Topics in language variation and change



The module provides advanced students with an opportunity to go into depth in a number of discrete areas of language variation and change, building on prior knowledge of these areas, but also introducing new areas which are less well known. The focus is on language and dialect contact and speech community type. The module is intended to support students preparing dissertation proposals in Language Variation and Change.



Satisfactory completion of Language Variation and Change or Directed Readings in Language Variation and Change or sufficient evidence of relevant prior study in sociolinguistics



Contact hours

The module is mainly centred around self-study. Contact hours: 8 seminars and 5 content-based lectures in Spring Term. Students are expected to (1) construct critical bibliographies and (2) to do presentations of articles in small groups.

Teaching programme

Topics covered will include:

  • Motivation of language change
  • Language contactLanguage shift
  • The speech community
  • High-contact speech communities
  • Sociolinguistic typology
  • Observing variation and change

Learning outcomes

  • Students will develop an in-depth understanding of a number of sociolinguistic issues in language change
  • Students will be able to critically evaluate theories about social motivations for language change
  • Students will improve their ability to critically read and present research articles

Teaching materials

Essential preliminary reading:

  • Kerswill, Paul (2004). Social dialectology/Sozialdialektologie. In Klaus Mattheier, Ulrich Ammon & Peter Trudgill (eds.) Sociolinguistics/Soziolinguistik. An international handbook of the science of language and society, 2nd edn., Vol 1. Berlin: De Gruyter. 22–33. [A introduction to Labovian sociolinguistic theory]

Background reading:

  • Tagliamonte, Sali (2011). Variationist sociolinguistics: Change, observation, interpretation. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Chapter 2 (= pp. 25–65). [An overview of some of the areas covered.].

Recommended reading:

  • Chambers, J.K. (2003). Sociolinguistic Theory, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.Milroy, L. & Gordon, M. (2003). Sociolinguistics. Method and Interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Labov, William (2007). Transmission and diffusion. Language 83: 344–387.



  • 5,000 word essay on a topic from a list to be handed out, or on a topic related to the student’s research, with the approval of the coordinator.

About this module

  • Module name
    Topics in language variation and change
  • Course code
    L57M (LAN00057M)
  • Teacher 
    Paul Kerswill
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits