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Phonological variation and change



This module enables students to develop practical skills in the study of phonological variation and change, focusing on auditory and acoustic analysis of various English dialects. Theoretical and methodological issues will be discussed in the light of data analysed.

Students will also be introduced to experimental and basic statistical methods for investigating sound structure and sound change.



Satisfactory completion of the Autumn term assessments for Phonetics & Phonology and Language Variation & Change or equivalent



Contact hours

Four contact hours per week: two lectures, two laboratory practicals. Private study should include completion of all practical exercises covered in laboratory sessions, and reading of all key texts. Students are also expected to seek individual advice on their work for assessment during the tutors’ surgery hours.

Teaching programme

Knowledge outcomes

  • Students will gain a thorough understanding of phonetic and sociolinguistic terminology, and of the theoretical and methodological issues which underpin work in this area.
  • Students will gain an understanding of how various forms of data analysis inform phonological theory.

Value outcomes

  • Students will develop experience of the practical problems involved in data-centred work, learning to consider alternative analyses of aspects of the data, and exploring the theoretical implications of those alternatives.

Behavioural outcomes

Students will become proficient at and develop competence in the following skills:

  • designing experimental/analytical studies;
  • analysing data using qualitative, quantitative and statistical methods;
  • graphic and statistical presentation of data;
  • writing professional reports, using standard types of argumentation.

Teaching materials

Essential preliminary reading:

  • Foulkes, P., Scobbie, J.M., & Watt, D. (2010). Sociophonetics. In Hardcastle, W.J., Laver, J. & Gibbon, F.E. (eds.) The Handbook of Phonetic Sciences, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 703-754.
  • Thomas, E.R. (2002). Instrumental phonetics. In Chambers, J., Trudgill, P. & Schilling-Estes, N. (eds.) The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 168-200.

Recommended reading:

  • Chambers, J.K. (2003) Sociolinguistic Theory, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Foulkes, P., & Docherty, G.J. (1999, eds.). Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles. London: Arnold.
  • Foulkes, P. & Docherty, G.J. (2007). Phonological variation in England. In Britain, D. (ed.) Language in the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 52-74.
  • Ladefoged, P. & Johnson, K. (2010). A Course in Phonetics, 6th edn. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. (esp. Chapter 8).
  • Milroy, L. & Gordon, M. (2003) Sociolinguistics. Method and Interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell.



Two exercises on acoustic analysis of speech samples.

Exercise 1. Analysis of speech samples:

  • Acoustics/vowels worth 15%

Exercise 2. Analysis of speech samples:

  • Formant analysis worth 35%

Analysis of a phonological variable (2,500 words, worth 50%).

About this module

  • Module name
    Phonological variation and change
  • Course code
    L44M (LAN00044M)
  • Teacher 
    Dominic Watt
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits