This seminar is about the interconnectedness of language and social identity, looking at how human beings use language in order to construct, manage, and project parts of their identity within a group. Our focus will be on Communities of Practice (CoP), a concept originally taken from anthropology and learning theory, which has been defined in linguistics as “an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in an endeavor” (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 1992: 464). Through frequent interaction within the same group, e.g. for a shared hobby, people develop a sense of community. One important part of that is that they start sharing linguistic norms and ideals. We will study how exactly this happens and how such processes can be studied within the framework of Sociolinguistics. Throughout the term, we will read some seminal publications in the field and investigate different types CoPs, encompassing different social backgrounds and including social networks found online. We will explore models used to describe language use and methods of data collection. Students choosing this course should be avid readers and should share an interest in variational linguistics and identity-related language use. The course is open to all students who have successfully completed Modules A/II/Ling1 and C/III/Ling2 (please check your study programme guidelines).

Preparatory readings

Meyerhoff, Miriam, and Anna Strycharz (2013) “Communities of Practice.” In: J.K. Chambers and Natalie Schilling (eds), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell. 428–447. (book downloadable via university library)

Also note any current lectures on language variation and change in the Humanities faculty.