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What is Sociolinguistics?

One of the goals of the MLC is to equip students with a solid knowledge both theoretical and
practical of the tools we use to analyze social life from a linguistic perspective. The toolkit that
students acquire during their time in the MLC is composed of the diverse analytical methods of
three areas in linguistics: sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.
Sociolinguistics is concerned with language in social and cultural context, especially how people
with different social identities (e.g. gender, age, race, ethnicity, class) speak and how their speech
changes in different situations. Some of the issues addressed are how features of dialects (ways
of pronouncing words, choice of words, patterns of words) cluster together to form personal
styles of speech; why people from different communities or cultures can misunderstand what is
meant, said and done based on the different ways they use language. Sociolinguistics
encompasses a range of methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative.
What is sociolinguistics? An MLC-er weighs in: The study of how people use language in
their everyday lives. Sociolinguistics looks at how identities are manifested through the words
we use and how, through language, we (intentionally or unintentionally) create, maintain,
and disrupt relationships with others.
Pragmatics focuses on how speakers use language to present information and how hearers draw
inferences from what is said about the speakers communicative intention. Some of the issues
addressed are how particular ways of speaking (including the choice of words, sentence forms,
and prosody (intonation, rhythm, pitch)) convey subtle features of messages; how language
conveys who did what, when, where, why, and how; how we use language to accomplish
speech acts (e.g. apologies, declarations, requests, threats) that bring us closer together or take
us further apart.

What is sociolinguistics? An MLC-er weighs in: Sociolinguistics is the study of language and
society. It examines how language simultaneously arises out of and is used to construct social
categories such as nationality, race, gender, age, etc. Cultural beliefs, values, and norms are
encoded in language, and language reaffirms these aspects of culture.
Discourse analysis focuses on language use above the sentence (in text) and beyond the
sentence (in context). This perspective analyzes texts and contexts from a wide array of sites in
everyday life, ranging, for example, from informal conversations among friends to doctor/patient
interactions, office documents (memos, minutes), and televised political debates. Some of the
issues addressed are the following: how texts build cohesion (the word and meaning
relationships that hold a text together) and coherence (the overall unity, topic, and message);
how texts that tell a story (a narrative) differ from those that describe something, provide an
explanation or list a set of instructions.

What is sociolinguistics? An MLC-er weighs in: To a colleague or employer who asks what
is sociolinguistics? I might reply: sociolinguistics is the in-depth study of how language tells
the story of us as a society over time, of how language resonates with us, and why.