilling (eds.), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 428–447. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Accent discrimination has been called “one of the last acceptable prejudices” (Edwards 2014; Lippi-Green 2012) and linguistic ‘profiling’ is often viewed as the “auditory equivalent of racial profiling” (Baugh 2003:155). John Baugh has even gone so far as to state “I believe that linguistic profiling [and discrimination] will exist as long as human language exists” (2003:166).

Discuss whether you agree or disagree with Baugh’s statement. In your answer, consider

  1. how linguistic prejudices or biases form,
  1. how they may be used to discriminate,
  1. to what extent linguistic discrimination is a consequence of standard language ideology.

Explore specific examples of linguistic prejudice (in any language) in the media (including social media) due to two of the following factors:

  1. region
  2. ethnicity/race
  3. nder
  4. social class
  5. age

Finally, please consider how sociolinguists can address issues of linguistic bias and discrimination.

Make sure to support your arguments by critically evaluating the literature.

Baugh, John. 2003. Linguistic profiling. In Arnetha Ball, Geneva Smitherman, Arthur K. Speas, & Sinfree Makoni (eds.), Black linguistics: language, society, and politics in Africa and the Americas, 155–168. London?; New York: Routledge.

Essay Prompt: SOC2 - Linguistic Profiling and Discrimination

Edwards, Dr Katie. 2014. Shut yer face! I’m fed up being ridiculed for my regional accent in academia. The Telegraph, December 9. (retrieved 11 October, 2019).

Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and

discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge.

For this assessment you will conduct a small study investigating perceptions and attitudes toward linguistic variation among speakers of a particular language (see e.g. Braber 2015, Preston 2013). You may focus on any language you like, however it should be one for which you have access to native speakers. For the study, you must ask no fewer than 8 and no more than 20 participants to complete a survey about their opinions regarding language variation in a chosen geographical region. You may choose any region you like, large or small, but it should be one that is familiar and relevant to your participants.

In the survey, you will ask the participants to do three things:

  1. A map task: Participants draw a boundary around each part of a blank map (on paper or a screen) where they believe people speak differently. Participants may label the areas however they like and write as little or as much as they wish.
  1. A difference rating task: Participants rank regions according to how different they perceive the language of that region to be from the language of their home area.
  1. An evaluation task: Participants rank regions for pleasantness and correctness of speech. Participants may also be encouraged to give reasons for their rankings.

Using example maps and labels (with translations where necessary), discuss your findings in the context of what is known (if anything) about linguistic variation and attitudes in your chosen language and region(s). What linguistic features are most salient as markers of different dialects? What are the main characteristics attributed to the different areas identified by your participants? Are the maps supported by independent linguistic evidence, or are they more ideological constructs?

You can find a wide variety of free downloadable maps and tools at the following websites: (a huge repository of free blank maps) : An online drawing app for use with a computer or tablet. Upload a map and participants can draw/write directly on it. You can see an example here:

Important: Because this assignment involves research with human subjects, you must [a] complete an ethical review first (if you have not already done so, contact your personal tutor about this), [b] include in your essay a brief outline of ethical issues and how you addressed these, and [c] include a copy of the consent form you used with participants as an appendix to your assignment.

Braber, Natalie. 2015. Language perception in the East Midlands in England: Investigating East Midlands adolescents’ perception of language variation in the UK. English Today 31(1). 16–26.

Preston, Dennis R. 2013. Language with an attitude. In J. K. Chambers & Natalie Schilling (eds.), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 157–182. 2nd edn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

In a classic study of speakers in Norwich, UK, Trudgill (1972) found that women tended to think they used standard forms more than actual language data showed they did, whereas men did the opposite. For this project, you will replicate and/or adapt Trudgill’s (1972) study of male and female speech in a given dialect/language. You may focus on any language you like, however it should be one for which you have access to native speakers.

Using existing literature (or your own intuitions is there is no literature available), identify 2-3 non-standard features of your chosen variety to focus on. After you’ve chosen your features, you must conduct short interviews with 6-10 participants (3-5 males and females each) following Trudgill’s general procedure:

Word list task: Read a list of words exemplifying your chosen features

Reading passage task: Read a short passage exemplifying your chosen features

Casual speech: Brief informal chat about various topics (10 minutes max.)

Self-Evaluation task: “lexical items are read aloud to informants, with two or

more different pronunciations. Informants were then asked to indicate, by marking a number on a chart, which of these pronunciations most closely resembled the way in which they normally said this word.” (Trudgill 1972: 184). You might also use ‘rhyme’ questions as well, e.g. “does ‘scone’ rhyme more with ‘cone’ or ‘gone’?”

Do not worry about sampling different classes or ages, but you may want to consider these factors in your discussion. Participants can be friends, family, or strangers.

The roles of males and females in society have changed since Trudgill’s time. How do your results compare to what Trudgill found? What might explain the differences, if any, that you find? How well do you think Trudgill’s findings and yours might generalise to other languages or varieties? Be sure to refer to relevant literature in your discussion.

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